With the Miami Heat in a lull, the Indiana Pacers have taken full advantage, opening up a four-game lead atop the Eastern Conference. The Pacers have won three games in a row, including a dynamite TNT performance against the New York Knicks on Thursday night.
The way the Pacers are playing, it'll be tough for the Heat to catch up and earn the homecourt advantage that was so helpful during the 2013 postseason. However, Miami has no worries about dropping lower than the No. 2 spot, because the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks are 7½ games back.
While the East is a two-horse derby, the race to see who fills out the remaining six slots in the playoffs could still be somewhat interesting. The Raptors certainly appear to be the third-best team in the conference, especially with Al Horford out for the season, but the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls both sit just a game behind Toronto and Atlanta.
The Detroit Pistons have been struggling, but they do have the talent to potentially make a run up the standings. There's also the two New York teams of course, and the Brooklyn Nets currently hold the No. 8 spot, although they're tied with the No. 7 Pistons. The Knicks have lost two in a row and sit 1½ games out of the playoffs.
The Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics also can't be counted out. The Bobcats just got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back from an injury, the Cavs should improve with Luol Deng and the Celtics welcome back Rajon Rondo on Friday.
Here are the full East standings:
|New York Knicks||39||15-24||.385|
Over in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs have opened up a 1½-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to a six-game winning streak. The Oklahoma City Thunder are not far off, sitting two games behind the Spurs after a comeback win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.
There's a 2½-game gap after the Thunder, but the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers have won four straight games without Chris Paul. The Rockets hold the No. 5 seed behind the Clippers, however, the Golden State Warriors sit just a half game behind Houston. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks round out the current playoff field, with the Suns percentage points ahead in seventh place.
Outside the playoff picture, there are three teams in position to make some noise. The inconsistent Denver Nuggets are in ninth place, two games out. The Memphis Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol now back in the lineup, have won four games in a row and sit one game behind Denver. Finally, there's the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team who should be much better than their record indicates. The Wolves are 18-20 and still haven't won a game decided by four points or less.
Here are the full West standings:
|San Antonio Spurs||39||31-8||.795|
|Portland Trail Blazers||38||29-9||.763|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||39||29-10||.744|
|Los Angeles Clippers||40||27-13||.675|
|Golden State Warriors||40||25-15||.625|
|New Orleans Pelicans||38||15-23||.395|
|Los Angeles Lakers||39||14-25||.359|