When the Miami Heat were going through their January doldrums, it appeared the Indiana Pacers were on the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Following an impressive win over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 20, the Pacers held a 4½-game lead in the East.
But just one month later, that lead has shrunk to just a game and a half. Miami has won four games in a row, including a 103-81 shellacking of the NBA-best Oklahoma City Thunder at Oklahoma's Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday. After Kevin Durant took clear control of the MVP award in January, LeBron James decided he wasn't going down without a fight, raising his game to another level in the past few games.
Meanwhile, Indiana has faltered a bit of late to go just 3-3 over their last six games. With the Pacers' stranglehold on home-court advantage in the East sliding away, the front office went out and traded for Evan Turner to upgrade their bench.
While nobody will challenge the Pacers and Heat for the top two spots in the East, the fight for the No. 3 seed has plenty of intrigue. The Toronto Raptors currently hold the third spot, but the Chicago Bulls are charging hard. The Bulls have won four games in a row and just beat the Raptors in Toronto to move a half-game back.
At the bottom of the conference, the Charlotte Bobcats have created a bit of separation from the Detroit Pistons for the final spot in the playoff picture. The Bobcats just throttled the Pistons in both games of a home-and-home to take a 2½-game lead for the No. 8 seed while also moving just a game and a half back of the No. 5 seed.
Outside of the playoff picture, the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers are a team to keep tabs on. The Cavs have won six games in a row after firing general manager Chris Grant and sit three games behind the Bobcats for the No. 8 seed. But while Charlotte doesn't appear to be going anywhere, the Atlanta Hawks better watch out. The Hawks have lost seven in a row and could find themselves out of the playoffs if current trends continue.
Here are the full Eastern Conference standings:
|New York Knicks||54||21-33||.389|