Just when it appeared that the Miami Heat could take control atop the Eastern Conference, the unexpected happened. Little-used forward Chris Copeland hit a game-winner for the Indiana Pacers, who dropped the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday while sitting their entire starting five. Later on, the Heat slipped in the fourth quarter as the desperate Memphis Grizzlies held them off, bumping Miami a half-game back of Indiana atop the standings.
A Friday night battle in South Beach could end the back-and-forth, swinging the top seed in the Eastern Conference to one team for good. The rest of the conference is far from determined as well.
The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are in a deadlock for the third and fourth seeds, and the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards are also tied up at 40-38 in the seventh and eighth spots. The latter is the case after the Wizards let a home game against Charlotte slip away in overtime, 94-88. At the bottom of the playoff standings, it appears the Atlanta Hawks will be able to hold off the New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony and Co. having to do well in four remaining games, all of which are against top-five place Eastern Conference teams.
Eastern Conference Playoff Standings
|9. New York||33||45||0.423||20.5|
The Western Conference playoff picture might be stabilizing a bit more than it is out east. The second place Oklahoma City Thunder's victory against the Clippers on Wednesday put them three games back of the first-place San Antonio Spurs, and it gave them a 2.5 game buffer on Los Angeles. Going down the conference, Houston, Portland and Golden State are all 1.5-game apart from anyone above or below them, though the Warriors could pick up a whole game against the Blazers if they beat them on Sunday.
The Warriors are also only a game ahead of seventh-place Dallas, which doesn't want to find itself fighting for a playoff spot. The Mavericks sit just a half-game ahead of Phoenix with a crucial Saturday matchup against the Suns that will decide the tiebreaker between the two squads. And Phoenix is a game ahead of ninth-place Memphis, but doesn't have the tiebreaker and must host the Grizzlies on Monday.
Western Conference Playoff Standings
|1. San Antonio||60||18||0.769||0.0|
|2. Oklahoma City||57||21||0.731||3.0|
|3. L.A. Clippers||55||24||0.696||5.5|
|6. Golden State||48||29||0.623||11.5|