The Atlanta Hawks backed into the No. 5 spot in the East. Despite riding a two-game losing streak with losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, the Hawks grabbed the five seed and a playoff date with the Orlando Magic after the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
Both the Hawks and the Sixers have been just so-so of late, splitting their last 10 games. While it really hasn't mattered for Atlanta, the end result is that Philadelphia (40-39) is now in a frenzied race to the finish to see who ends up with the No. 6 and No. 7 spots in the Eastern Conference.
The New York Knicks (40-38) took the upper hand in the battle, posting a 97-92 win over the Sixers on Wednesday night. New York leads Philadelphia by a half-game and has a game in hand.
Also up in the air is who the Knicks and Sixers will end up facing in their first round matchup as the battle between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat is likely to go right down to the wire.
Miami (54-24) fell behind in the battle, with a 90-85 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. The Heat moved one-half game behind of Boston (54-23). The Celtics also have a game in hand the Heat.
The Indiana Pacers extinguished the Charlotte Bobcats and Bucks hopes to make it to the big dance with a 136-112 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. The win eliminated the Bucks (32-46) while their game with the Heat was ongoing. Although Milwaukee and Indiana would be tied if the Pacers lost their three remaining games and the Bucks won their last four, Milwaukee loses the two-way tie breaker to the Pacers by virtue of an inferior division record and would fall short in the first three-way tie break (winning percentage vs. tied teams).
Charlotte (32-46) was also eliminated with a loss to the Magic (50-29) on Wednesday. Even though the Bobcats could tie the Bucks for the final spot in the East if Indiana lost of their games and Charlotte won their four remaining contests and the Pacers lost their last three, Charlotte loses the two-way tie break by virtue of being swept in the season series by the Pacers and has an inferior record in common games with Milwaukee and Indiana in the remote event of a three-way tie.
The two teams that are pretty much entrenched in their playoff position spots are the Chicago Bulls (57-20), who have a three game lead over Boston for the No. 1 spot in the East and the Magic, who will start the playoffs with the No. 4 seed. The Bulls can all but seal the deal with a win over the Celtics on Thursday.
Here are the up-to-date standings through the games played on Wednesday night.
y-Chicago (57-20) 5 Games Left
y-Boston (54-23) 5 Games Left
y-Miami (54-24) 4 Games Left
x-Orlando (50-29) 3 Games Left
x-Atlanta (44-34) 4 Games Left
x-New York (40-38) 4 Games Left
x-Philadelphia (40-39) 3 Games Left
x-Indiana (36-43) 3 Games Left
y - Clinched Division Title, x - Clinched Playoff Spot