We are in the final stretch of the NBA season and not much has changed at the top of the Eastern Conference Standings since the last time we took a closer look. The Atlanta Hawks are running away with the Eastern Conference and now hold a 10.5 game lead over Chicago, Toronto and Cleveland in the standings.
Here is a look at the Eastern Conference Standings heading into play on Thursday:
|1. Atlanta Hawks||48||12||.800||0.0||W 5|
|2. Chicago Bulls||38||23||.623||10.5||W 1|
|3. Toronto Raptors||38||23||.623||10.5||L 1|
|4. Cleveland Cavaliers||39||24||.619||10.5||W 2|
|5. Washington Wizards||34||27||.557||14.5||L 1|
|6. Milwaukee Bucks||32||29||.525||16.5||L 4|
|7. Miami Heat||27||33||.450||21.0||W 2|
|8. Charlotte Hornets||26||33||.441||21.5||W 3|
|Indiana Pacers||26||34||.433||22.0||W 3|
|Brooklyn Nets||25||34||.424||22.5||L 1|
|Boston Celtics||24||35||.407||23.5||W 1|
|Detroit Pistons||23||37||.383||25.0||L 4|
|Orlando Magic||19||43||.306||30.0||L 4|
|Philadelphia 76ers||13||48||.213||35.5||L 3|
|New York Knicks||12||48||.200||36.0||L 2|
Cleveland has righted the ship since the calendar turned to 2015 and has won 20 of their last 24 games. The Cavs are still fourth in the standings currently but have caught Chicago and Toronto and look like the team that is best positioned to settle into the second spot in the Eastern Conference behind the Atlanta Hawks. That would be good news for Atlanta as they would avoid seeing Cleveland until a potential Eastern Conference Finals match up.
There are several teams that fit into the Who's Not hot category. The Washington Wizards have fallen to fifth place in the East and have lost seven of their last 10 games. They are currently 14.5 games behind Atlanta and four full games behind Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto.
For a moment it looked like Milwaukee might be able to overtake the Wizards and move into fifth place but the Bucks are scuffling a bit themselves. Milwaukee has lost six of 10 and four straight and remain two games back of Washington.
The Detroit Pistons made a significant move at the trade deadline getting Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The move was made with one eye on the future but there was optimism that it could also elevate them into the East playoff picture. That hasn't materialized as the Pistons have lost six of 10 and four straight to fall 3.5 games behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot.
Race for Eighth
Still a tight race for the last two spots in the East's playoff picture. The Miami Heat enter Thursday with a half game lead over the Hornets for the seventh seed. Charlotte has won three straight to move into eighth place. The Indiana Pacers have also won three straight and sit just a half game behind the Hornets in the standings. Brooklyn is one full game back of Charlotte while the Boston Celtics are two games back.
This race is significant to Atlanta for a couple of reasons. One, they will face the eighth seed in the first round of the playoffs. Second, the Hawks have the option to swap draft picks with the Nets this summer and if Brooklyn misses the playoffs, that will give Atlanta a lottery pick as part of the Joe Johnson trade.
The Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies continue to lead the pack out west with the rest of the standings again tightly contested. Portland has cut the gap on the Grizzlies a bit with a four game winning streak and are just percentage points ahead of the Houston Rockets.
Here is a look at the up to the minute standings out west:
|1. Golden State Warriors||47||12||.797||0.0||W 1|
|2. Memphis Grizzlies||43||17||.717||4.5||W 1|
|3. Portland Trail Blazers||40||19||.678||7.0||W 4|
|4. Houston Rockets||41||20||.672||7.0||L 2|
|5. L.A. Clippers||40||22||.645||8.5||L 1|
|6. Dallas Mavericks||40||22||.645||8.5||W 1|
|7. San Antonio Spurs||37||23||.617||10.5||W 3|
|8. Oklahoma City Thunder||34||27||.557||14.0||W 2|
|New Orleans Pelicans||33||28||.541||15.0||W 1|
|Phoenix Suns||32||30||.516||16.5||W 1|
|Utah Jazz||24||36||.400||23.5||L 1|
|Denver Nuggets||22||39||.361||26.0||W 2|
|Sacramento Kings||21||38||.356||26.0||L 1|
|L.A. Lakers||16||44||.267||31.5||L 3|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||13||47||.217||34.5||L 4|
I'm inclined to say everyone but Oklahoma City has won eight of 10 and despite injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Westbrook has been playing at an unbelievable level of late and its looking more and more like the race for the eight seed out west is nothing more than a formality now. A potential first round match up between the Warriors and the Thunder will be must see TV.
Denver doesn't have the worst record in the league but they have had one of the worst seasons of any team in the NBA this year. Brian Shaw finally got the ax this week after his team pretty much quit on him. Despite being an advocate for coaches most of the time, even I have to admit that Shaw didn't do a great job with the Nuggets. Still he was dealt a tough hand and some questionable decisions along the way tied his hands a bit. Before Denver hires another coach they need to decide what they are and what direction they want to go. The best coach in the world won't succeed without a stable environment behind him.
Race for Eighth
The Thunder is the hottest team in the conference right now but the New Orleans Pelicans are just a game back and just got Anthony Davis back from a shoulder injury. If Davis can stay healthy, the Pelicans can stay within striking distance should the Thunder succumb to another rash of injuries. More and more though, its looking like Oklahoma City is going to be able to do enough to hold onto that eighth spot.
It was a turbulent trade deadline for the Phoenix Suns who were forced to deal Goran Dragic to Miami and jettisoned Isaiah Thomas to Boston while acquiring Brandon Knight from Milwaukee. The moves haven't paid off yet as the Suns have dropped seven of 10 to fall 2.5 games behind the Thunder.