Tonight's game between the Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks, which looked for so long as if it might be important for Atlanta, became little more than a final playoff tune-up last night when the Celtics lost to the Bulls in Chicago. The Boston defeat gives the three-seed to Atlanta, and also cements the Celtics into the fourth spot.
Five playoff positions are now set in the Eastern Conference. All that remains is to decide the fifth and sixth spots, and the eighth position.
Miami leads Milwaukee by a game for the five-seed and plays New Jersey at home tonight. In the unlikely event that the Heat lose, then Milwaukee would have to beat the Celtics in Boston to grab a higher seed. So, in all probability, it's going to be Miami vs. Boston in the first round to see who faces the winner of the Cleveland vs. Toronto or Chicago series.
A lot will depend on how Larry Brown plays it tonight in Charlotte as far as deciding the final position. If the Bobcats go full out, then the Bulls will have their hands full as they try to win the final spot. Meanwhile, Toronto will be trying to avoid dribbling the ball off of their feet as one eye watches the court and the other eye watches the scoreboard while they play the Knicks in Toronto. A Chicago loss and a Raptor win, and Toronto is in...anything else, and Cleveland will be renewing old playoff memories in a different venue and welcoming the Bulls to the Q this weekend, with Ghosts of Coliseum Past and "The Shot"s past no doubt being played ad nauseum during the national telecasts.
Out West, only the first and last spots are settled, as six teams battle for positioning. It is worth noting that if Utah wins tonight, the Jazz win their division, and if they lose to Phoenix, then Denver wins the Northwest and Phoenix jumps all the way to the three seed. Dallas is sitting in the two-seed, but faces a San Antonio squad with much to play for tonight. Should Utah win, and Dallas lose, the Jazz will claim the two-seed, yet, with a loss by Utah, the Jazz would drop all the way to the five-seed.
Simpler is the battle for six and seven out West. Portland owns the tie-breaker over San Antonio and gets the six-seed by beating Golden State in Portland tonight, or if the Spurs lose to the Mavericks. By the time the game starts at the Rose Garden, the Blazers will pretty much know if they need to win, as by then the San Antonio-Dallas game should be over, or close to over.
It has been fun looking at all of the possibilities unfold over the past three days. And there is one more Cavaliers game to get through now, even if the luster of the match-up is tarnished by insignificance as far as the standings go, and all that can be hoped for either team is to get some work in and to avoid injuries.
Bring on the playoffs...I was ready for them about the time the calendar turned over to 2010.