With Tuesday's win over the Washington Wizards, the Chicago Bulls (in their Celtics-like green alternate uniforms) vaulted ahead of Boston atop the Eastern Conference standings and are the favorite to land the top seed based on strength of remaining schedule and projected win/loss total. With a tip of the cap to Boston.com's Fan's Guide for the inspiration, Wednesday we begin our occasional look at the three-horse race between Chicago, Boston, and Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East. (As the regular-season clock ticks down, we'll also begin examining the teams competing for spots No. 6-8 in the East, with eyes on potential first-round matchups).
1. Chicago Bulls (48-18, .727)
Chance at top seed: 68.6 percent; Projected: 60-22
Conference: 29-11; Streak: Win 7; Games Back: --
Up next: Thursday at New Jersey (22-43)
Road ahead: HOME (7) -- Sacramento, Memphis, Philadelphia, Toronto, Phoenix, Boston, New Jersey; AWAY (8) -- New Jersey, Indiana, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, Orlando, New York
The skinny: With Tuesday's win over Washington, the surging Bulls moved into sole possession of first place in the East. With the easiest remaining schedule, it's going to be hard for Boston to stick close unless it can stop the hiccups against lesser opponents.
2. Boston Celtics (47-18, .723)
Chance at top seed: 26.1 percent; Projected: 58-24
Conference: 31-9; Streak: Loss 1; Games Back: 0.5
Up next: Wednesday vs. Indiana (29-38)
Road ahead: HOME (6) -- Memphis, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, New York; AWAY (10) -- Houston, New Orleans, New York, Minnesota, Indiana, San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Washington
The skinny: Losing three out of their last four -- all against opponents it should have beaten -- didn't help the Celtics' chances. All of a sudden the Celtics might have to be more concerned about hanging on to the No. 2 seed, than battling the Bulls for the top spot. A daunting road slate to close out the year, including a four-game road trip that swings through San Antonio spanning into April, is going to make things mighty difficult as Boston tries to get healthy.
3. Miami Heat (46-21, .687)
Chance at top seed: 5.4 percent; Projected: 57-25
Conference: 29-12; Streak: Win 3; Games Back: 2.5
Up next: Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City (43-23)
Road ahead: HOME (5) -- Denver, Philadelphia, Houston, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Boston; AWAY (8) -- Atlanta (2), Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey, Toronto
The skinny: Don't look now, but the Heat are just two games back of Boston and could make the second round of the playoffs a real pain for Boston if it can sneak ahead to the No. 2 spot (essentially ensuring that the Heat would have homecourt advantage in a head-to-head battle should top seeds win out in the first round). The Heat benefit from a softer road schedule, but have to avoid their own hiccups if they want to surge late.
Required reading: Hollinger's Playoff Odds | NBA Standings | Playoff Predictor
Follow the race: ESPN Boston | ESPN Chicago | The Heat Index