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Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Jockeying for position: March 22

By Chris Forsberg

In rallying back from 15-point deficits in each of its two most recent wins (vs. New Orleans and New York), the Boston Celtics have managed to stay neck-and-neck with the Chicago Bulls in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are lurking 2 games back. Here's an updated glance at the East's final sprint:

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1. Boston Celtics (50-19, .725)
Chance at top seed: 36.1 percent; Projected: 59-23
Conference: 33-9; Streak: Won 2; Games Back: --

Up next: Wednesday vs. Memphis (39-32)
Road ahead: HOME (5) -- Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, New York; AWAY (7) -- Minnesota, Indiana, San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Washington

The skinny: Boston might have rescued its chances of earning the top seed by completing back-to-back 15-point rallies against New Orleans and New York. Trouble is, the Celtics managed to fall behind by at least 15 in all three games of their recently completed road trip and that's not going to get it done against a Bulls team that's 9-1 over their last 10. Ten of Boston's final 13 games will be played as part of back-to-backs, including four back-to-backs finishing on the road (a scenario in which Boston has accrued eight of its losses this season).


2. Chicago Bulls (50-19, .725)
Chance at top seed: 60.2 percent; Projected: 60-22
Conference: 30-12; Streak: Win 1; Games Back: --

Up next: Tuesday at Atlanta (40-30)
Road ahead: HOME (6) -- Memphis, Philadelphia, Toronto, Phoenix, Boston, New Jersey; AWAY (6) -- Atlanta, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, Orlando, New York

The skinny: The Bulls stumbled against the Pacers Friday, snapping an eight-game winning streak. Boston couldn't capitalize while getting absolutely pasted by the Rockets that same night. Chicago bounced back strong, however, throttling the Kings by 40 on Monday. That breezy win might aid its cause with a tough back-to-back in Atlanta looming Tuesday. The Bulls have four back-to-backs remaining on their schedule, with an even split between home and away games.


3. Miami Heat (48-22, .686)
Chance at top seed: 3.7 percent; Projected: 57-25
Conference: 30-12; Streak: Win 2; Games Back: 2

Up next: Wednesday at Detroit (25-45)
Road ahead: HOME (4) -- Philadelphia, Houston, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Boston; AWAY (7) -- Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey, Toronto

The skinny: Winners of five of their lat six, the Heat are quietly hanging around. A road-heavy schedule to close out the year doesn't do them any favors, but the strength of schedule isn't very daunting and there's only one remaining back-to-back (which opens with a visit from Boston on April 10). While the odds projector doesn't give the Heat much of a chance at securing the top seed, don't be surprised if they find a way to wiggle up and make things interesting for the No. 2 seed at least.
 
 
Required reading: Hollinger's Playoff Odds | NBA Standings | Playoff Predictor
Follow the race: ESPN Boston | ESPN Chicago | The Heat Index