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"The Pulse" of the East playoff push

4/8/2012

Twice a week, Knicks writers Ian Begley and Jared Zwerling will share with you their insights and the latest news about the other teams in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Here's Begley's breakdown:

Chicago Bulls

Seed: One

Record: 42-13

The Latest: The Bulls are 15-7 on the season without Derrick Rose and 8-4 during the latest stretch, during which he's been sidelined with an injured groin. But Chicago may not have to worry about life without Rose anymore. The Bulls hope to get their MVP back on Sunday for the first of a home-and-home series against the Knicks. New York's defense may be stout under Mike Woodson, but the Tom Thibodeau's crew has been bringing it all year. They allow an average of 88.8 points to rank second in the league and are 29-0 when limiting teams to 91 or less.

Injury report: Rose (groin; questionable)

Seed prediction: First

Miami Heat

Seed: Second

Record: 39-15

The Latest: Miami lost at home for the first time in 2 1/2 months on Friday when they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies. It's hard to see Miami losing two in a row -- it faces Detroit in Miami on Sunday. The Heat are in the midst of a stretch during which they play 10 of 13 in Miami, where they lost for the first time in 17 games on Friday. LeBron James & Co. bounced back from their early March struggles late in the month and had a statement win this week at home over Oklahoma City. But those close to the team suggest that consistency has been an issue and cite fatigue as a potential factor. This is certainly something to watch going forward.

Injury Report: Mike Miller (ankle; day-to-day); Dwyane Wade (knee; day-to-day)

Seed prediction: Second

Indiana Pacers

Seed: Third

Record: 34-22

The Latest: The Pacers week included a come-from-behind win over the Knicks and an impressive victory over Oklahoma City. But it ended with a tough home loss to Boston on Saturday night, in which the young Pacers scored just 72 points. The Pacers had won four in a row and had scored more than 100 points in five consecutive games prior to Saturday's loss, which was its fourth game in five nights. Indiana is 2 1/2 games up on Boston for third place in the East and can create more room this week with games against Toronto and Cleveland (twice).

Injury Report:

Seed prediction: Third

Boston Celtics

Seed: Fourth

Record: 31-24

The Latest: Boston picked up a game on Philly after its win over Indiana on Saturday. The Celtics are now two ahead of the Sixers for the Atlantic Division lead. The veteran Celtics have a tough three games ahead of them -- Philadelphia at home on Sunday, at Miami on Tuesday and home against Atlanta on Wednesday. Boston has one of the most difficult schedules in the NBA down the stretch, so it will be interesting to see how the Celtics hold up for the rest of the regular season.

Injury Report: Mickael Pietrus (head)

Seed Prediction: Fourth

Atlanta Hawks

Seed: Fifth

Record: 34-23

The Latest: After drubbing Charlotte on Saturday night, Atlanta remained a half-game ahead of Orlando for the fifth seed in the East. But, looking at the Hawks immediate schedule, that half-game lead may be in peril. The Hawks travel to Boston and Orlando on If they want to hold onto the seed, they'll have a prime opportunity to grab a full game on Wednesday and Friday, but at least they'll be well rested. The Hawks have three days off before the Boston game.

Injury report: Vladimir Radmanovic (back; day-to-day)

Seed prediction: Sixth

Orlando Magic

Seed: Sixth

Record: 33-23

Orlando ended a nightmarish week on a positive note, with a win over Philadelphia on Saturday. But even that didn't come without some bad news. Forward Hedo Turkoglu -- an integral piece for this team -- is out for the rest of the regular season with a facial fracture. The news comes days after Magic coach Stan Van Gundy shockingly disclosed that Dwight Howard asked management that he be fired. The two have since agreed to focus solely on basketball, but will the distraction be too much for the Magic?

Injury Report: Hedo Turkoglu (facial fracture; out for rest of regular season)

Ryan Anderson (ankle)

Seed Prediction: Sixth

76ers

Seed: Seventh

Record: 29-26

The Latest: Saturday's loss to Orlando cut Philadelphia's lead for seventh place to just one game over New York. They are only a 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee. With reports that coach Doug Collins is possibly losing the locker room, the Sixers enter a pivotal stretch this week with road games against Boston, New Jersey and Toronto. Philly has lost three straight and nine of its last 14. Its starters were outscored, 80-31, against Orlando on Saturday and afterward Collins hinted that changes to the starting lineup may be in the works.

Injury Report: Nothing significant

Prediction: Seventh

Knicks

Seed Eighth

Record: 28-27

The Latest: With Milwaukee breathing down its neck for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Knicks enter one of their toughest stretches of the season on Sunday. After hosting the Bulls at MSG on Sunday, they travel to Chicago to complete the home-and-home against the Bulls. They then go to Milwaukee the next night to play the Bucks for the fourth and final time this season. Milwaukee leads the season series, 2-1, so this game could decide the tie-breaker between these two clubs. The next option would be conference record. The Knicks have won 10 of 13 since Mike Woodson took over and they'll need to continue their winning ways for the final 11 games of the regular season if they want to secure a playoff spot.

Injury report: Jeremy Lin (knee; out for rest of regular season)

Amare Stoudemire (back; 2-4 weeks)

Jared Jeffries (knee; maybe back Sunday)

Seed prediction: Eighth

Milwaukee

Seed: Ninth

Record: 28-28

The Latest: Milwaukee is playing well at the right time, having won seven of ten. Their victory Saturday night over the Blazers put them at .500 and within a half-game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Bucks and Knicks hook up for a pivotal game in Milwaukee on Wednesday. New York lost its first two games against the Bucks but topped Scott Skiles' club in late March, after they'd swung a trade to pair Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in the same backcourt. They are 9-4 since the deal and have won six of seven. Even better news? Drew Gooden (back) and Carlos Delfino (groin) returned to the lineup on Saturday. More good news? Milwaukee has one of the easiest remaining schedules among playoff contenders.

Injury Report: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee; day-to-day)

Carlos Delfino (groin; day-to-day)

Drew Gooden (back; day-to-day)

Seed prediction: Ninth

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.