With a loss last night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat may have lost their slim chance of catching either Chicago or Boston for the #1/#2 seeds. The Heat had looked like they were putting it all together against the Lakers and Spurs, but couldn't top the Thunder at home. Granted, there's no shame in losing to the Thunder, but the loss puts them four games back in the loss column from Boston and Chicago, and they lose the tie breaker to both.
If the Miami Heat win out, they'd require those teams to lose five games to pull ahead, and quite honestly, I'm not sure that either Boston or Chicago lose five games the rest of the season. Nor do I expect the Heat to win out the rest of the way despite a fairly easy schedule.
They have a few moderately difficult games (@Atlanta twice, Denver) and one game remaining against the legit contenders (Boston). However, it will take near flawless execution by Miami combined with a free fall by Chicago or Boston for them to move up.
Boston managed to beat the Pacers at home in a game we all widely expected them to win. The win pulls them even with the Bulls. The teams have the same record at the moment, but Boston owns the tie breaker. However, both teams control their own destiny since they play one more game against each other.
While the current trends strongly favor the Bulls, it's worth noting that things can change in a week in the NBA with just a couple bad losses, and all three teams have been prone to having a funk here and there and losing games you wouldn't expect.
Here's a look at the remaining schedule of all three teams:
|Bulls Schedule||Celtics Schedule||Heat Schedule|
|@ New Jersey Nets||@ Houston Rockets||@ Atlanta Hawks|
|@ Indiana Pacers||@ New Orleans Hornets||Denver Nuggets|
|Sacramento Kings||@ New York Knickerbockers||@ Detroit Pistons|
|@ Atlanta Hawks||Memphis Grizzlies||Philadelphia 76ers|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Charlotte Bobcats||Houston Rockets|
|@ Milwaukee Bucks||@ Minnesota Timberwolves||@ Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Philadelphia 76ers||@ Indiana Pacers||@ Washington Wizards|
|@ Minnesota Timberwolves||@ San Antonio Spurs||@ Minnesota Timberwolves|
|@ Detroit Pistons||@ Atlanta Hawks||@ New Jersey Nets|
|Toronto Raptors||Detroit Pistons||Milwaukee Bucks|
|Phoenix Suns||Philadelphia 76ers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|Boston Celtics||@ Chicago Bulls||Boston Celtics|
|@ Cleveland Cavaliers||Washington Wizards||@ Atlanta Hawks|
|@ Orlando Magic||@ Miami Heat||@ Toronto Raptors|
|@ New York Knickerbockers||@ Washington Wizards|
|New Jersey Nets||New York Knickerbockers|
All three teams are going to be primarily road bound. The Bulls play 9 on the road and 7 at home while the Celtics play 10 on the road and 6 at home. The Heat play two less games overall but play 8 on the road and six on the road.
While Chicago has the worst road record of the group at 18-14, Boston has fared the worst on the road recently as Chicago has won 5 of it's last 6 road games including marquee matchups against Orlando and Miami while the Celtics are just 3 and 3 in their last six with losses to New Jersey, Philly, and Denver.
The Heat have played the best on the road of all three teams and quite frankly, have done the best job of the three in avoiding losses to teams beneath their talent level. The Heat's problem has been more centered around beating the teams at their talent level.
Looking at the schedule, Boston has the toughest road of the group while Miami probably has the easiest road left. Given current trends and schedule, you have to like the Bulls as the favorite to come out of the East which should set the bar at the ECF for the minimum acceptable performance for them in the playoffs.