With only eight days remaining in the 2013 NBA regular season, all of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference are accounted for, and five teams in the Western Conference are left scrambling for the final three seeds. In the East, last week saw the division-clinching efforts of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks (the Miami Heat locked up the Conference’s No. 1 seed some time ago), and the Milwaukee Bucks clinched the eighth and final spot, all but guaranteeing themselves a first-round matchup with the Heat. Miami has been enjoying the luxury of an early clinch and resting both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade for multiple games to allow relatively minor injuries to heal. Some critics have said the fans deserve better, though you would think the team with the second-best all time NBA win streak would have earned a little slack as they prepare for a title run. The Heat will need to be ready for the now-surging Knicks and a possible meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals. Carmelo Anthony has recently overtaken Kevin Durant for the league scoring title and worked with his team to build a double-digit win streak of their own. Melo’s biggest remaining challenge is finding a way to defeat the Chicago Bulls, a team still without Derrick Rose but proven to be capable of defeating New York and Miami.
Speaking of Durant, his Oklahoma City Thunder are in a much tighter race at the top of the Western Conference, currently only a game behind the always efficient San Antonio Spurs. Neither of those teams have the luxury of preparing for an almost-certain playoff matchup; the final three NBA Western Conference playoff spots are being hotly contested for by the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, LA Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks. These teams are involved in some head-to-head games of note this week, and Dallas finds itself deeper in the hole after failing to take advantage of games against these same teams last week. Can Kobe Bryant lead his team into the tournament? Can the Jazz prevent a free fall? Can Golden State and Houston position themselves to compete beyond the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs?