Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with nine days left in season

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With just nine days left in the NBA season, the Eastern Conference playoff race still has a lot to shake out.

Not at the top, where the Hawks and Cavaliers are in. But the bottom of the conference races are fascinating.

No. 1 seed: The Atlanta Hawks have officially locked up the top spot. They have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

No. 2 seed: The Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Chicago Bulls essentially locked the Cavs in there. Cleveland’s magic number is one to secure the two seed.

No. 3-5 seeds: As it has looked for a while, most likely ends up with the Chicago Bulls in the three seed, the Toronto Raptors fourth and the Washington Wizards fifth. The current three seed Bulls are one game ahead of Toronto, which is one game ahead of Washington. What could lead to movement is Toronto does not face another team over .500 the rest of the season. The Bulls schedule isn’t much tougher, but Toronto might get on a run and push Chicago for the three spot. Washington has a tougher schedule and is going to need some help to get past Toronto and get home court in the first round.

No. 6 seed: The Milwaukee Bucks are two games up on seven seed Brooklyn and likely finish here. That said, the Bucks have a bit of a tough schedule the rest of the way and if they stumble much they could slip down the standings.

No. 7-8 seeds: This could go just about any direction. Here is where things stand now:

7. Brooklyn —
8. Boston (-1 game)
9. Indiana (-2 games)
10. Miami (-2 games)
11. Charlotte (-2.5 games)

The Nets picked up a nice win Monday night over Portland and are now two games clear of falling out of the playoffs, with a magic number of just three to clinch a playoff spot.

Boston has the eight seed but also a looming home-and-home series with Cleveland. If the Cavs rest key guys (say, LeBron James) it would be a big boost because Boston could use a split.

Indiana got the boost from Paul George’s return and has a couple easy games before a tougher stretch to close out the season.

Miami has been struggling of late and now have lost Luol Deng and Michael Beasley for the rest of the regular season. Charlotte is not out of it but they are going to need some help.