With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, it could hardly be closer in the contest for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Four teams are competing for those final two places, with just three games separating the four sides as the battle looks set to go down to the wire.
The Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards are the four franchises fighting to make the post-season, but who will be the two to make the cut?
The Pacers currently occupy the seventh playoff spot in the East, with a record of 39-34 after edging past the Houston Rockets at home on Sunday night.
Frank Vogel’s side were one of the NBA’s fastest starters at the beginning of the season, with a 12-5 record in early December before progress halted, but Indiana’s season has been positive as talisman Paul George returned fully-fit from a broken leg to recapture his best form.
Important remaining fixtures – Chicago (H) Mar 29, Cleveland (H) Apr 6, Toronto (A).
Tuesday’s game against Chicago is clearly crucial for Indiana as they can open up a four-win gap to the Bulls and even the season series tiebreaker at 2-2. While a win against either of the top two East seeds, Cleveland or Toronto would be a huge bonus.
Detroit have been an up and down team for much of the season but are holding on to the eighth, and final, playoff spot. They are incredibly dangerous, with one of the biggest up and coming forces in the NBA, Andre Drummond.
Drummond is a rebounding machine who can dominate inside the paint at both ends of the floor and, with his help, the Pistons reeled off five straight wins before falling to Atlanta on Saturday. They will be hoping for a similar run in the next few weeks.
Important remaining fixtures – Chicago (A) Apr 2, Washington (H) Apr 8, Cleveland (A) Apr 13.
Detroit will hope to take advantage of playing the two teams currently chasing them when meeting the Bulls and Wizards, and will want the Cavaliers to secure the one seed as they may then rest players for the regular season finale.
Ever since beating Cleveland on opening night, it has been a struggle for the Bulls, most importantly suffering the loss of center Joakim Noah early on in the season.
As well as Noah, the Bulls have suffered many short-term injuries to players, affecting their team chemistry game-to-game, all while changing their system under rookie head coach Fred Hoiberg.
Heading into the season the Bulls were supposedly Cleveland’s biggest threat in the East, however, they may now not even make the playoffs with their 36-36 record with ten games to play.
Important remaining fixtures – Indiana (A) Mar 29, Detroit (H) Apr 2.
Similarly to Detroit, Chicago will be hoping to gain on the two sides above them in their two clashes against their competitors, particularly against Detroit, as missing out on the playoffs to them due to their epic 147-144 quadruple (yes, quadruple!) overtime loss in December would be a crushing blow.
To be honest, it is surprising that the Wizards are even in this position after the sheer amount of injuries their side has had to cope with all year.
Bradley Beal, Nene, Allen Anderson and Gary Neal have all missed significant time, while John Wall, who is slowly elevating himself to ‘superstar’ point guard status has had to carry the team’s load throughout the season.
After a comfortable victory over the Lakers last night, the Wizards are now 12-9 since the All-Star break and have been trying to claw themselves back into contention.
It would be a remarkable achievement if they make the playoffs after their early season woes, but at 36-37, they still have the most work to do in their final nine games, and will be aiming to capitalise on any slip-ups by teams above.
Important remaining fixtures – Sacramento (A) Mar 30, Phoenix (A) Apr 1, Detroit (A) Apr 8.
The Wizards are in a tough spot with six of their last nine away from home and must take care of business against teams who are already out of playoff contention in away games at Sacramento and Phoenix this week if they are to stand a chance.
What to expect?
There should certainly be fireworks in the three meetings between the contending sides as every player will be leaving everything on the floor to ensure they can prolong their season into late April, with packed stadiums creating a playoff-like atmosphere at every remaining home game for each team.
But whatever the outcome, it looks set to be a thrilling last few weeks for fans of all four franchises. With playoff appearances hanging in the balance, there will be all to play for.