The All-Star break may represent the ceremonial midpoint of the season but, in reality, the bulk of the 82 game schedule is already in the rearview.
The playoff push is now upon us and the two-thirds of the league still in contention have around 25 games left to cement their spot in the postseason.
Every seed is still up for grabs but the races for these three spots are the most compelling. Two feature teams vying for a conference championship and the third is a three-way battle in California for the West's final spot.
Raptors and Bucks - Race for Homecourt
The tug-of-war atop the East between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks has been incredible all season.
The two teams are slugging it out not just for homecourt through the East playoffs, but potentially through the NBA Finals as well. Toronto has had a wonderful year and lived up to their exemplary 43-16 record. Their problem in this race is that their competition has had a historic 43-14 start to their season.
The Bucks join a short list of teams who could boast about entering the All-Star break with fewer than 15 losses. It's a credit to Toronto that this has only afforded them a one-game lead, but Milwaukee's advantage is cushioned by a 3-1 head-to-head series victory.
The Bucks' biggest advantage at the moment, though, is a two-game lead in the loss column. For teams this elite, losses hold far more importance than wins. The Raptors are stuck in the powerless position of having to hope the Bucks lose three more games than them the rest of the season for Toronto to leap them in the standings.
While homecourt certainly doesn't guarantee playoff success, it would be a significant victory for either team. Given the incredible talent on both of these rosters, playing Game 7 at home could easily be the deciding factor in a potential Eastern Conference Finals.
Pacers, Celtics and 76ers - Race for the 3 seed
The three seed is the top priority for each of these teams for the rest of the regular season. Not only would it mean avoiding one of the others in this cluster in round one, but - should they advance - it would mean avoiding the one seed in round two.
At the moment, the Indiana Pacers hold a one-game lead over the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. They all have 24 games remaining with a slight majority coming on the road, but Boston's path is the toughest.
The Celtics have 13 road games left, including a brutal four-game trip to all of the California teams. Indiana has one extra home game remaining but they also have a similarly tough trip to the current top-three seeds in the West plus the LA Clippers in a six-day period.
The only decided season series in the group is Boston over Philadelphia. The Pacers and Celtics are tied 1-1 with two matchups remaining and the Pacers are down 2-1 to the 76ers but still have a chance to tie up the series with one game left.
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All three of these teams have a great chance to advance regardless of which seed they get, but they are going to be pushing hard to get up to three. Avoiding the four/five matchup could easily be the difference between a competitive first-round exit and having a legitimate shot at reaching the Conference Finals.
Lakers, Kings and Clippers - Race for Eight
While the first two races will influence which team comes out of the East, this race will have the most direct consequences. With just one spot currently open at the bottom of the West, two of these teams will likely miss the playoffs entirely.
The Clippers are currently in eighth and hold a one-game lead on the Sacramento Kings overall, though both have 27 losses. The Los Angeles Lakers are three games back of the Clippers overall, but just two back in the loss column with a record of 28-29.
The Lakers' remaining schedule won't do them any favors. 16 of their 25 remaining games are against teams currently in a playoff spot. Seven of those 16 games are against teams in the East, providing just nine chances to knock off teams currently in playoff spots above them.
Additionally, while the Clippers play some of their toughest opponents during a six-game homestand, the Lakers have a brutal five-game East coast trip featuring trips to both Toronto and Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for Sacramento, their path might be even more daunting. 14 of their 25 games are on the road, including a crucial stretch right out of the break to Golden State, Oklahoma City and Minnesota. They also have road back-to-backs in March to Philadelphia and Boston, and later to Houston and San Antonio.
Even worse, the Kings are down in both head-to-head series. They've already lost to the Clippers 3-0 and are down 2-1 to the Lakers with one game left. If it comes down to the two LA teams, the Clippers and Lakers are tied 1-1 with two matchups remaining.
The possibility remains that two - or potentially all three - of these teams tie for the eight seed and it can't be decided by the head-to-head series. If that occurs, the second tie-breaker isn't applicable as the Warriors will win the Pacific Division, so it would go to overall division record.
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This is yet another hurdle between the Kings and the playoffs. In almost every situation, Sacramento will have to finish alone in eighth place to avoid being eliminated by one of the tie-breakers.
The potential saving grace for all three is the possibility that an extra playoff spot comes into play. Both the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs - the current six and seven seeds - have struggled over the past couple weeks and sit just a game up on the Clippers.
Both Utah and San Antonio will likely rebound out of the break with relatively easy schedules but, should the seven seed come into play, the added benefit of not just making the playoffs but avoiding Golden State in round one would only make this race more compelling down the stretch of the season.
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