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NBA Playoff Picture 2011: Celtics Battling Bulls, Heat For Playoff Positioning

There isn't much time left for the Boston Celtics to regain the second sport in the Eastern Conference, let alone the first spot. With just six regular season games left, Boston is third in the conference, one half game behind the Miami Heat.

Chicago has continued to surge as the regular season concludes, leading Miami by 2.5 games and Boston by three games. The Bulls and Heat are tied for the best record in conference play, going 34-13 against teams in the East. Boston is close behind, posting a 34-12 record against Eastern Conference opponents.

If the playoffs began today, the Celtics would face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Chicago would be paired with the Indiana Pacers, who are two games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats for the final playoff spot in the East.

In perhaps the most intriguing first round series, Miami would face the New York Knicks. The Knicks weren't seen as a serious playoff contender at the start of the season, but after the acquisition of both Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to play alongside Amar'e Stoudemire, New York may pose a legitimate threat to the Heat's title aspirations.

In the middle of the pack, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, currently fourth in the East, would face the Atlanta Hawks, who are fifth in the conference, in the opening round.

Here's a look at the complete Eastern Conference standings as of Monday afternoon.

Eastern Conference Standings

  1. Chicago Bulls (56-20)
  2. Miami Heat (54-23)
  3. Boston Celtics (53-23)
  4. Orlando Magic (48-29)
  5. Atlanta Hawks (44-33)
  6. Philadelphia 76ers (40-37)
  7. New York Knicks (38-38)
  8. Indiana Pacers (35-43)