NBA Rankings: Heat vs. Bulls and Top 10 Remaining Games of 2012

Tony Giardina@@tonygiardinaCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2012

NBA Rankings: Heat vs. Bulls and Top 10 Remaining Games of 2012

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    We are in the second half of the shortened NBA schedule.

    There is a fight for the first seed in the Eastern Conference and a mess in the middle of the Western Conference. Three teams have established dominance in the NBA, but there are plenty of division races and battles for playoff spots left to go.

    With the playoffs a little less than two months away, there are a lot of intriguing dates on the NBA schedule that have playoff implications, will help determine seed, and that are just plain exciting.

    Here are 10 such games left on the calendar:

Sunday, March 11: Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks

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    Other Games: NYK @ PHI 3/21

    The March 11 match up between the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks will bring together two of the biggest story lines in the NBA this year.

    Jeremy Lin has developed a huge following with his tremendous play and underdog story, while the 76ers have surprised everyone, and despite their recent struggles, still lead the Atlantic Division over the Knicks and Celtics.

    With the shortened season, every game matters that much more, and the difference between a first and second place finish in the division means the difference between home-court advantage and going on the road in the playoffs.

Saturday, March 17: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks

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    Other Games: DAL @ SAS 3/23

    The defending-champion Dallas Mavericks started off the year slowly at 1-4, but have now put themselves in the middle of the pack in a messy Western Conference.

    The rival San Antonio Spurs are riding their sensational home record to the top of the Southwest Division and are looking to catch the Oklahoma City Thunder, who sit atop the conference.

    They've split the first two games of the season series, with the Spurs taking the first at home, while the Mavs edged out San Antonio in an overtime win on January 29.

    The two teams are fighting for the division along with a surprising Houston team, and home-court advantage is especially big for a team like the Spurs.

    Expect a close, hard-fought game in Dallas on St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 21: Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Other Games: LAC @ OKC 4/11, OKC @ LAC 4/16

    Two of the most exciting teams in the NBA square off on March 21 in Oklahoma City.

    The star power in this game is extraordinary, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will take on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

    Los Angeles took the only game the teams played this season back on January 30, winning 112-100. Durant had 36 points and 13 rebounds while Chris Paul scored 26 and added 14 dimes.

    This Wednesday night match up will have these two MVP candidates battling head-to-head once again.

    If the Clippers can go into Oklahoma City and pull out a win, they can prove that the road to the Western Conference title for the Thunder will have to go through Los Angeles.

Sunday, April 1: Chicago Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Here's a potential NBA finals preview to whet your basketball appetite.

    Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and the Bulls visit Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on a Sunday afternoon game April 1. The Bulls will test their impressive road record against a nearly unbeatable Thunder team at home.

    The point-guard match up will be exciting, as two of the fastest and most talented players around the basket will play against each other in Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.

    The defensive battle inside will also be worth watching, with Joakim Noah and Serge Ibaka guarding the paint.

    With two very similar teams, this game should come down to the wire.

Wednesday, April 4: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat

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    Other Games: MIA @ OKC 3/25

    Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two leading candidates for the MVP award this season, and they will face off on April 4 in another possible finals preview.

    Both players are battling Kobe Bryant for the scoring title, with Durant trying to win his third straight.

    The Thunder and Heat will also be battling for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

    These two teams have been fighting with the Bulls all year long for the best record in the NBA. It's a close race, and it could come down to the head-to-head match ups that these three teams have together.

Wednesday, April 4: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers

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    The battle for Los Angeles commences on April 4.

    In the rubber match of the three-game season series between the teams, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin take on Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. 

    The Clippers took the January 14 game by eight points while the Lakers won a close five point contest 11 days later.

    Along with bragging rights within the city, the winner gets a leg up in the race for the Pacific Division.

    The two teams are fighting for first, with Golden State, Phoenix, and Sacramento already planning for next year. 

    Wednesday night will be electric with this game following the Thunder vs. Heat match up.

Thursday, April 12: Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are two of the most exciting young big men you'll find in the NBA.

    They face off for the third time this year on April 12.

    In the first meeting, Love hit a game-winning three at the buzzer to propel the T'Wolves to victory back on January 20. In their last meeting on February 28, Blake Griffin dropped 30 in a losing effort for the Clippers.

    The Timberwolves are playing for much more than a season sweep in this game, they are currently in the thick of the playoff race, and are looking to move into the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

    After winning just 32 games the last two years combined, Ricky Rubio and Love have their team on the right track, and a playoff berth for the first time since 2004 is certainly possible for the young team.

Friday, April 13: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks always seem to be together in the middle of the playoff race.

    Last year, they faced off in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, with the Hawks taking the series 4-2.

    This season, the Magic have lost both of their match ups with the Hawks by a combined seven points.

    With Miami likely running away with the division, both teams may be fighting for that valuable number four spot and the home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

    Dwight Howard, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith should provide a close, entertaining game that goes down to the wire.

Tuesday, April 17: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks

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    This game between Atlantic Division foes may end up deciding who takes home the division crown when it's all said and done. 

    The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks played this past Sunday in an exciting battle that ended with a 115-111 Boston victory in overtime. Rajon Rondo exploded for 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 20 assists. Paul Pierce led all scorers with 34. 

    Jeremy Lin will be a big key for the Knicks in the rematch. He made just six shots on 16 attempts and committed six turnovers in the March 4 game. 

    This contest at Madison Square Garden will have playoff seeding implications, and we should see another tight finish from these two teams.

Thursday, April 19: Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat

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    Other Games: MIA @ CHI 3/14, MIA @ CHI 4/12

    The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, two powerhouses in the Eastern Conference, match up three times in the final two months of the season, culminating in an April 19 game that could have the number one seed in the conference on the line.

    Both teams have exceptional home records, so the top seed would be high priority  for home-court advantage.

    But, it's also an accomplishment and a momentum boost going into the playoffs that you've already taken on, and beaten, the other team in your last match up.

    Rose and LeBron will go back and forth like they did in a thrilling, January 29 game that the Heat won 97-93. James scored 35 in the game while Rose put up 34 in a losing effort.

    This last regular season game between the two will have a playoff-like atmosphere, it'll be basketball at its finest.