The 2013 NBA playoff picture is getting clearer each day, but there are still some loose ends to tie up as the regular season winds down.
We know where most of the teams will be positioned heading into the postseason, but how do their matchups look, and what is their prognosis?
The Los Angeles Lakers are running out of time to grab the coveted No. 8 seed in the West, as the Utah Jazz hold a slim lead.
Toward the top of the conference, a slight change in seeding could result in a vastly different playoff landscape. The same is true in the Eastern Conference, where there are still several seed upgrades available.
Where does your team stand as we prepare for the next phase of the season?
Projected Seed: East No. 8
First-Round Matchup: Miami Heat
Jim Boylan's Milwaukee Bucks are nearly locked into the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so they'll have the pleasure of facing the Miami Heat in the first round.
Brandon Jennings and company have played LeBron James tough recently, including an overtime loss and a blowout home win this season. However, I'd be surprised if the series reaches a fifth game.
Erik Spoelstra and the Heat staff will make sure the Big Three are as rested as possible prior to the postseason's tip-off. Milwaukee will probably out-rebound Miami, but it won't matter because the Bucks can't slow down the South Beach freight train for 48 minutes.
Somebody has to be the first-round adversary of basketball's best team, and the unfortunate entrant in this case is Milwaukee.
Projected Seed: East No. 7
First-Round Matchup: New York Knicks
There's still a chance the Boston Celtics could bump up to the sixth seed, but they need to make up 1.5 games on the Atlanta Hawks, who have a much easier schedule. If Doc Rivers' crew remains in the No. 7 slot, they'll collide with the projected No. 2, the New York Knicks.
After upending Carmelo Anthony in the first meeting of the season, Boston has dropped three straight to the Knickerbockers, giving up 100-plus points in the last two contests.
Although Boston doesn't have the star power anymore to match up with 'Melo, the gritty Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are supported by Jason Terry and an emerging Jeff Green.
New York would be favored due to its prolific offense and home-court advantage, but this showdown between veteran clubs could easily go to seven games.
Projected Seed: East No. 6
First-Round Matchup: Indiana Pacers
The good news: With three of their four remaining games against sub-.500 teams, the Atlanta Hawks should be able to hang on to the No. 6 seed.
The bad news: The Indiana Pacers await them in the first round.
Atlanta has some terrific playmakers in Josh Smith and Jeff Teague alongside anchor Al Horford, but the loss of Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia hurts its chance to compete in a full series against Indiana.
In the Hawks' two most recent meetings with the Pacers, Paul George's bunch dictated the pace and executed better offensively.
Atlanta must generate mistake-free offense and play its best defense yet in order to advance.
Projected Seed: East No. 5
First-Round Matchup: Brooklyn Nets
As long as the Chicago Bulls take care of business to finish the regular season, the No. 5 spot is theirs. That sets up a grind-it-out series against the Brooklyn Nets.
If their previous battles indicate anything about the impending series, it's that it will be a low-scoring one. These two clubs are third and fifth in the NBA in points allowed, and all of their regular season encounters finished in the 80s or low 90s.
The Nets will deal with the most focused defense unit in a league where physicality and defensive intensity often win championships.
Will Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer and possibly Derrick Rose have enough shot-making firepower to support their defense?
Projected Seed: East No. 4
First-Round Matchup: Chicago Bulls
How does this matchup look from the Brooklyn Nets' perspective?
P.J. Carlesimo has more shot creators in his front line and on his bench, so it's a matter of getting them to work efficiently to keep the Chicago Bulls defense off balance. If Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez can combine for 45 shot attempts without any one player shooting more than 20, the entire offense will benefit.
Both teams have solid benches, but the playmaking prowess of Andray Blatche, C.J. Watson and MarShon Brooks could make the difference.
The real question in this potential Bulls-Nets series isn't who's going to win. It's who wants the right to face the Miami Heat in the second round.
Projected Seed: East No. 3
First-Round Matchup: Atlanta Hawks
A strong grip on the East's third seed ensures that the Pacers have a realistic opportunity to reach the conference finals (because they won't face the Miami Heat in the second round).
Their most probable opening-round foe is the Atlanta Hawks, who are undermanned and don't have the defensive consistency that Frank Vogel's club exhibits.
The second round would feature a matchup against the New York Knicks or Boston Celtics, and either way, it would be a hard-fought series. Indiana has a stifling defense fueled by athleticism and cohesiveness, yielding just a shade over 90 points per game in 2012-13.
If the Pacers do get past the second round, a much-anticipated playoff rematch with the Heat will make for a dramatic East title bout.
Projected Seed: East No. 2
First-Round Matchup: Boston Celtics
The New York Knicks' 12-game winning streak has helped pad their place as the second-best team in the East. Much like the Pacers, Mike Woodson's boys have a favorable chance to reach the conference finals, provided they escape the first round.
Even though the Knickerbockers have trounced the Celtics a couple times within the past month, they can't take Paul Pierce's squad lightly. Boston has experience and scoring weapons on offense and enough defense (43.9 opponent field-goal percentage) to keep most games close.
If Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith dispatch the Celtics, a second-round tilt against the Indiana Pacers will decide who advances to clash with the Miami Heat. New York would have home court over Indiana, and that might be the little edge it needs.
Projected Seed: East No. 1
First-Round Matchup: Milwaukee Bucks
Home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference is all sewn up, and home court in the NBA Finals is nearly clinched.
Consequently, the Miami Heat will be rested, prepared and poised to rip through the Milwaukee Bucks, dismantle the winner of the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls series and then outclass their conference finals foe.
The absence of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for a substantial stretch could end up being a blessing for the playoff. They will be more rested, and the role players will be more empowered and confident when called upon to knock down shots or make plays.
Miami shouldn't lose more than one game per series until the conference title round.
Projected Seed: Chance at West No. 8
First-Round Matchup: Oklahoma City Thunder
Sitting 2.5 games back of the No. 8 seed with five games remaining, the Dallas Mavericks need loads of help from the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers in order to earn a playoff berth. It's highly unlikely, but for the sake of argument, let's say Dallas wins its last five games while Utah and L.A. choke.
The Mavericks' ensuing stint in the postseason would be short-lived.
Rick Carlisle's club has proved it can score against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it has also surrendered at least 107 points in each of the Mavs' four showdowns with Kevin Durant.
The playoff chase has been entertaining, but Dallas will be on vacation soon.
Projected Seed: Chance at West No. 8
First-Round Matchup: Oklahoma City Thunder
Although the Los Angeles Lakers are just a half-game shy of the Utah Jazz, it's going to be a difficult margin to recover.
After games against the New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. faces three juggernaut offenses: the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
Good luck stopping those squads and earning a trip to the postseason. The three-headed monster averages 106 points per game.
In the event that Kobe's crew is up to the challenge and reaches the playoffs, they are dangerous enough to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a scare.
Projected Seed: West No. 8
First-Round Matchup: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Utah Jazz have the inside track with a quartet of games left on their slate, but they're holding onto a slim (0.5 game) lead in the Western Conference standings.
Oklahoma City, Minnesota (twice) and Memphis round out the schedule for Tyrone Corbin's squad. All it takes for Utah to lose its spot is losses to the Thunder and Grizzlies plus one slip-up against the Timberwolves.
If the Jazz hang on to the eighth spot and join the playoff party, OKC will probably be the top seed waiting for them.
A major hindrance to Utah's quest to beat top-tier teams is its lack of star power. Al Jefferson is a strong post presence, but the franchise lacks the type of player who can truly carry it in the playoffs.
Projected Seed: West No. 7
First-Round Matchup: San Antonio Spurs
The seventh seed is nearly clinched for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, so it's time to look ahead to the opening-round encounter with the San Antonio Spurs.
Kevin McHale's unit puts up more points per game than any other team, but can they sustain it against the Spurs' top 10 defense?
Harden can get to the tin whenever he wants to, and the whole team is exceptional at finding three-point opportunities in transition.
But San Antonio has a more well-rounded unit with a better point guard and more productive post players.
Projected Seed: West No. 6
First-Round Matchup: Denver Nuggets
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors were already considered a dangerous wild card. Now that Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari is out with an ACL tear, the Dubs have an added edge.
Ty Lawson can only create so much offense on his own, so it's going to be difficult for him to trade shots with Mark Jackson's boys. Golden State's defense is shaky, but if Denver fails to adequately replace Gallinari, that's all the Warriors need to outgun the Nuggets.
Then it's time to think about the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. An even greater defensive effort would be required to corral Gregg Popovich's pupils.
Projected Seed: West No. 5
First-Round Matchup: Los Angeles Clippers
Although they have a better record than Lob City, the Memphis Grizzlies move to the No. 5 spot because the Los Angeles Clippers won the Pacific Division.
However, in their first-round matchup, the Grizzlies would have home court due to a superior record.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph seek revenge for last year's gut-wrenching loss to the Clips in seven games. They'll be doing it without Rudy Gay's 18 points per game, but as we've seen throughout the second half of the season, that's manageable.
Entering the playoffs, all Memphis needs is 90-95 points per night, because its defense will keep the Clippers in check.
Projected Seed: West No. 4
First-Round Matchup: Memphis Grizzlies
If they did it once, they can do it again.
The Los Angeles Clippers will aim to send the Memphis Grizzlies home early for the second year in a row, and thereby take a huge stride toward their goal of reaching the NBA Finals.
That is no easy task, especially when Lionel Hollins' boys are playing extraordinary defense down the stretch. The Grizzlies haven't given up more than 94 points in their last six games.
The winner of this brutal first-round standoff will face our projected top seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both the Grizzlies and the Clippers have a realistic chance to beat the Thunder. Memphis would make it a tough series, but the matchup America wants is L.A. vs. OKC.
Projected Seed: West No. 3
First-Round Matchup: Golden State Warriors
When Danilo Gallinari went down with a torn ACL, the Denver Nuggets' championship aspirations took a colossal hit.
Without him, they're still a top-tier Western Conference team. The difference is their vulnerability in the first round and their viability in the ensuing rounds. They need someone besides Ty Lawson to be a shot-creater off the dribble and fast break.
A successful first-round series will likely result in a second-round struggle against the San Antonio Spurs.
At that point, it won't be so much about Danilo as it will be team defense against Tony Parker.
Projected Seed: West No. 2
First-Round Matchup: Houston Rockets
Currently, the San Antonio Spurs sit atop the Western Conference standings, but I expect the Oklahoma City Thunder to make up that one game before the postseason begins, especially with Manu Ginobili out.
As the No. 2 seed, Tim Duncan and company will meet the high-octane Houston Rockets. Superior discipline and defense should carry them through to the next round, where they'll find a dicier challenge.
The winner of the Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors series will present San Antonio with a massive headache (or maybe a ticket home) in the West semifinals.
If America is treated to a rematch of the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs will give OKC everything it can handle—and simultaneously struggle to contain Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Projected Seed: West No. 1
First-Round Matchup: Dallas, Utah or Los Angeles
In their remaining regular season games, the Oklahoma City Thunder will fight for the top seed and head into the playoffs with unfinished business on their minds. Scott Brook's club fell three wins short of a championship in 2012, and it has a long road if it wants to get back to the cusp of success.
The Thunder can't afford to sleepwalk through an opening-round meeting with the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers, because that would only make a second-round collision with the Los Angeles Clippers more painful.
After a hard-fought series victory over Lob City, Kevin Durant must recharge physically and mentally to face the sharpest team in basketball, the San Antonio Spurs.