It's getting down to crunch time in the NBA , as we have a bit of a logjam in the Eastern Conference, with Chicago, Miami, Charlotte, and Milwaukee battling it out for the final three spots.
We won't know until the end of the season who will be the odd team out, while the Western Conference's top seeds will also be battling it out for positioning until the end, while New Orleans, currently sitting in ninth place, actually still has a shot at the division.
Let's take a look at the five biggest games of the week of Feb. 22:
Monday: Atlanta Hawks (34-20) at Utah Jazz (36-19)
Atlanta brings its outstanding guard play and athleticism into a tough road match against the well-balanced Jazz, who are a tough test at home (22-7).
The Hawks will have it a bit easier with Andrei Kirilenko out due to injury, but their mediocre road record (13-14) suggests they still don't have a leg-up in this match.
Look for Deron Williams to control the tempo, while Utah's superior inside play finished off the Hawks.
Tuesday: Phoenix Suns (34-23) at Oklahoma City Thunder (33-21)
Phoenix takes its weak road record (14-16) up against an impressive and growing Thunder squad, which has held its own at home (16-10).
The Suns have the ability to run with anybody, as well as force their will (and tempo) on anyone, but with Steve Nash not expected to play on Tuesday, look for the Thunder to keep their pace above the Suns in the standings and escape with the win.
Wednesday: (No top game to watch)
Wednesday will be the day to forget about the NBA—if you must—but there are still some matchups worth monitoring. The New Orleans Hornets are still within scratching distance of their division title, while sitting in ninth place in the chase for the playoffs.
Ditto for the Milwaukee Bucks.
They are are hosting the Hornets; have a solid home record; and are winners of two straight. We're running with Milwaukee in this one.
Another solid game to catch will be the battle between Portland and Toronto, two 30-win teams that have solid positioning for their respective playoff runs, but could still use the win.
If Brandon Roy stays healthy and logs solid minutes, look for the Blazers, who recently acquired Marcus Camby via trade, to start gaining some momentum for the playoffs.
Thursday: Cleveland Cavaliers (43-14) at Boston Celtics (35-19)
Cleveland (at least at the time of this article), has not won a game since acquiring Antawn Jamison (losers of three straight), and this all comes on the heels of an impressive 13-game winning streak.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have ridden a fairly hot Ray Allen, and will be hosting the much-hyped Cavs. The Cavaliers' road record matches the Celtics home record, so look for Cleveland to step it up in a huge game.
Friday: San Antonio Spurs (31-23) at Houston Rockets (28-27)
In the past, we'd probably assume the Spurs take this one, even with their average road record known, but the Rockets should be desperate for a win, and we like what we've been seeing out of their offense lately.
Kevin Martin should be getting in more of a groove, and rookie Chase Budinger's x-factor presence could help Houston to get over the hump. Besides, both team's have dropped two straight, and not much separates their level of play.
We're taking Houston at home, as they try to get closer to that eight spot in the playoffs.
Saturday: (No top game to watch)
Milwaukee earns another small shout-out, as they'll duke it out with the Miami Heat; both teams are still battling for playoff positioning. Milwaukee is pretty awful on the road, and despite Miami not being dominant at home, we'll take the Heat, providing of course, that Dwyane Wade is in the lineup.
Houston going to Utah could be another interesting matchup, although with Utah's stellar home record, we're going with the Jazz to take the win.
Sunday: Denver Nuggets (37-19) at Los Angeles Lakers (42-14)
Kobe Bryant should make it back for this game, if not sooner, and there's little doubt that the Lakers will be fired up to get a win against Denver, after the Nuggets stole the last one.
Denver has been playing inspired basketball ever since we learned of George Karl's cancer. Really, they were already an elite team.
Still, we just can't see the Lakers dropping this game at home, especially considering they've lost five at home all season, and are still right with the Cavaliers in the battle for the top record in the league.
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