The Eastern Conference playoff picture is starting to take shape as teams begin the second half of the season.
Preseason predictions had the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic, head and shoulders above the rest of the field. The Celtics and Heat have not disappointed, and the Magic are hoping a mid-season shakeup will vault them into the top three.
Home court advantage will be vital given the amount of talent atop the Eastern Conference. The battle to secure home court will come down to the wire.
With the top five teams so far ahead, there is potential for three sub-500 teams to fill out the remaining playoff spots.
The race for the 6-8 seeds will include the Knicks, 76ers, Bobcats, Pacers, Bucks, and even the Pistons.
With so much up in the air here are some predictions for how it will all shake out:
The Pacers have dropped in the standings after a miserable January, were they went just 4-10.
However, they have the players to make a late season push. Their youth may be an advantage as the player's will have energy down the stretch.
In order for the Pacers to make the playoffs, they will have to focus on the games against the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
Danny Granger will need support from Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert if the Pacers are serious about locking up the eighth seed.
The 76ers have been on a tear as of late, winning seven of their last 10.
After starting the season 5-14, Philadelphia has gone 17-12 since. Of those 12 losses, seven have been by five points or fewer.
The 76ers have found their stride at the right time and don't look like slowing down.
They may even overtake the Knicks and earn themselves the sixth seed for the playoffs.
Look out for a potential upset if the 76ers can manage to avoid the Celtics and the Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
If the Knicks played defense once in a while, they might be battling for home court in the first round of the playoffs.
Even their conference leading 106.5 points per game won't bring a playoff game to Madison Square Garden.
However, if the Knicks pull something out of the sky and trade for Carmelo Anthony, anything is possible. It doesn't look like it is going to happen, so the weight of the team will be on Amare Stoudemire.
While the Knicks have certainly improved from previous seasons, hosting a playoff game is not in their immediate future.
The Hawks will need to string together some wins if they hope to get home court in the playoffs.
They will have to rely on the 9th best defense in the league if they hope to pass Orlando for the fourth seed.
It is unclear what to expect from Atlanta as they have not been consistent this season. This Hawks team could make a push deep into the playoffs if Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith start playing up to their potential.
Until they prove themselves this season, Atlanta misses out on home court in the first round.
December was an up and down month for Dwight Howard and the Magic. At one point they lost nine of 10, and were looking like a team that would be lucky to make the playoffs.
Then came the blockbuster trade that brought Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu to Orlando. Since the trade the Magic have gone 14-6.
New-look Orlando will earn the fourth seed based on consistency.
A first round match up with the Hawks has the potential to go down to the wire.
Derrick Rose is having an MVP candidate year and his play has elevated the Bulls to one of the Eastern Conferences' elite teams.
With a stout 23-4 record at home, this team could be tough to beat come playoff time. If their stars can stay healthy, they will be even tougher.
The battle for the second and third seeds will most likely come down to a Chicago-Miami face off with the loser hosting the Knicks.
While the Bulls will expect to make a playoff run regardless of their first round opponent, they would much rather face a sub-500 Philadelphia team than the Knicks.
The Heat's "Big Three" have proven that they can play together and win games in the NBA.
After a somewhat shaky start, the Heat find themselves tied for second in the East and they are only getting better as the season goes on.
It will be a battle with Chicago to see who locks up the second seed, but look for the talent of the Miami Heat to prevail.
Come playoff time, the Heat should make a strong run and should be one of the favorites to make it to the Conference Championship and beyond.
The Celtics have established themselves as the best team in the East.
They have the stars in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo as well as the best supporting cast in the league.
The return of Kendrick Perkins only bolsters the league's best defense.
As a team, the Celtics will earn the top seed in the East. Once they get to the playoffs, their home court advantage should all but guarantee an Eastern Conference Championship.
Boston is an aging team that needs to win now because their future prospects are limited. Look for the veteran squad to take care of business in the regular season so that they can have the easiest road possible to the NBA Championship.