With just over two months to go until the end of the regular season, there are several NBA players that have the opportunity to make or break their team's chances of either reaching the playoffs and/or landing a more desired seed in the conference..
Looking at the Western Conference standings, the San Antonio Spurs seem like a lock to have the best record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, but things get complicated after that.
Dallas, the Lakers and Oklahoma City currently round out the top four in the Western conference, with no other teams within two and a half games of those three teams, but the order among them has yet to be decided.
Battling for the bottom four seeds in the west are eight teams separated by just 6.5 games- New Orleans, Utah, Portland, Denver, Memphis Phoenix, Houston and Golden State.
Meanwhile, Boston and Miami are tied for the best record in the east. Chicago is the no. 3 seed, two games back, while Orlando and Atlanta are in a dead heat for the four spot.
After the first five seeds in the east, five teams have a legitimate chance of getting the last three spots- New York, Philadelphia, Indiana, Charlotte and Milwaukee.
Once a team is in the playoffs, anything can happen. Home court advantage is very important, but it is not the only thing that matters, as evidenced by Boston reaching the finals as the no. 4 seed last season. There have also been three no. 8 seeds have beaten the no. 1 seed since 1994, so things certainly can happen.
We rank the top 20 players who will the play the biggest role in shaping the NBA playoff picture. This is not merely a list of the top 20 players in the league, but rather ranks which players will play the biggest part from now until the end of the season in helping their team make the postseason or receiving a more preferred seeding.
After missing 127 games in his first two seasons with Philadelphia, then struggling through much of last season, Elton Brand is finally looking like the player the 76ers shelled out $80 million dollars for. Brand leads the 76ers in scoring and rebounding, while shooting 52 percent from the floor.
Currently Philadelphia is barely holding on to the no. 7 seed in the east, so they will need Brand to continue playing at a high level in order to make the playoffs.
The Milwaukee Bucks had big expectations coming into the season after winning 46 games last season. However, Milwaukee is just 21-33 for the season, is four games out of the final playoff spot in the east, and has the worst scoring offense in the NBA.
Center Andre Bogut has played good defense all year, but if he could increase his 13.1 points per game and horrendous 40.8 percent free throw shooting, it could help Milwaukee turn things around and sneak into the playoffs.
A career threatening injury to Yao Ming in November has led to an uphill battle for Houston nearly the entire season. The Rockets, five games back of the no. 8 seed, still have a lot of talent on their roster, but have not been able to win consistently.
Kevin Martin is an elite scorer and may need to score even more than the 23 points a game he is averaging for the Rockets to make the postseason.
The Indiana Pacers have played well in February, and now find themselves as the no. 8 seed in the east.
Danny Granger is having a down year for his standards, but still leads the team in scoring by a mile. With young players Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert evolving around him, a strong finish for Granger should keep Indiana in the playoff picture.
Another monster year for Kevin Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder up to the no. 4 spot in the west. New Orleans is on their tail, so the Thunder will need a great finish from Durant to hold on to the no. 4 spot and have homecourt advantage in the first round.
So far this season, when Durant scores 30 or more points, the Thunder are 18-4.
When Boston won the title in 2008, Rondo still had not come into his own yet, and he was only the fourth best player on his team. However, over the last three seasons, while Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have each aged three more years in their 30s, Rondo has become an elite passer and one of the most crafty point guards in the NBA.
Rondo can drive to the hoop when the lane is open, and also causes havoc on defense. With Boston hoping to limit the minutes of the other big three down the stretch, Rondo will play a key role in determining whether Boston can grab the no. 1 seed in the east.
One of the premier offensive players in the league, Ellis is averaging over 25 points a game for Golden State.
After struggling to stay healthy the last couple of years, Ellis, 25 years old, has an off chance of taking Golden State (5.5 games out) to the playoffs.
Although the Bobcats are just 24-31 as a team, Charlotte is only 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the east.
Wallace, the athletic forward, has played very well for Charlotte, both offensively and defensively, and could be the difference maker if the Bobcats are to grab one of the final seeds.
The most dominant big man in the game, center Dwight Howard is enjoying his best season yet. This season, Howard is averaging a career high 22.6 points for Orlando and grabbing close to 14 rebounds per game, all while playing superior defense.
The Magic's entire offense is built around Howard, with the athletic center often receiving the ball and getting double teamed before passing it to a cast of shooters. Orlando has struggled a little of late, and is in a deadlock with Atlanta for the four seed in the east and homecourt advantage in the first round.
Dallas is in a tight race with the Lakers for the no. 2 seed in the west, each team hoping for homecourt advantage in a potential conference semifinals matchup between the two squads.
Nowitzki proved how valuable he is to Dallas, because once he went down with an injury, Dallas 24-5, went just 2-7.
Dwyane Wade is still very much in his prime, and is having another sensational year, averaging 25 points on 49.3 percent shooting.
Miami is not nearly as deep as Boston, so they will need a strong finish from Wade, not just Lebron James, in order to land the no. 1 seed in the east.
Zach Randolph, averaging over 20 points and 13 rebounds, has quietly had a big year, and has Memphis just half a game back of the final playoff spot in the west.
A young team with many talented players including Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and OJ Mayo, Memphis can make the playoffs with a strong finish from Randolph, for their first postseason appearance since 2006.
Presently the no. 6 seed in the east, the Knicks are three games ahead of the no. 8 seed Indiana, and appear playoff bound for the first time since 2004. The New York Knicks have turned things around since signing Amare Stoudemire this past offseason, having remained in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture all year long.
The Knicks have received a lot of hype and media attention over the last few months, but they are still just one game above .500 and will need to play relatively well to remain in the playoff picture.
At 37-years-old, Nash is still one of the elite offensive players in the league. Phoenix has a weaker roster than in years past, but this has not stopped Nash from averaging 16.8 points and 11.1 assists, while shooting the ball extremely well.
The Suns are three games back of the no. 8 seed, and of the players on the Suns roster, only Nash can make a big enough impact to get them in the playoffs.
The Lakers have been oddly inconsistent this season, but can still grab the two seed in the West with a strong finish.
Now 32-years-old, Kobe Bryant is still one of the best players in the game, averaging over 25 points a game, despite playing less minutes than in previous years. Bryant wants his sixth championship and will do his best on the court, while helping motivate his teammates off the court to get the Lakers as high of a seed as possible.
LaMarcus Aldridge has really stepped it up in the absence of injured star player Brandon Roy, as well as big men Greg Oden and Marcus Camby, averaging a career-high 22.1 points and 8.9 rebounds this season.
Despite all of those injuries, Portland is currently the no. 6 seed. and will need Aldridge to continue to play well and be aggressive in order to remain in the playoff picture.
Although New Orleans appears comfortable as the no. 5 seed, they are just two games ahead of the no. 8 seed Nuggets, and have struggled at times since their 11-1 start.
Chris Paul is having a slightly down year for his standards, but nevertheless is still having a great season, averaging 9.7 assists and 2.5 steals. A true point guard in every sense of the word, Paul means everything to the Hornets franchise and will be needed greatly for New Orleans to finish strong.
The Jazz, tied with Denver for the no. 7 seed in the west, will need Williams to be at his best now more than ever after the recent departure of their 23-year tenured coach Jerry Sloan.
Deron Williams has played great this season, averaging 21.4 points and 9.7 assists, and is making the most of a Jazz team that many thought would struggle after losing All-Star forward Carlos Boozer in the offseason.
Arguably the best player in the game today, James is having a fantastic season for Miami, averaging 26 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists. However, so far the Heat have not been able to beat Boston through their first three regular season meetings, as both teams are tied atop the east.
Miami wants the one seed and homecourt advantage in the east, which will require a strong finish for James, who has seemingly limitless potential.
Despite talks all season of Anthony wanting a trade out of Denver, the Nuggets have stayed in the playoff picture all year long, and are currently tied with Utah for the no. 7 seed in the western conference.
Anthony is having another big season for Denver, averaging 25 points, but if he is traded by the February 24th deadline, it could take his team out of the playoffs and significantly help the team he is traded to.
Just missed the cut: Josh Smith, Chauncey Billlups, Rudy Gay, Andre iguodala, Al Horford