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NBA playoff push: Cavs slightly favored for East’s top spot

LeBron on Celtics challenge: ‘I’ve been to six straight Finals’ (0:26)
LeBron James says he is not getting caught up in important regular-season games. (0:26)

What’s at stake down the stretch of the NBA’s regular season? How about the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which looked like it belonged to the defending champion Cavaliers just two weeks ago? The Celtics and Cavs are in a dead heat, tightening the chase for the conference’s top spot.

With the playoff picture changing daily, here’s an updated look at the postseason races to watch, with the latest Basketball Power Index (BPI) projections of where teams are likely to finish.

More: Standings | Matchups | Playoff odds | Lottery odds

Editor’s note: BPI odds through April 3.

Race for No. 1: Cavs vs. Celtics

Who will rise in the East? BPI still gives Cleveland the slight edge to finish with the conference’s top seed. A Cavs-Celtics showdown in Boston looms large on Wednesday (ESPN) and might be the difference in deciding the East regular-season champ.

Cleveland Cavaliers
BPI odds for No. 1: 50.6%
Next game: Wednesday at Celtics

Boston Celtics
BPI odds for No. 1: 49.1%
Next game: Wednesday vs. Cavs

Race for No. 3: Raptors vs. Wizards

Just as BPI had projected, Toronto has overtaken the Wizards for the East’s No. 3 seed, with its odds greatly increasing over the weekend. Even better news: If the Cavs finish with the No. 1 seed (see above), the Raptors wouldn’t have to face the defending champs until the conference finals.

In a playoff matchup with the Celtics, the Raptors currently have a 54 percent chance of advancing, even as the lower seed. That number falls to 47 percent if the Raptors were to meet the Cavs in a series.

Toronto Raptors
Odds for No. 3: 57.0%
Next game: Wednesday at Pistons

Washington Wizards
Odds for No. 3: 37.6%
Next game: Thursday at Knicks

Race for No. 8

There’s a Big Dance going on at the bottom of the East bracket. The red-hot Bulls now suddenly have a 96.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. The struggling Hawks, meanwhile, are clinging to a playoff spot and still have 89.7 percent playoff odds. That currently leaves a three-way battle for the eighth and final spot with the Hornets making a late push.

Indiana Pacers
Playoff odds: 55.7%
Next game: Thursday vs. Bucks

Miami Heat
Playoff odds: 37.4%
Next game: Wednesday at Hornets

Charlotte Hornets
Playoff odds: 20.7%
Next game: Wednesday vs. Heat

Race for No. 4: Clippers vs. Jazz

Although the Clippers sit one game behind the Jazz, their chances of capturing the No. 4 seed — and home-court advantage in the first round — are now hovering around 30 percent, according to BPI.

How important would home-court advantage be to the Jazz? As the No. 4 seed, Utah would hold a 53 percent edge in a series with the Clips, according to BPI. But if the Jazz fall to the No. 5 seed, they would indeed be underdogs, with only a 44 percent chance to advance to the second round for a potential matchup with the Warriors.

Utah Jazz
Odds for No. 4: 67.1%
Next game: Friday vs. Wolves

LA Clippers
Odds for No. 4: 32.4%
Next game: Wednesday vs. Mavericks

Race for No. 8: Nuggets vs. Blazers

This chase is heating up after Portland lost in Salt Lake City on Tuesday while the Nuggets won in New Orleans. If you’re looking for a first-round upset of the Warriors, don’t hold your breath. BPI currently gives Portland 1 percent odds of beating the defending West champs in a series.

Portland Trail Blazers
Odds for No. 8: 92.3%
Next game: Thursday at Blazers

Denver Nuggets
Odds for No. 8: 7.4%
Next game: Wednesday at Nuggets

More: Standings | Matchups | Playoff odds | Lottery odds

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