There is a uniquely thrilling seeding race taking shape in the middle of the Eastern Conference between a slew of teams at different points in their path to contention. The conference has been stratified into three tiers for most of the season with the Sixers, Nets, Bucks as title contenders at the top, a morass of mediocrity in the middle and a few rebuilding teams at the bottom of the pack.

Now the Celtics and Hawks sit tied at the fourth seed at 31-26 (Atlanta holds the tiebreaker with Boston), while the Knicks are in sixth with one extra loss at 31-27. With the Heat, Hornets and Pacers all still in striking distance, Hawks writer Chris Kirschner, Celtics writer Jared Weiss and NBA writer John Hollinger look at the race to see who gets to avoid an East juggernaut in the first round.

Kirschner: All right, guys, we’re in the final stretch of the season and the standings in the Eastern Conference are extremely tight right now. Seeds four through nine are separated by just 4.5 games with only a few weeks remaining. 

Boston, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Charlotte and Indiana are the teams vying for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. 

The Celtics and Knicks are the hottest teams out of this group, but Boston is my pick to get the fourth seed. Entering the weekend, it has the seventh-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA and both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are surging at the right time. 

Who are your picks to get that fourth seed and who would you see as the biggest competitor for your selection? 

Hollinger: Atlanta has an advantage by owning the tie-break against Boston, but I don’t think it’s going to come down to that. As Chris points out, Boston has a favorable schedule the rest of the way and has been playing its best basketball of late, and that is while receiving basically zero thus far from newly acquired Evan Fournier.