With the NBA playoffs just over a month away, now is a good time to take a look at where the key races stand and which teams are most likely to have to play their ways into the postseason brackets.
Remember, in this new play-in era, the postseason hunt in each conference is actually split into two: the race for a top-six spot -- guaranteeing entry into the playoff rounds -- and the race for seeds Nos. 7 through 10, which means one or two play-in wins will be necessary to earn the final No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.
Here are the teams in each conference with the most reasons for optimism and pessimism in the key seeding groups, plus which franchises will be fighting for every single win down the stretch.
The Eastern Conference
Let's start in the East, where three teams have separated themselves from the pack.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are on top, but things are beginning to break for Philly. The 76ers are tied with the Nets for No. 1 and play them in a huge game on ESPN on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET). The Nets are short-handed and coming off a back-to-back. If Philly wins it secures the tiebreaker over Brooklyn. That's huge for a couple of reasons:
The Sixers have the best home record in the East, so securing home-court advantage by grabbing the No. 1 seed would only help their Finals chances. Earning the top spot could force an absolutely brutal Nets-Bucks matchup in the second round, while the Sixers would likely face a much easier foe.
ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) projects that Philly has the easiest remaining schedule among these three teams. The No. 1 seed in theirs to lose.
Things get messy after those top three teams, which will only add excitement to the final weeks of games. Only four games separate teams Nos. 4 through 9. Let's take a look at the logjam.
Teams with reasons for optimism
• The Atlanta Hawks have been a different team under new head coach Nate McMillan, winning 15 of their past 20 games while posting the best offensive numbers in the conference. They've climbed up to No. 4, and BPI gives them an 84.6% chance to make the playoffs.