While the pairings are still wide open, the book is nearly closed on the 16 teams that will make the NBA playoffs next month.
The New York Knicks, riding a five-game winning streak, have a five-game lead over slumping Washington for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Bullets have lost six consecutive games.The postseason picture is even clearer in the West, where eighth-place Seattle has a seven-game lead over Dallas for the last playoff berth.
If the playoffs started Monday, Seattle would open at Portland, Golden State at Utah, Houston at the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio at Phoenix in the West.
In the East, it would be New York at Chicago, Indiana at Boston, Philadelphia at Detroit and Atlanta at Milwaukee.
Those pairings are far from certain, however, with several teams jockeying for better position.
The Lakers, currently the third seed in the West, have won nine consecutive Pacific Division titles. This year, they are in the unfamiliar position of chasing Portland, which won its first 11 games and led Los Angeles by 81/2 games on Jan. 8. But on Friday night, the Lakers closed to 11/2 games.
"We haven't been in this situation before, where we've had to protect a lead in the division or catch up," forward James Worthy said. "But it doesn't concern me. The only thing that concerns me is our team. We're aware of the standings, but we can't afford to worry about Portland. We just have to take the attitude of winning the games we have to win."
The Blazers, despite having the NBA's best record, took a season-high four-game losing streak and the dwindling division lead into Sunday's meeting at Boston Garden against the Celtics.
By the end of the day, Portland's lead was back to 21/2 games after the Trail Blazers defeated the Celtics 116-107 and Houston beat the Los Angeles Lakers 104-95 at the Forum.
"We lost some of our intensity," Clyde Drexler said after scoring 29 points against the Celtics. "We were winning games so easily that we thought we didn't need to play as hard."
"We weren't panicking at all," Portland coach Rick Adelman said. "We've already won 45 games, so I knew it would just be a matter of time."
San Antonio, which didn't lose consecutive games until February, fell out of first place in the Midwest Division with a four-game losing streak, regained the top with consecutive wins over Portland, then lost it again by blowing 18 and 17-point leads at New York and Boston.
"We got tired," Spurs coach Larry Brown said. "We're not the same team we're going to be."
"We're not doing it in the clutch," forward Terry Cummings said. "When we get to the point where our roles are defined, this team is going to start rolling."
Utah's 11/2-game lead over the Spurs is crucial since the division winner will be a No. 2 seed and the second-place team could drop as low as No. 5.
With a convincing 104-81 win at the Salt Palace on Feb. 18, the Jazz clinched the season series over the Spurs. That could turn out to be a significant tiebreaker since the Jazz are 93-45 and the Spurs 92-45 since the beginning of the 1989-90 season.
Winning the series "is very significant," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Last year it meant the difference between playing Denver or Phoenix in the first round."
Utah lost to Phoenix and the Spurs swept Denver in the opening round in 1990.
In the Eastern Conference, Chicago and Boston have sizable division leads for the top two seeding spots, but have traded first place in the conference twice in the past week.
The Bulls took over first place with a 129-99 rout of the Celtics on Feb. 26.
Then the Celtics beat San Antonio on Friday, and Indiana snapped Chicago's 11-game winning streak on Saturday, putting Boston back in front until Sunday's loss to Portland.
Chicago has a five-game cushion on Detroit in the Midwest Division as the two-time defending champion Pistons continue to struggle after injuries sidelined Isiah Thomas and John Salley.