When Carmelo Anthony decides he's ready to join the New Jersey Nets -- more like if -- the reception he finds waiting for him in the NBA's Eastern Conference won't be a welcome one. With a month to go before the NBA All-Star break, the East's top tier is breaking away and the number of playoff spots up for grabs is dwindling fast.
If Miami (30-9) continues at its current pace -- having won 21 of its last 22 games -- an assault on 70 victories would still be possible. Given that LeBron James won at least 61 games in each of the last two seasons without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as teammates, it also wouldn't be a surprise. Neither will be seeing the Heat have difficulty in the playoffs guarding Boston (28-8), which when healthy is still more efficient and better defensively.
Gilbert Arenas and Orlando (25-12) have also won nine in a row while Chicago (24-12) has won 15 of its last 19 and Atlanta (25-14) has won eight of its last 10. With New York (21-15) also likely to find its way into the postseason, that leaves nine teams vying for two remaining playoff berths.
Even if both of those spots are claimed by teams with losing records, to earn one the Nets (10-27) would need to be one of the best teams in the NBA over the regular season's latter half -- perhaps winning two out of every three games, something Anthony has barely done this year with Denver. At least with the Nuggets, the postseason is likely -- which, among other things, makes a move to Newark dubious.