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What's at stake Tuesday in East playoff chase

The Cavs, Knicks, 76ers and Heat each look to improve their positioning after tonight's matchups.

While the top of the West has resembled a game of musical chairs with the Thunder, Nuggets and Wolves all within a game of each other and constantly trading top position, the No. 1 seed in the East has long belonged to the Celtics.

The teams below them, well that’s a different story.

The Bucks hold a 2.5-game lead for second place, but the next six teams, from 3rd to 8th …

  • Are all separated by just five games
  • With less than two weeks to play
  • And with a reigning MVP reportedly close to a return after missing the last two months

Four of those teams are in play tonight – the No. 3 Cavs, No. 4 Knicks, No. 7 Heat and No. 8 Sixers. Let’s break down what’s at stake in each game tonight.

Thunder vs. Sixers (7:30 ET, TNT)

  • Philly hosts West-leading OKC without Joel Embiid and potentially without Tyrese Maxey (questionable, hip). The Sixers dropped their first seven games without their two All-Stars, but have won their last two outings without the duo
  • What’s At Stake? The No. 8 Sixers trail the No. 7 Heat by 1.5 games and the No. 6 Pacers by 2.5 games. A win tonight and a Heat loss to New York could pull Philly within a half-game of Miami and 1.5 games of Indy
  • There is still time for the Sixers to climb out of the Play-In, and getting Embiid back (26-8 with him this season) could be a big boost to their chances

Knicks vs. Heat (7:30 ET, NBA App)

  • The Knicks are coming off back-to-back tough losses to San Antonio (in overtime despite 61 from Jalen Brunson) and OKC (SGA hit the game-winner after Brunson put NY up with 4.1 seconds left). Can they avoid their first three-game slide since All-Star?
  • What’s At Stake For New York? The Knicks enter tonight a half-game back of No. 3 Cleveland and a half-game up on No. 5 Orlando. A Knicks win and Cavs loss would bump New York up to No. 3, while a loss would drop New York down to No. 5 since Orlando owns the head-to-head tiebreaker
  • What’s At Stake For Miami? The Heat are looking for their third-straight win as they try to climb out of the Play-In field and overtake Indiana for sixth place. A win would tie the Heat and the Pacers at 16.5 games behind Boston with a potential showdown set for Sunday to determine the head-to-head tiebreaker

Cavs vs. Jazz (9 ET, NBA App)

  • The Cavs have dropped five of their last seven games, but remain third in the East by a half-game over No. 4 New York and one game over No. 5 Orlando with seven games to play. Donovan Mitchell is set for his third game since returning from a nasal fracture
  • What’s At Stake? A win for the Cavs will help fend off the Knicks and Magic and pull them within 1.5 games of No. 2 Milwaukee. Keep in mind that New York (won season series 2-1) and Orlando (Division leader) currently hold tiebreakers over Cleveland should they come into play

*** This article was pulled from our Starting 5 Newsletter, a daily look at all things NBA. To get the newsletter in your inbox every morning, subscribe here.