NBA

NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers: Lakers, Blazers prefer play-in over Clippers in first round?

Heading into the final three days the season, only two teams are locked into their playoff or play-in seed (Spurs at No. 10 in the West and Boston at No. 7 in the East). That means 18 seeds are still up in the air. On Thursday, the Blazers fell to the Suns to potentially complicate the 5-6-7 picture in the West. Portland is now No. 6, one loss back of of the No. 5 Mavericks and even with the No. 7 Lakers. 

Portland has secured the head-to-head tiebreaker over both, but a three-way tie is still a possibility, which would reward Dallas with the highest seed (No. 5) as the only division winner among the three. From there, Portland would be No. 6 by way of head-to-head over the Lakers, who would stick at No. 7. 

The Sacramento Kings were eliminated from play-in contention on Thursday. 

The Chicago Bulls are still barely alive in the East. 

A quick reminder on the NBA‘s new play-in format: The top six seeds in each conference are in, with the final two seeds up for grabs via the new play-in tournament. In each conference, No. 7 will play No. 8 with the winner getting the No. 7 seed. The loser will then play the winner of 9 vs. 10 for the No. 8 seed.

Below is what the playoff picture looks like entering play on Friday, May 14. Teams are listed in order of current seed along with the SportsLine projected finishing seed and different magic number scenarios. A “playoff spot” means a top-six seed. This post will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track of these races down to the wire. 

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times to produce the most unbiased and precise projections possible.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Jazz have a one-game lead over the No. 2 Suns with two games to play. Phoenix has the tiebreaker. Staying in the No. 1 spot could have big implications as it would mean, entering play on Friday, starting the playoffs on the opposite side of the bracket from the Suns and Clippers, and also the Lakers if they stay at No. 7.

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Thunder, Kings
  • Projected seed: No. 1

2. Phoenix Suns

The Suns edged the Blazers on Thursday to stay on Utah’s heels — one game with two to play and the tiebreaker secured. The Suns can still fall to No. 3. They’re two up on the Clippers with two to play, and the Clippers own the tiebreaker. The Suns have clinched at least a top-three seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 1
  • Remaining games: Spurs, Spurs
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have a one-game lead over the No. 4 Nuggets with two games to play. Denver owns the tiebreaker. The Clippers are also mathematically alive to jump Phoenix for No. 2 — two games back with two to play and the tiebreaker secured. The Clippers have clinched a top-four seed.

  • Magic number to clinch No. 3 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Rockets, Thunder
  • Projected seed: No. 3

4. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets trail the No. 3 Clippers by one in the loss column with two games to play and the tiebreaker in hand. Denver has clinched a top-four seed. 

  • Remaining games: Pistons, Blazers
  • Projected seed: No. 4

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks are one game up on the No. 6 Blazers, who own the tiebreaker. Dallas has two games remaining. Portland has one. Dallas also leads the No. 7 Lakers by one in the loss column, but the Mavericks own the tiebreaker there. 

If the Blazers, Mavericks and Lakers end up in a three-way tie, the first tiebreaker goes to Dallas as the only division winner. From there, the Blazers own the head-to-head over the Lakers to secure the No. 6 seed, leaving L.A. in the play-in tourney at No. 7. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 1
  • Remaining games: Raptors, Timberwolves
  • Projected seed: No. 5

6. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers took a brutal last-second loss to the Suns on Thursday to fall to No. 6 — which, as it stands, would force them to play the Clippers in the first round. Portland is one back of No. 5 Dallas with one game to play and the tiebreaker secured. 

If the Mavericks win both of their final two games, the Blazers cannot get higher than No. 6, and might consider trying to fall to No. 7 to avoid the Clippers in the first round, even though it would mean having to go through the play-in game. The Blazers are tied in the loss column with the Lakers with the tiebreaker in hand. 

If the Blazers, Mavericks and Lakers end up in a three-way tie (in which case tiebreaker rules change), the first tiebreaker goes to Dallas as the only division winner. From there, the Blazers own the head-to-head over the Lakers to secure the No. 6 seed, leaving L.A. in the play-in tourney at No. 7. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 1
  • Remaining game: Nuggets
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

7. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers trail the No. 5 Mavericks by one game with two games each remaining. They are tied with No. 6 Portland. Both the Mavs and Blazers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers. The Lakers cannot finish below the No. 7 seed and do not control their own destiny for a top-six seed. 

If the Blazers, Mavericks and Lakers end up in a three-way tie, the first tiebreaker goes to Dallas as the only division winner. From there, the Blazers own the head-to-head over the Lakers to secure the No. 6 seed, leaving L.A. in the play-in tourney at No. 7. 

As with Portland, it’s worth wondering whether the Lakers would, or should, think about resting LeBron James and Anthony Davis over the season’s final two games, in effect trying to lose those games, to make sure they stay in the No. 7 seed. Yes, that would mean having to go through a play-in game or two, but as current seeds stand it would also mean not having to play the Clippers in the first round. 

Of course, there is no guarantee the Clippers will stick at No. 3. They could jump to No. 2 or fall to No. 4. There are a lot of moving parts, but you can be assured that these teams, no matter what they say, do have preferable matchups and would almost certainly take the necessary steps to ensure their preferable playoff path if given the opportunity. 

  • Remaining games: Pacers, Pelicans
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Warriors are tied with the No. 9 Grizzlies in the loss column. The Warriors-Grizzlies season series is tied 1-1 with the rubber match set for the final day of the season. No matter what happens between now and then, that game on Sunday will determine the 8-9 seeds. The Warriors have clinched at least the No. 9 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 8 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Pelicans, Grizzlies
  • Projected seed: No. 8

Memphis is tied with No. 8 Golden State with the season series tied 1-1 and one matchup left on the last day of the season. No matter what happens between now and then, that game on Sunday will determine the 8-9 seeds. Memphis has clinched at least the No. 9 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 8 seed: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 20th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

San Antonio is locked into the No. 10 seed after Sacramento was officially eliminated on Thursday. 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Sixers missed a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed by losing to the Heat on Thursday. The Sixers lead the No. 2 Nets by one game with two to play, but the Sixers own the tiebreaker, so Philly would have to lose out and Brooklyn would have to win out for the Sixers to drop. Not likely to happen given Philly’s final two games are against Orlando. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 1
  • Remaining games: Magic, Magic
  • Projected seed: No. 1

The Nets trail the No. 1 Sixers by one game with two to play. Philly owns the tiebreaker. Brooklyn leads No. 3 Milwaukee by one game, but the Bucks have the tiebreaker.

  • Magic number to clinch No. 2 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Bulls, Cavs
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are one loss behind the No. 2 Nets with the tiebreaker in hand. The Bucks have clinched a top-three seed, but do not control their own destiny for anything higher than that. 

  • Remaining games: Heat, Bulls
  • Projected seed: No. 3

The Hawks have clinched a top-six seed. The Hawks are tied in the loss column with the No. 5 Heat (Hawks own head-to-head tiebreaker) and No. 6 Knicks (Knicks own head-to-head tiebreaker). Atlanta does not control its own destiny for a top-four seed (the Knicks can win out and pass the Hawks via head-to-head if it ends in a two-way tie) but can clinch the No. 5 seed with a win over Houston in its season finale. 

If Atlanta, Miami and New York finished in a three-way tie, Atlanta would win the Southeast Division by way of having a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Miami, and by extension, would be awarded the No. 4 seed as the lone division winner among the three teams. From there, Miami would be No. 5 by virtue of its 3-0 season-series advantage over New York, which would be left at No. 6. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 5 seed: 1
  • Remaining game: Rockets
  • Projected seed: No. 4

The Heat have sealed at least a top-six seed. Miami is tied with No. 4 Atlanta (Hawks own head-to-head) and the No. 6 Knicks (Miami owns head-to-head) in the loss column. Miami has two games remaining, as do the Knicks. Atlanta has one. 

If Atlanta, Miami and New York finish in a three-way tie, Atlanta would win the Southeast Division by way of having a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Miami, and by extension, would be awarded the No. 4 seed as the lone division winner among the three teams. From there, Miami would be No. 5 by virtue of its 3-0 season-series advantage over New York, which would be left at No. 6. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 5 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Bucks, Pistons
  • Projected seed: No. 5

6. New York Knicks

The Knicks are tied in the loss column with the No. 5 Heat (Knicks own tiebreaker) and No. 4 Hawks (Hawks own tiebreaker). The Knicks have clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament. The Knicks do not control their own destiny for a top-five seed. 

If Atlanta, Miami and New York finished in a three-way tie, Atlanta would win the Southeast Division by way of having a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over Miami, and by extension, would be awarded the No. 4 seed as the lone division winner among the three teams. From there, Miami would be No. 5 by virtue of its 3-0 season-series advantage over New York, which would be left at No. 6. 

  • Remaining games: Hornets, Celtics
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

The Celtics are locked into the No. 7 seed.  

The Hornets are tied with No. 9 Indiana with the tiebreaker in hand. The Hornets lead No. 10 Washington by one in the loss column and own the tiebreaker. Charlotte and Washington play on the final day of the season (Sunday). The Hornets have clinched a play-in spot. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 8 seed: 2
  • Magic number to clinch No. 9 seed: 1
  • Remaining games: Knicks, Wizards
  • Projected seed: No. 9

The Pacers are tied with the No. 8 Hornets, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Indiana leads No. 10 Washington by one in the loss column (Wizards own the tiebreaker). Indiana has clinched a play-in spot. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 9 seed: 2
  • Remaining games: Lakers, Raptors
  • Projected seed: No. 8

10. Washington Wizards

The Wizards trail the Pacers by one with the tiebreaker secured, They also trail the No. 8 Hornets by one with a head-to-head matchup looming on the final day of the season, but Charlotte owns the tiebreaker. The Wizards have a two-loss lead over the No. 11 Bulls with two games to play (Chicago owns the tiebreaker). One win for Washington or one loss for Chicago seals the final play-in spot for the Wizards. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Remaining games: Cavs, Hornets
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Clinging to play-in life)

  • 11. Chicago Bulls — Two losses back of No. 10 Washington with two games to play (Nets, Bucks) and the tiebreaker secured. 


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