We returned to the arena yesterday with a solid 2-1 start. Let’s keep that momentum going today. But first, a look at the West standings heading into the last few weeks of the season. Just like last time, I divided the conference into tiers – note that these tiers are solely based on the end-of-season standings and have nothing to do with my thoughts on success in the playoffs.
- The Race for 1
Also 1. Suns
First, what’s the tiebreaker if things stay this tight? That would be the head-to-head season series, which the Suns swept. So, technically, it’s Suns 1, Jazz 2. Regardless, last night’s Phoenix blowout was a pretty monumental occasion. It’s been the Jazz and the rest all season out West, but recent slippage and the loss of Donovan Mitchell finally caught up to them. Holding on to a top two spot (the Clips are 2.5 games back) is likely the goal now, and Utah (8-7 in their last fifteen) is probably capable of doing that. The magic number is 7, which means even a 5-4 finish would require the Clippers to go 7-1 down the stretch just for a tie that would go Utah’s way because of the season series. So, in other words, get 4-5 wins here the rest of the way, and the Clippers would need to be nearly flawless. As for getting control of the 1 seed back – it’ll be a challenge. The Jazz aren’t exactly killing it, and while their schedule isn’t particularly tough, neither is Phoenix’s. The momentum is entirely on the side of the team that’s won eleven of fifteen.
- The Race for 3
3. Clippers (2.5 back)
4. Nuggets (3 back)
This race is a little less illustrious, and I’m not sure that either team is particularly worried about ending up in 3 v. 4 given how little we know about how the rest of the bracket will shape up by seeding. Still, a race it is with the Clippers just half a game up on the Nuggets. Coincidentally, these two teams play tonight (10 Eastern, ESPN), and control of the 3 seed will be on the line. Another thing to note about tonight – the season series is tied 1-1, so the winner will have the inside edge to the higher seed by both position and their hold on the tiebreaker. The schedules are relatively similar the rest of the way here with the Clippers likely having a slightly easier road. Regardless of how much tonight’s game – or this seeding battle – actually matters, it should be a fun match-up. Keep an eye on it.
- The Race to stay out of the play-in spot
5. Lakers (9 back)
6. Mavs (9.5 back)
7. Trail Blazers (10 back)
We have a tight three-way race here, and the loser has to play extra basketball with the risk of elimination before the playoffs truly begin. The Lakers aren’t out of the woods yet, even with the return of LeBron. They’ve lost 13 of 21, and they have to play the Nuggets, Clippers, Blazers, and Suns next week. It’s hard to imagine this team falling outside of the top six, but it might just happen. The Mavs, outside of a game with the Nets, don’t play a single game against a team with a better record than them the rest of the way. The Blazers, however, have a much tougher schedule. They travel to Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Utah and will host the Lakers, Spurs, and Nuggets in seven of their last nine games. It’ll take one heck of an effort for them to break out of the play-in.
- The Race for the 8 seed and an extra play-in loss
Grizzlies (12.5 back)
Spurs (13 back)
Warriors (14 back)
Here’s how the play-in works –
- 7 and 8 play. The winner is in the bracket as the 7 seed
- 9 and 10 play. The loser is out.
- The loser of 1 plays the winner of 2 for the 8 seed.
Given this, there is a clear advantage to being 8 rather than 9 or 10. The Grizzlies have to have the inside edge here given their remaining schedule, a stretch that includes the Magic, Pistons, Timberwolves, Kings (twice), Pelicans, and Raptors. The Spurs, meanwhile, suffered a huge blow when they allowed the Celtics to come all the way back last night, and seven of their final ten are against teams in the top 3 of either conference. They also play the Knicks and Blazers. Then there’s the Warriors, who fit somewhere in the middle but much closer to the Grizzlies in terms of schedule. They’ve been far less consistent than the Grizzles thus far. It’s Memphis’s position to lose at this point.
- The Race to stay alive
11 Pelicans (17 back)
12 Kings (19 back)
Let’s start with the Kings, who are in much more dire straits. To catch the Warriors, who own the tiebreaker, there are very scenarios that will work –
Kings go 9-0, Warriors go 3-6 or worse
Kings go 8-1, Warriors go 2-7 or worse
Kings go 7-2, Warriors go 1-8 or worse
Kings go 6-3, Warriors don’t win again
It’s not looking good for Sacramento. The situation is similar with the Spurs, but, if the Kings beat San Antonio next Friday to claim the season series, things look a little better –
Kings go 8-0, Spurs go 4-5 or worse (Spurs still have 10 left overall)
Kings go 7-1, Spurs go 3-6 or worse
Kings go 6-2, Spurs go 2-7 or worse
Kings go 5-3, Spurs go 1-8 or worse
Kings go 4-4, Spurs lose out
It’s an interesting situation with the Grizzlies because the Kings play their second and third to last games in … Memphis. The bigger issue is that Sacramento could win all nine of their remaining games, and they’d still need Memphis to go 3-7 or worse to close things out. With the schedule they have, that’s incredibly unlikely. The Kings are still alive, but time is likely short.
For the Pelicans, there’s more hope. I won’t run through all of the scenarios because there will be far more of them, but the basic idea is that going 7-2 or 8-1 is probably going to need to happen. The good thing is that you only need one of these teams ahead of them to stick around .500 if that happens, which is very possible. The other good news? New Orleans has three more games against Golden State, who sits exactly three games above them. It’s a tall order, but the road to the playoffs is there if New Orleans can take advantage.
- The Race to the bottom
All three are officially eliminated. On to the draft.
- Heat @ Cavs
- Pistons @ Hornets
- Warriors @ Rockets
- Grizzlies @ Magic
- Pacers @ Thunder
- Pelicans @ Timberwolves
Teams with plenty to fight for taking on complete non-entities is the theme of the day in the NBA. The Heat, Hornets, Warriors, Grizzlies, Pacers, and Pelicans are all in need of more wins, and the teams they’re playing are not. That doesn’t mean these games are easy though. Just because you need to take advantage of a weaker opponent doesn’t mean you will. We’ll see who slips up tonight.
- Bulls @ Hawks
- Raptors @ Jazz
- Wizards @ Mavs
We also somehow get all three teams fighting for the East’s ten seed going on the road to take on a higher ranked team. The Wizards are in the driver’s seat in this race with a three game lead that puts them far closer to the Pacers and Hornets than it does the Bulls and Raptors. That means Toronto and Chicago are in a very similar spot to the Pelicans – they need to win 7-8 games the rest of the way if they want to feel decent about their chances.
- Nuggets @ Clippers
I briefly mentioned this one above. It’s the game of the night. Should be a good one. I won’t go into any more than that. It should be interesting to see how this game is approached knowing that these two are unlikely to see each other in the playoffs outside of a potential WCF matchup.
Like I said at the top, we went 2-1 yesterday.
Wizards ✅, Bucks ✅, Jazz ❌
Let’s build on that momentum today. I’m going with one parlay because I don’t love any of the lines –
Pacers and Mavs ML – $15 to win $15
Let’s have a night.