Yesterday was a better day, putting us in position to recover from a rough start to the week. Before we get to some plays, let’s get to a recap of what happened yesterday and what it will mean and then a quick preview of what’s happening today.
With both Miles Bridges and PJ Washington sidelined in addition to the already injured Gordon Hayward, the Hornets held on late to pick up a key win over the Pistons. LaMelo Ball led the way with 23 points, 6 assists, and 7 boards, and Charlotte now has a 1.5 game lead over the Pacers in the race for that key 8 seed. The play-in format will allow one loss to the 7 or 8 seed while the 9 and 10 seed will be eliminated on their first loss, so the importance of finishing in the top 8 should be relatively clear.
For the Pistons, this allowed them to maintain a 2 game lead over the Thunder for position within the bottom three (and equal odds for the top pick in the draft). Both the Cavs and Magic are now 2.5 games back with the Timberwolves (1.5 games back of Detroit) and Rockets (2.5 games ahead of Detroit at the very bottom) rounding out the bottom three.
The Suns held the aforementioned Cavs to just four overtime points, and that allowed them to win by 16 despite never leading by more than six points at the end of any of the four quarters in regulation. Chris Paul had 16 assists as the Suns reclaimed the West’s top seed. They’re tied with the Jazz but own the tiebreaker. Both teams have seven games left.
The Cavs lost despite 61 points from Isaac Okoro and Collin Sexton, and that’s not a bad result for them. They’re just one game back of the Timberwolves and that bottom three, and they’re as cold as anyone right now with ten losses in their last eleven games. All seven of their remaining games will come against teams currently in playoff or play-in position.
The Bucks picked up another crucial win over the Nets, pulling to within 1.5 games of Brooklyn with a game in hand. KD and Kyrie combined for 70, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 82 points produced by Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. The Bucks led by eight at half, and then won the fourth quarter by eight to overcome a poor third quarter that ended with them trailing by two. The win gives Milwaukee a much better chance at taking home court advantage into the second round, and it also keeps their 1 seed hopes (barely) alive, as they sit 3 games back of the Sixers with seven games to go.
The Nets are right in the middle with 1.5 games on either side, though they have, again, played one more game than the others. The next few days feature trips to Denver and Dallas for Brooklyn, and the outcome of those games will likely tell us what seeding is achievable for them as they enter their final four game stretch.
The Pelicans won the fourth quarter 33-24 to pick up a massive win over the Warriors and keep their playoff hopes alive. Lonzo Ball had 33 and Zion Williamson scored 23 as New Orleans overcame 63 combined points from Steph and Andrew Wiggins. The Pels are now just 2 games back of the Spurs (and 3 games back of the Warriors and Grizzlies). Time is tight. New Orleans and Golden State have just six games left, and the other two have eight each. But, this win at least keeps some hope alive. It’s game on if the Spurs fall in Utah tonight.
For the Warriors, this was a missed opportunity to build on their momentum and move closer to securing a top 8 spot. They had this one for most of the game, but it slipped away late. They’ll have to settle for a tie with the Grizzlies for that 8 seed for now. Memphis’s trip to Minnesota is coming up tonight.
The Mavs dominated the middle quarters (68-38) to roll past the Heat in Miami. Tim Hardaway Jr had 36 points, and Luka Doncic was two assists shy of a 20-point triple double. Dallas retook possession of the West’s 5 seed by virtue of the tiebreaker they hold over the Lakers. Both teams are 1 game ahead of the Blazers and that ugly 7 seed.
This one hurts for the Heat, who fall 2.5 games back of the Knicks and first round home court advantage and 1 game back of the Hawks and a path out of a first round matchup with the Bucks or Nets. They’re also now just half a game ahead of the Celtics and the 7 seed, and Boston plays a poor Magic team tonight. These two (Boston and Miami) have a crucial two-game series coming up in a few days.
The Kings, by virtue of a win in OKC, fended off the scissors for another day and pulled themselves within 3.5 games of the Spurs and the play-in. A playoff berth is a pipe dream at this point, but this win at least keeps that dream alive.
The Thunder, meanwhile, are now just half a game behind the Timberwolves, who hold the third and final spot in that bottom three. They play the Warriors and Kings twice more and then finish with the Jazz and Clippers, so Oklahoma City is well-positioned to keep losing down the home stretch.
The Raptors failed to pick up a big win of their own, as they fell to the Clippers in LA. Toronto held a six-point lead at half, but they gave up those six in the third and fell short in the fourth. The loss drops them 3.5 games back of the Wizards, and it will be very difficult to catch them from here. With just four combined Wizards wins and Raptors losses the rest of the way, Washington would be a lock to finish ahead.
The win puts the Clippers back ahead of the Nuggets by half a game in the race for the East’s 3 seed. Denver holds the tiebreaker. It’s difficult to judge the benefit of being one seed or the other at this point given the uncertainty surrounding seeding across the rest of the conference. In any case, this will be a nice victory for the Clips after three straight defeats.
- Celtics @ Magic
The stakes are clear here. A win for the Celtics puts them back into a tie for the 6 seed with Miami. A loss for the Magic allows them to keep increasing their chances at a better pick in the draft. Celtics win the game, and everyone can go home happy. Orlando has won three of five, however, including a win over the Grizzlies.
- Trail Blazers @ Cavs
We have a very similar situation here. The Cavs are tied with the Magic, so they’re in the exact same situation. The Blazers also happen to be the 7 seed in their conference, though a win would put them half a game back of the Mavs and Lakers (with an extra game played) rather than all the way up into a tie.
- 76ers @ Rockets
The Rockets are terrible and will soon clinch their spot in the bottom three. The Sixers are on the opposite side of the spectrum and closing in on the East’s 1 seed. A win in this one would put them 2 games ahead of the Nets and 3.5 games ahead of the Bucks. The remaining schedule is easy for Philly; all they have to do is take care of business.
- Grizzlies @ Timberwolves
The theme of “team with something to play for” @ “team whose front office would probably prefer that they lose” continues. The Timberwolves are just barely holding onto their spot in the bottom three after wins in five of their last seven. They’re a halfway decent 13-17 since the start of March. The Grizzlies are trying to keep themselves in the 8 spot after some recent stumbles. They have the schedule to do it, but they’ve also lost four of five. Getting back on track here would be massive.
- Kings @ Pacers
Both teams could really use this win. The Kings are just about in must-win territory every time they go out, and even an undefeated finish might not be enough. The Pacers are dealing with reports of locker room discontent and are 1) trying to seal up a top 10 spot and 2) trying to keep within a game of the Hornets for that 8 seed.
- Suns @ Hawks
The Suns will look to keep their hold on the top spot out West. They own the tiebreaker over the Jazz. Both teams are 47-18, and both teams play tonight. For the Hawks, a win would bring them within a game of the Knicks and keep some distance between them and the Heat (and potentially the Celtics as well) by creating a 1.5 game gap with the extra game played by Atlanta. A loss drops them 2 back of the Knicks and only gives them a half game edge over the six seed with the other teams having a game in hand.
- Bucks @ Wizards
The Wizards are at the point where they could finish 4-3 and make the playoffs even if the Bulls and/or Raptors win out. The latter half of that sentence seems more than improbable at this point too given how the last few weeks have gone. That means that making the playoffs isn’t really the top priority for Washington. Obviously ending up there is key, but they can now turn their attention to the Hornets and Pacers ahead of them. Charlotte and the 8 seed are two games away, a distance that could potentially be made up with a strong finish. Beating out Indiana, who is just half a game ahead (though they do have a game in hand), is more achievable. In any case, Washington has put themselves in a position to win as part of a chase for higher seeding rather than winning to keep playoff hopes alive. For Milwaukee, a top 3 seed is all but secure with a four game lead over the Knicks with just seven to play. The big question is the 2 seed. Win tonight, and they’re just 1 game back of the Nets with six to play. Lose, and it’s a two game gap. As far as the 1 seed goes, it’s not quite over yet. The Sixers still need to win games and would only be 2 up on the Bucks if they lose to the Rockets while Milwaukee beats Washington. That race is something the Bucks really can’t control, however. They need quite a bit of help.
- Spurs @ Jazz
Because they don’t hold that tiebreaker, the Jazz need to finish ahead of the Suns to take the 1 seed. Neither team has a cakewalk of a schedule down the stretch –
PHO – @Atlanta, New York, @LAL, @Golden State, Portland, @San Antonio twice
UTAH – San Antonio, Denver, Houston, @Golden State, Portland, @OKC, @Sacramento
but the Jazz pretty clearly have the easier of the two. That means a loss tonight, even if it’s paired with a Suns win, would be far from fatal. It would be far from ideal though, and Utah would do well to take advantage of a home game against a team that’s lost four of five – even if three of those losses came by less than five points. The Spurs don’t have an easy schedule left at all – they play three against the Suns and Jazz, host the Bucks, and visit the Knicks, Kings, Blazers, and Nets. That means their play-in spot is far from secure, and they would drop to just a 1.5 game lead over New Orleans with a game in hand if they lose tonight.
- Knicks @ Nuggets
If the Knicks have any hopes of finishing in that 3 seed, they essentially need to win out and hope for the best with the Bucks. The more realistic goal is obviously holding on to the 4 seed and home court in the first round. That won’t be easy with a brutal remaining schedule that includes four consecutive road games against teams in the West’s top six before a homestead against the Spurs, Hornets, and Celtics. With that stretch coming up, nothing is guaranteed. A win allows them to keep at least 1.5 games between them and the Hawks, but a loss could shrink that gap to just 0.5 games – with the Knicks having the game in hand. Denver, meanwhile, is locked into a battle for the 3 seed. Neither they nor the Clippers are likely to move up with a 3.5 game gap between them and the top two, and they’re definitely not moving down. It’s not entirely clear how much is on the line here given how little we know about what the difference in being 3 or 4 will mean for playoff match-ups. The Nuggets will still be looking to win to get back into a tie for that top three spot, where they hold the tiebreaker, and as a way to bounce back from an ugly loss to the Lakers the other night.
Grizzlies – 3.5
Let’s have a night