We had a solid 2-2 day yesterday. Let’s build on that today. First, what happened around the league yesterday?
The Celtics rolled past the Magic 132-96. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum combined for 59 in the win, which keeps Boston level with Miami in 6 seed position. The Heat host the Timberwolves tomorrow while the Celtics visit the Bulls, and then these two have a crucial two-game series that will determined seeding and tiebreakers. The Celtics won the opener by two points, and thus they just need to take one of these two to own the season series and that key tiebreaker. For the Magic, this keeps them right in the hunt for top odds at the top pick in the draft. Orlando, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City are all just one game back of Minnesota and the bottom three, which offers equal lottery odds for that top pick.
The Trail Blazers also murdered the Cavs, coincidentally by 36. Cleveland is in the exact same spot as Orlando. The Blazers are in a very similar situation to the Celtics. They currently hold the West’s 7 seed but are just half a game back of both the Mavs and Lakers ahead of those two playing (in different games) tonight. We’ll get into the tiebreakers a bit later as the seeding picture becomes a little more clear next week.
The Sixers won by 20 in Houston to get closer to the top seed out East. All they need is a 4-2 finish, and the top spot is theirs regardless of what happens with the Nets and Bucks. Given that they play the Pistons and the Magic (twice) in three of those games, that’s not much of an ask. It’s theirs to lose. For the Rockets, this just further guaranteed that they’re the worst team in the league. There’s still a full three game gap between them and the second-to-last Pistons.
The Grizzlies outlasted the Timberwolves, who have been far more competitive down the stretch. Anthony Edwards became the third teenager in NBA history to post a 40, 5, and 5 line despite the loss. He finished with 42 points, 7 assists, and 6 boards on an incredibly efficient night, but Ja Morant’s 37 gave the Grizzlies just enough to get over the finish line. Minnesota still has the third worst record in the league, but, as we’ve highlighted, there are three teams hot on their tail. That race is far from over. For Memphis, this goes a long way towards the securing of their playoff spot, as they’re now 3.5 games up on the Pelicans and 4.5 up on the Kings. It also puts them back, for now, in the 8 seed, a position that they’ll be fighting the Warriors for all the way down to the wire. Remember that the 7 and 8 seed get a loss in the play-in without being eliminated.
The Kings got past the Pacers in Indiana to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Here’s how Sacramento makes the playoffs –
- Beat the Spurs tomorrow
- Finish 4-1 after that
- Spurs finish 4-2 or worse (after Kings game)
- Pelicans finish 4-2 or worse
Obviously you can shift around the records a little bit to see what happens if the Kings go 5-0 or 3-2 (a 1-4 finish would require both SAS and NOP losing out), but this is a relatively realistic look at things. The Kings have done well to keep fighting, and the Spurs have certainly played a role in offering them some hope. Now we see if Sacramento can finish and get the little bit of additional help they need. For the Pacers, this drops them a full two games back of the Hornets and the 8 seed. They’re all but guaranteed a playoff spot with a 3.5 game lead over the Raptors, but they need a reversal of fortunes – and a quick one at that – to compete for the 8 seed.
The Hawks led the Suns 67-65 at half, and they ended up winning by 32 after a 38-15 fourth quarter. No Hawk scored more than 18 points, and the Suns only had two players in double figures. It was a bizarre game. This was a huge win for Atlanta, who is now half a game back of the Knicks for first round home court and 1.5 games up on the Celtics, the Heat, and the play-in. They have played the extra game in both cases. For the Suns, this puts them a game back of the Jazz at the top of the West. They own the tiebreaker, so things are far from over there. Both teams have six games left.
The Jazz, led by 54 combined points from Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic, ran all over the Spurs in a 32-point win. They’re now alone at the top of the West, and, again, they must stay there if they want to beat out the Suns given that they don’t hold the tiebreaker. We’ve kind of gone over the Spurs when we looked at the Kings, but it’s safe to say they’re no longer all that safe when it comes to playoff positioning. There are two teams within 2.5 games, and the Pelicans are only 1.5 back. San Antonio has lost five in a row, and all of their games after tomorrow’s trip to Sacramento are against teams in the top seven of their respective conference. Tomorrow is absolutely crucial. With a win, the Spurs stabilize and push the Kings to the very edge of the cliff. With a loss, everything is up in the air.
The Bucks held on late to top the Wizards 135-134 despite the absence of Khris Middleton. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook combined for 71, and Russ also pitched in 17 assists and 12 boards. It wasn’t enough to overcome a strong and balanced effort from Milwaukee, who had seven players contribute 11 or more points. The Bucks are now just a game back of the Nets, who they hold the tiebreaker over, and they’ve done what they can to keep pace with the Sixers. As we’ve discussed, the top seed will be difficult to chase from here. For Washington, the loss doesn’t do a whole lot. They’re still 3 games ahead of the Raptors and half a game behind the Pacers. The 8 seed might be a tough ask now with 2.5 games of separation, but that was the case before too. As long as Washington avoids a complete collapse, they’re in.
The Nuggets ended the Knicks in just twelve minutes with a 34-12 first quarter. The win puts them back into a tie with the Clippers for the West’s 3 seed, and they hold the tiebreaker. The loss drops the Knicks’ lead over the Hawks to just half a game, and their remaining schedule is doing them no favors. There’s still only two games separating the Knicks and the play-in too. They need to finish strong to make sure they get the seed they’ve fought so hard for during a great bounce back season.
- Bulls @ Hornets
The Bulls are fighting for their lives, and every loss (or Wizards/Pacers/Raptors win) is another nail in the coffin. They’re just about dead. The good news? Zach LaVine is back tonight. We’ll see if he provides a much-needed spark. For the Hornets, this is a great chance to really solidify their hold on the 8 seed.
- Nets @ Mavs
The Nets are trying to keep the Sixers within reach and hold off the Bucks for second round home court advantage. These next two games – @Dallas and @Denver – are the hardest they have left. For Dallas, win and you’re guaranteed to remain in the five seed for another day. Lose, and you’re right back in a tie with a team that holds the seven seed and a spot in the play-in.
- Wizards @ Raptors
Nothing like a game against the team you’re chasing to get yourself back in the playoff picture. The Raptors are three games back. They can obviously cut that to two with a win here. There’d be more work to do from there, but that would at least leave the door open. A four game deficit with five to go is essentially a death sentence. For Washington, then, this is a big chance to finally close the door behind them. This should be a good one.
- Grizzlies @ Pistons
The Grizzlies need to keep winning to secure the 8 seed. The Pistons need to keep losing to clinch their spot in the bottom three. It would seem like an ideal spot for Memphis to win, but they’ve been making things hard on themselves in similar situations recently. They’re 2-4 in their last six, just lost to the Magic, and barely got by the Timberwolves last night.
- Hawks @ Pacers
The Pacers don’t want to drop to the 10 seed, but this will be a tough game against a streaking Hawks team that has much to gain and lose. A win puts Atlanta into a tie for the 4 seed (with two extra games played). The Knicks own the tiebreaker, so getting close to them now is key. A loss puts just one game between the Hawks and the Heat and Celtics, and there would also be an additional two games played for Atlanta there. The 4-7 range in the East is far from decided.
- Thunder @ Warriors
The Thunder are closing in fast on a bottom three spot. The Warriors are fighting for a top 8 spot. This is Grizzlies v. Pistons Part II with very small differences.
- Lakers @ Clippers
The Lakers are in the same exact situation as the Mavs as far as what a win and loss will do, though the one difference is that Dallas owns the head-to-head tiebreaker if both end up tied for that 5 (or 6) seed. With LeBron expected to be out, topping the Clippers will be a tough ask. The other LA team – and the better LA team this year – needs to win to push themselves back ahead of the Nuggets by half a game.