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Mike Bets #149 – West Seeding Rundown

12 min read

Happy Saturday. Today, we’ve got yesterday’s recap, a look at where the West stands, and then a quick look at what’s on the line in tonight’s games. Let’s get to it.

The Sixers held on late to beat the Pelicans, who turned it over twice on their last two possessions. It was a brutal loss for New Orleans, which we’ll go a little deeper into below. For the Sixers, this was a key win in a game they very well could have lost. Their magic number to beat out the Bucks for the 1 seed is just 3, and they play three games against the Pistons and the Magic (twice) in their last five. They’re getting closer.

The Bulls ran all over the Celtics to move to 2-0 since the return of Zach LaVine from a covid-related absence. The Wizards and Pacers both have playoff magic numbers of 3, so it’s likely too little too late. This win at least keeps some hope alive for Chicago though. For Boston, this one drops them back down to the 7 seed. They’re 1 game back of Miami, 1.5 back of Atlanta, and 2 back of New York. They have a massive two-game series with the Heat on Sunday and Tuesday. The Celtics need just one of the two to take the tiebreaker, but this loss means they’d still be one back with three games to go if the split happens.

The Heat beat a tough Timberwolves team despite a slow start. We know what that means for them. They’re now the 6 seed with a one game edge on the Celtics heading into their mini series. A sweep would clinch a top six seed for them, as they’d own the tiebreaker and be three games up with three to go. A Boston sweep would be just about as definitive in the opposite direction, as it would leave Miami one game back but needing to make up two due to the tiebreaker. That’s not very likely in three games either. The split is what we should want for some end-of-season drama. For the Timberwolves, the loss keeps them in that crucial bottom three (equal odds for top pick). They’re now tied with the Pistons for the second-worst record in the league, but the Cavs, Magic, and Thunder are all just one game back.

Speaking of the Magic, they lost to the Hornets last night, allowing them to keep pace in the race for the bottom three. For Charlotte, it was a big win. They have now clinched a top-eleven finish, and they need just one more win or Bulls loss to clinch a play-in spot. They also kept their clear edge over the Pacers (1.5 games with Indiana having the game in hand) and Wizards (2) for the 8 seed, which will allow them to take a loss in the play-in without being eliminated. They’re in a good position.

The Bucks outlasted the Rockets 141-133. Houston is very close to clinching the league’s worst record. They can do it with just two more losses. For the Bucks, this pushes them into the East’s 2 seed, where they have the edge on Brooklyn by way of tiebreaker. Again, the Sixers’ magic number is down to 3, but the Bucks are at least applying as much pressure as they can. That’s all they can do. For clinching the 2 seed, the magic number is 5.

The Mavs rolled over the Cavs. We’ll go into the Mavs’ position below. For Cleveland, like some other teams we’ve discussed, this one keeps them within a game of the bottom three.

The Suns also blew out the Knicks. We’ll get into the Suns below, but this is slightly troubling for New York. They don’t play any non-playoff teams in their last five, and they’re now just half a game up on Atlanta (with the game in hand) and a game up on the Heat. The Celtics aren’t dead yet either at just two games back. The Knicks have to win some of these tough games if they want to lock up a top 5 or 6 spot, never mind the 4 seed.

In other Western news,

  • The Jazz bested the Nuggets behind a huge night from Bojan Bogdanovic
  • The Blazers beat the Lakers in a key game
  • The Spurs beat the Kings in another very important game

We’ll get to the consequences now, with a look at how each Western team stands in the seeding.


1. Jazz

Best Possible Finish: 1 seed

Worst possible finish: 3 seed

Remaining schedule: Rockets, @Warriors, Blazers, @Thunder, @Kings

It’s pretty simple for Utah. Win one more game, and they’re guaranteed a top two seed. After that, finish with the same or more wins as the Suns in this last five game stretch, and the 1 seed is theirs. Finish with less wins, and Phoenix will either get back in a tie (which they would control via tiebreaker) or pass them altogether.

2. Suns (1 back)

Best Possible Finish: 1 seed

Worst possible finish: 4 seed

Remaining schedule: @Lakers, @Warriors, Blazers, @Spurs, @Spurs

The Suns don’t own tiebreakers over either the Clippers or Nuggets, so there’s a little more work to be done here. Their magic number to finish ahead of Denver is 2. For LA, it’s 3. With ten combined games left in both cases, that’s not all that much to ask for, but it’s not over quite yet. Their schedule isn’t particularly easy. For the 1 seed, it’s quite simple. Win more of these last five games than the Jazz do. Anything less will keep the Suns out of the 1 seed.

3. Clippers (4 back)

Best Possible Finish: 1 seed

Worst possible finish: 4 seed

Remaining schedule: Knicks, @Raptors, @Hornets, @Rockets, @Thunder

Yes, the Clippers can technically get the 1 seed – if they go 5-0 and the Jazz go 0-5. The 2 seed is a little more realistic. A 5-0 finish from LA and a 2-3 finish from the Suns isn’t exactly likely, but it’s far more possible than the Utah scenario. The Clips’ schedule, while road-heavy, isn’t too difficult. Then there’s the battle for the 3 seed, which is quite similar to what we have going on with the Jazz and Suns. The Clippers are a game up; the Nuggets own the tiebreaker. So, to keep the 3 seed, LA just needs to win as many or more of these last five games as Denver does. It’s as simple as that.

4. Nuggets (5 back)

Best Possible Finish: 2 seed

Worst possible finish: 5 seed

Remaining schedule: Nets, @Hornets, @Timberwolves, @Pistons, @Blazers

There’s an extra dose of difficulty when it comes to the schedule here, but there’s still plenty of room for the Nuggets to pick up some wins. To clinch the 4 seed or better, they just need one win or Mavs loss, so they’re fine there. For the 3 seed, they have a similar objective to Phoenix. Win more of these five games than the Clippers do, or it’ll be 3) Clippers, 4) Nuggets.

5. Mavs (10 back)

Best Possible Finish: 4 seed

Worst possible finish: 7 seed

Remaining schedule: @Cavs, @Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, @Timberwolves

It’s really just the 5-7 range for Dallas since they need to go 5-0 and hope Denver goes 0-5 to chase the 4 seed. So what do they need to do to finish ahead of the Lakers and Blazers?

Lakers: Just three combined Mavs wins and Lakers losses will do the trick, as Dallas owns the tiebreaker and a two game lead. With ten combined games left, this is very achievable. Simply taking care of business against two of the worst teams in the league would do two-thirds of the job.

Blazers: This will be harder, as Portland owns the tiebreaker and is just one game back. We’ve seen this situation a few times now. All the Mavs need to do (yes this is easier said than done) is win as many or more of their final five games as the Blazers.

6. Blazers (11 back)

Best Possible Finish: 5 seed

Worst possible finish: 9 seed

Remaining schedule: Spurs, Rockets, @Jazz, @Suns, Nuggets

This is not a very easy stretch to close with, but Portland is playing their best basketball right now. To beat out the Grizzlies, the magic number is two. To beat out Golden State, it’s just one. That’s the case despite the Warriors being ahead of Memphis because 1) the Grizzlies have a game in hand and 2) the Grizzlies own the tiebreaker over Portland while GSW does not. This all means that we’re really just looking at the 5-7 range here too. So, what needs to happen with the Lakers and Mavs?

Mavs: The Blazers need more wins in these last five games than Dallas. That’ll do the trick, but the same or less will keep the Mavs ahead.

Lakers: With the tiebreaker in hand, Portland really has a two-game edge here. There are three scenarios in which they finish ahead of LA.

  1. Win more games than them in these last five
  2. Win the same amount of games as them in these last five
  3. Win one less game than them in these last five

The fifth and sixth spots are Dallas’s and Portland’s to lose.

7. Lakers (12 back)

Best Possible Finish: 5 seed

Worst possible finish: 10 seed

Remaining schedule: Suns, Knicks, Rockets, @Pacers, @Pelicans

The Lakers are in some trouble here. Let’s start with what they need to do to move up and out of the play-in.

  1. Win two (or more) more games than Portland does over this final five game stretch


2. Win three (or more) games than Dallas does over this final five game stretch

Do one and you get the 6 seed. Do both and you get the 5 seed. Do neither, which seems likely, and you end up in the play-in. Going 4-1 against this schedule would be relatively impressive given how the Lakers look right now, and that would require a 2-3 finish from Portland or a 1-4 finish from Dallas. Now let’s look at the teams below them. The good thing is that the Lakers are the proud owners of tiebreakers over the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Spurs. Thus, their magic numbers are just 2, 2, and 1 for those three teams, respectively. LA should be safe in the seven seed.

8. Warriors (15 back)

Best Possible Finish: 6 seed

Worst possible finish: 11 seed

Remaining schedule: Thunder, Jazz, Suns, Pelicans, Grizzlies

We know that moving up is unlikely. To beat out the Blazers, Golden State couldn’t afford a single loss or Blazers’ win. With the Lakers, they can afford just one. It’s not happening.

The key is finishing with the 8 seed. To finish ahead of the Pels, the Warriors either need to win their game against them or have two combined wins and Pelicans losses outside of that game. Things get more difficult with the Grizzlies and Spurs.

Spurs: Golden State owns the tiebreaker here. The Spurs are 1.5 games back with a game in hand. To finish ahead, the Warriors have a magic number of four. So, all they need to do is finish within two wins of the Spurs in the remaining games (remember that they have just five while the Spurs have six).

Grizzlies: The tiebreaker will be decided on the last day of the season, which means we might be headed for one heck of a finish. The Grizzlies, like the Spurs, have six games left, and they’re half a game back here. For both teams, it’s relatively simple – head into that last game within a game of the other, and you’ve got your shot in front of you. To clinch the higher seed before then, the Warriors would need to win one more game in their next four than the Grizzlies do in their next five.

9. Grizzlies (15.5 back)

Best Possible Finish: 6 seed

Worst possible finish: 11 seed

Remaining schedule: @Raptors, Pelicans, Mavs, Kings, Kings, @Warriors

With both the Blazers and Lakers, the Grizzlies can afford just one combined loss and win from those teams to finish ahead of either, so it seems unlikely that we see that. They can beat out the Kings with either one win over them in those two games or two combined wins and Kings losses in the other remaining games. With the Pelicans, the magic number is 3, so that’s relatively close to being done as well. A win over them would put New Orleans on the chopping block with no room for error, and it would eliminate them if the Grizzlies beat the Raptors first.

The important area is the 8-10 zone. We’ve gone over the Grizzlies-Warriors match-up. You just need to be within a game heading into the finale. To avoid that, Memphis would need seven combined wins and Warriors losses in the nine games between them before the last game. In other words, they would need three more wins in their five than Golden State gets in their four. Memphis has the tiebreaker over San Antonio, which means all they need to do to finish ahead is finish within a game of the Spurs over these last six (3-3 v. 4-2 for example).

10. Spurs (16.5 back)

Best Possible Finish: 7 seed

Worst possible finish: 12 seed

Remaining schedule: @Blazers, Bucks, @Nets, Knicks, Suns, Suns

The Spurs might have the Knicks beat in the toughest schedule competition. This is really tough. As far as the 7 seed goes, they’d need a 6-0 finish and a 0-5 finish from the Lakers (plus everything they need to finish ahead of Memphis and Golden State), so we can count that out.

Let’s start with the teams ahead of them.

Warriors: The Spurs need three (or more) more wins in their last six than the Warriors get in their last five. Ex: 4-2 v. 1-4

Grizzlies: The Spurs need two (or more) more wins in their last six than the Grizzlies. Ex: 4-2 v. 2-4.

Given how tough their schedule is, it’s unlikely we see San Antonio move up. That leads to the next question – how do they avoid dropping down? Last night was huge in that regard with the Pelicans losing and the Spurs picking up a massive win over the Kings. They’re back in full control of the tenth spot, and they also now own both tiebreakers. Their magic numbers are just 2 for the Kings and 3 for the Pelicans. It’s almost over out West.

11. Pelicans (19 back)

Best Possible Finish: 8 seed

Worst possible finish: 12 seed

Remaining schedule: @Hornets, @Grizzlies, @Mavs, @Warriors, Lakers

The loss of Zion Williamson and the close loss to the Sixers were a brutal double whammy for New Orleans yesterday, and they now have to dominate a closing stretch that is far from easy if they want any shot at the playoffs. Elimination numbers are the opposite of magic numbers. It’s the amount of personal losses and wins from the team they’re chasing that a lower-seeded team can afford.

Here’s where the Pelicans are:

Warriors: 2

Grizzlies: 3

Spurs: 3

It would almost be a miracle if they make, but at least they’re not the Kings. One note here – the Pelicans can finish with one less win than the Kings in these last five games and still be ahead of them by the tiebreaker. It’s unlikely that comes up in any scenario where anything other than the 11 seed is at stake.

12. Kings (20 back)

Best Possible Finish: 10 seed

Worst possible finish: 12 seed

Remaining schedule: Thunder, Thunder, @Grizzlies, @Grizzlies, Jazz

The Kings had their chance against the Spurs last night. They lost. Now the elimination number is down to 2. It’s over for Sacramento. To finish ahead of New Orleans, they need to win two more games than they do in this final stretch.

13. Thunder (28 back)

14. Timberwolves (29 back)

15. Rockets (33 back)

The Rockets are coasting into last place. The Timberwolves are in a two-way tie for second last. The Thunder are in a three-way tie for fourth last. Remember that the bottom three is key.

With that, let’s look at today’s games:

  • Pistons @ 76ers

Another chance for the Sixers to move closer to the 1 seed against an inferior team. The Pistons could fall out of their bottom three spot with a win. One would think Philly takes this one.

  • Wizards @ Pacers

Both teams are nearly secure in their top-ten spots, but time is running out when it comes to chasing after the Hornets and the top eight. Winning this would give the Wizards the season sweep and give them a half game lead for the 9 seed with the extra game played. A loss for either team would be pretty crippling to their chances of catching Charlotte.

  • Grizzlies @ Raptors

The Raps are trying to stay “alive” while the Grizzlies need some momentum after recent struggles. Memphis is now in a position where they need to win some games to in that 8 seed.

  • Rockets @ Jazz

The Jazz need to keep winning to stay ahead of Phoenix. That shouldn’t be too difficult in this one.

  • Thunder @ Warriors

You could say the same thing here, though the Warriors are trying to stay in the 8 seed rather than the 1 seed.

  • Spurs @ Trail Blazers

A crucial game with both teams coming off wins last night. We saw the stakes for each team above. Every win is huge. Every loss hurts.

  • Nets @ Nuggets

A loss would be a pretty big blow to the Nets’ top 2 chances and would, if paired with a Sixers’ win, knock them out of the race for the 1 seed. For Denver, a loss would push them a little further behind the Clippers. The stakes there are a little less clear given how vague the bracket looks. We just don’t know the match-ups for the 3 versus the 4 yet.


Parlay – Wizards, Grizzlies, Blazers ML (+230)

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