Last night, the Nets grew a little closer to the East’s 2 seed while the Hawks moved a little closer to the 4 seed. The Celtics all but locked themselves into the 7 seed while delivering the final push the Knicks needed for a guaranteed spot in the top six. The Wizards moved themselves closer to the 10 seed with a loss, and they kept the door open a crack for the Bulls. Out West, both the Mavs and Blazers moved within a game of clinching top six spots at the expense of the Lakers, who nearly finished the job before a late Kyle Kuzma bucket saved the day against the Rockets. Portland has the 5 seed for now, leaving Dallas in sixth. We also saw the Pelicans eliminated from the playoffs, leaving only the Kings with a glimmer of hope. The Spurs, in their loss to Brooklyn, failed to finish the job last night. Lastly, the Jazz have fallen back to within 1.5 games of the Suns. That job is not quite done yet either. Here are the updated magic numbers –
Sixers = Clinched top 3 – 1 for Nets & Bucks
Nets = Clinched top 3 – 2 for Bucks, 5 for Sixers
Bucks = Clinched top 3 – 4 for Nets, 6 for Sixers
Hawks = Clinched top 6 – 2 for Heat, 3 for Knicks
Heat = Clinched top 6 – 3 for Knicks, 4 for Hawks
Knicks = Clinched top 6 – 3 for Hawks, 4 for Heat
Celtics = Clinched top 9 – 1 for Pacers, 1 for Hornets
Hornets = Clinched top 10 – 1 for Wizards, 3 for Pacers, 5 for Celtics
Pacers = Clinched top 10 – 2 for Wizards, 4 for Hornets, 5 for Celtics
Wizards = Clinched top 11 – 1 for Bulls, 4 for Pacers, 5 for Hornets
Bulls = 5 for Wizards
Raptors = Eliminated
Cavs = Eliminated
Magic = Eliminated
Pistons = Eliminated
Jazz = Clinched top 2 – 2 for Suns
Suns = Clinched top 4 – 1 for Nuggets, 2 for Clippers, 4 for Jazz
Clippers = Clinched top 4 – 3 for Nuggets, 5 for Suns
Nuggets = Clinched top 4 – 4 for Clippers, 6 for Suns
Blazers = Clinched top 7 – 1 for Lakers, 2 for Mavs
Mavs = Clinched top 7 – 1 for Lakers, 3 for Blazers
Lakers = Clinched top 7 – 4 for Blazers & Mavs
Warriors = Clinched top 9 – 3 for Grizzlies
Grizzlies = Clinched top 9 – 4 for Warriors
Spurs = Clinched top 11 – 1 for Kings
Kings = 6 for Spurs
Pelicans = Eliminated
Thunder = Eliminated
Timberwolves = Eliminated
Rockets = Eliminated
- Clippers @ Hornets
The Clippers aren’t quite dead yet in the race for the 2 seed, and they’re trying to keep the Nuggets behind them. Winning is the only way to guarantee they keep those objectives alive and in decent shape. A loss paired with a Suns win over the Blazers would wrap up the 2 seed, and the Nuggets (only one game back) have a trip to Minnesota tonight.
For Charlotte, a win guarantees a spot in the top nine while also putting a little more pressure on the Celtics. It’s unlikely they catch Boston, but you’d rather make the Celtics earn that last win instead of giving it to them by way of your own loss. A win also moves them one step closer to the crucial 8 seed, which will allow a loss in the play-in without elimination. They’re tied with the Pacers but own the tiebreaker. They need to keep winning.
- Bucks @ Pacers
Speaking of the Pacers, they’re in a very similar spot. They can’t clinch a top nine seed with just one more win, but they can put themselves in that position with a win here. A loss would allow the Wizards, who own the tiebreaker, to move back within a game. A win would also, again, put some pressure on Boston, and it would – at the very least – allow them to keep pace with Charlotte.
For the Bucks, things are relatively simple. You’re 1.5 games back of the Nets now. You need to win out and have them lose to either the Bulls or Cavs, or they get the 2 seed. That’s not a fantastic position to be in, but it’s a whole lot better than the situation they would find with a loss in this one. They need to win if the 2 seed is of any interest. This would also keep them alive for the 1 seed, though that is well under the Sixers’ control at this point. They just need one more win, and they play the Magic twice in their last three games.
- 76ers @ Heat
Speaking of the Sixers (it’s crazy how this works), things are very simple for them from this point forward. One win gives them the 1 seed. One Bucks’ loss guarantees they finish above Milwaukee. One Nets’ loss guarantees they finish above Brooklyn. There are a lot of ways they can clinch the top spot, starting with taking it into their own hands tonight. A loss keeps that door open a little while longer.
For the Heat, the 4-6 range in the East is very much in flux, and all three teams play tonight. A win allows them to keep pace at the very least, and, if things go well, it could put them in the 4 seed by tomorrow morning. A loss allows the other teams a huge opportunity to take advantage, and it could push the Heat back to the 6 seed. With a Heat loss and a Hawks win, Miami would find themselves locked behind Atlanta, taking the 4 seed off the table. This is a huge game for them.
Speaking of the other teams in the 4-6 race…
- Magic @ Hawks
With a win, the Hawks keep hold of the 4 seed, push their magic number over the Heat down to 1 (before we see what happens to Miami tonight), and bring their magic number over the Knicks down to 2. They do, however, only have two games left (including tonight), which means they only control their own destiny in regards to Miami. Before we get to Orlando and the Knicks-Spurs game, it’s worth looking at the three-way tie scenario. Because if all three of these teams win out (or lose one or two games each), we’d have a three-way tie for the 4 seed. And the Heat own the tiebreaker over the Knicks, who own the tiebreaker over the Hawks, who own the tiebreaker over the Heat. The first step is winning percentage in games against the other two teams, giving us –
So, in the case of a three-way tie, we throw the magic numbers out the window (since they take two-way tiebreakers into account) and go here, which leads to 4) Heat, 5) Knicks, 6) Hawks.
The other team in this game is the Magic. With a loss, they tie the Thunder for the final spot in the key bottom three. Both the Timberwolves and Cavs have won some games recently, so it might be down to these two at this point. The Rockets already have the worst record in the league, and the Pistons should be feeling relatively safe.
- Spurs @ Knicks
There’s not a whole lot else to say about the Knicks at this point. We’ve gone over their situation. Win, so that you don’t need to depend on the Hawks and Heat to lose to keep you in the race for the 4 seed. New York let one slip against the Lakers the other day. They don’t want that to happen here.
The Spurs, meanwhile, can clinch their play-in spot with a win. That’s about it for them. They’re locked into the 10-11 range, and they don’t need much more to lock themselves into the 10 seed.
- Raptors @ Bulls
A few weeks ago, this game probably looked pretty intriguing. Now, the Raptors are eliminated and floating around in no man’s land. The Bulls are just one loss or Wizards win away from the same fate. They obviously need this win, and it would put a decent amount of pressure on Washington. The bad news for the Bulls is that the Wizards finish with home games against the Cavs and Hornets while they have to travel to Brooklyn and then host the Bucks. So that’s not ideal. None of it matters if they lose this one though.
- Nuggets @ Timberwolves
There’s not a whole lot to say about this one either. With a win, Denver keeps the pressure on the Clippers. They can pass them if the Clippers drop their game in Charlotte. With a loss, they keep the Clips in the driving seat regardless of how LA’s game goes.
For Minnesota, they can still compete for that bottom three spot if they lose their last three games. They’ve been playing much better over the last few weeks though, and it doesn’t really look like they care about draft position all that much.
- Kings @ Grizzlies
With a win and a Spurs loss, the Kings would only be 1 game out of the playoffs. They don’t hold the tiebreaker, so there’d still be 2 games worth of work to do. But, that’s obviously better than the elimination they would face with 1) a loss here or 2) a Spurs win.
For the Grizzlies, this is an opportunity to tie the idle Warriors. Both teams would have two games left, and the tiebreaker will be decided when they play in the season finale. A loss would still keep the Grizzlies in control of their own destiny because of that looming tiebreaker fight, but it would mean they have to beat the Kings tomorrow night to ensure that they stay within a game heading into Sunday. Win here, and tomorrow’s results wouldn’t matter for either the Warriors or the Grizzlies.
- Blazers @ Suns
The Suns can clinch a top three seed with a win. They would also be putting the Clippers on the brink. That win is necessary if they want the 1 seed. They can’t afford to lose if that’s a key goal for them.
For Portland, this win clinches their top-six spot and allows them to head into their last game (v. Denver) with the ability to clinch the 5 seed with a win. If they lose tonight, they suddenly need to win that game to guarantee they finish ahead of the Lakers, and they’ll be depending on a Dallas loss to keep the 5 seed open. There are certainly easier ways to end a season, but you can’t change that. The Blazers have come too far over the last few weeks to see their top six spot slip away at the last moment.
We’re now 5-1 on the week. Let’s keep the boat rolling.