Heading into the final weekend of the NBA’s regular season, here’s what we now about the playoff and play-in races: All 20 teams are set, as are the first 12 playoff teams and the eight play-in teams. Now it’s just a matter of seeding.
Everything you need to know regarding current seeds, matchups and tiebreaker scenarios can be found here. Here are the teams to have clinched their seeds:
Beyond that, everything is still up for grabs … including the! Below are five big questions that will be answered in the coming days.
1. How does Bucks-Celtics-Sixers logjam shake out?
The Bucks jumped the Celtics for the No. 2 seed with their win over Boston on Thursday night, and now lead the No. 3 Celtics and No. 4 Sixers by one game in the loss column. If the Bucks win their final two games (at Detroit and at Cleveland), they’ll be the No. 2 seed. If they split, and the Celtics win their final game against the Grizzlies, a complicated tiebreaker scenario between Boston and Milwaukee would activate. Here are the order of the tiebreakers and how they would play out.
- First tiebreaker: Head-to-head (season series tied 2-2)
- Second tiebreaker: Division winner (both would be division winners)
- Third tiebreaker: Conference record (If Milwaukee splits and Boston beats Memphis, both teams would finish with an identical 33-19 conference record
- Fourth tiebreaker: Record vs. Eastern Conference playoffs teams (Boston has already clinched with a mark of 20-13 over Milwaukee’s 17-15 record, which can only improve to 18-15 pending its final game against Cleveland).
So, in summation, Boston is in line for the No. 2 seed by way of the fourth tiebreaker if it beats Memphis and Milwaukee splits its final two. Again, all of this is moot if the Bucks just win their final two.
As for the Sixers … the only shot they have at the No. 2 seed is to win their final two (vs. Indiana and vs. Detroit) and have the Bucks lose their final two. The Sixers have to finish a game ahead of the Bucks because Milwaukee owns the tiebreaker via its 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the Sixers.
The Sixers also need to finish a game ahead of Boston to win the No. 3 seed because Boston, as a fellow member of the Atlantic division, would get the tiebreaker with a better division record (season series tied 2-2). For that to happen, Philly has to win its last two and Boston has to lose its final game to Memphis.
In case of a three-way tie … between Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia, which remains a possibility, the tiebreaker criteria changes to head-to-head among all teams involved. In this case, Milwaukee would get the No. 2 seed with a 4-3 combined record against the Celtics and Sixers; Boston would land at No. 3 with a 4-4 record against the Bucks and Sixers; Philly would end up No. 4 with a 3-4 record against the Bucks and Celtics.
2. Will Warriors hold on to No. 3 seed?
Entering play on Friday, the Warriors lead the Mavericks by one game. Each team has two remaining games. Dallas hosts Portland and San Antonio, and the Warriors are at San Antonio and at New Orleans. You would think the No. 3 seed would be pretty important to each of these teams, as it would mean landing on the opposite side of the bracket from Phoenix, which would delay a potential matchup with the No. 1 team until the conference finals.
3. Can Nets climb to No. 7?
Brooklyn controls its own destiny to pass No. 7 Cleveland. The Nets and Cavs play Friday night with the Nets one game back in the standings, and if Brooklyn wins that game, it will also secure the season tiebreaker over Cleveland via a 3-1 head-to-head advantage.
If Cleveland beats Brooklyn … it won’t quite clinch the No. 7 seed. The Hawks are also just one game back of the Cavs, and if Atlanta wins its final two (at Miami and at Houston), it would force Cleveland — in addition to beating Brooklyn — to also win its final game of the season (vs. Milwaukee) because the Hawks own the tiebreaker via a 3-1 head-to-head advantage.
The Nets potentially ending up at No. 7 could also have some impact on the Bucks-Celtics-Sixers logjam detailed at the top. It begs the question: Do you really want the No. 2 seed when it could very likely mean a first-round matchup with the Nets? The other side of that is, of course, the No. 2 seed would mean home-court advantage in a potential 2-3 second round series, which is a big deal with these teams so closely matched.
Miami also has eyes on this race … because if Brooklyn falls to No. 9, which would happen if it loses and Atlanta wins out, it would mean a potential matchup with the No. 1 Heat in the first round.
4. Who takes No. 5 seed in each conference?
In the West, it’s between Utah and Denver. The jazz have a one-game lead in the loss column with two game remaining. Since the Jazz own the tiebreaker, one more win or one more Denver loss would seal the No. 5 spot for Utah. For Denver to pass the Jazz, it needs to win its final game (vs. Lakers ) and have the Jazz lose their final two (vs. Phoenix and at Portland).
In the East, it’s between Toronto and Chicago. The Raptors lead the Bulls by two games with two to play, but with Chicago owning the tiebreaker, it makes it mathematically possible for the Bulls still secure the No. 5 seed. It would require Chicago winning its last two games (vs. Charlotte and at Minnesota) and the Raptors losing their final two (vs. Houston and at New York).
5. Who wins the scoring title?
Joel Embiid is most likely the answer here. He’s currently the leader at 30.4 per game. His closet competitor was LeBron James, who won’t be eligible now that he’s set to sit the Lakers’ final two games (you have to play at least 58 games to be eligible for the scoring title, and LeBron has only played 56). The same rule cancels out Kevin Durant, who will finish with 55 games played assuming he is active in Brooklyn’s final two games.
It leaves Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only marginally reasonable threat to Embiid. Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.9 with two games to play. To get to Embiid’s 30.4, Giannis would have to average over 47 points over his final two games. It’s not impossible! But let’s assume that isn’t happening.
That means Embiid has to come down a good chunk. Let’s first assume Embiid actually plays in Philadelphia’s final two games (which isn’t a given). If he does that, and averages, say, 20 points over the final two, that would leave him at 30.1 for the season. To catch that number, Giannis would only need to average 37.4 over his final two. Again, not likely. But possible.