A week from Wednesday, April 13, is the final day of the NBA season.
With just eight days left, there’s a lot to be decided still in the NBA playoff chase. Here is an update on where things stand.
1-2 seeds set, Cavaliers and Raptors. Cleveland will finish with the best record in the East and the top seed through the playoffs; Toronto will finish in second place. (In theory Toronto could catch Cleveland if the Cavaliers lose out, but come on now.)
3-6 seeds could land in any order of Hawks, Hornets, Celtics, Heat. Just half a game separates the four teams bunched up in the middle of the Eastern Conference, and while they are all in the playoffs these teams still have a lot to play for. First, both Charlotte and Miami are far better at home than on the road, so getting the 3/4 seed and home court in the first round would be huge. Second, in an ideal world, teams would rather end up as the three seed or six seed — stay out of the Cleveland side of the bracket, making it easier to have a deep run in the playoffs. Some big games are coming up for this group, including Pistons vs. Heat Tuesday, Boston vs. Atlanta on Saturday.
7-8 seeds find Bulls trying to catch Pistons, Pacers. So maybe Thibodeau wasn’t the problem, because the Chicago Bulls are unexpectedly on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Chicago is two games back of Indiana and Detroit, who are tied for the 7/8 seeds. The Bulls need wins — including against Miami and Cleveland later this week — and some help. Looking at their remaining schedules, Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Pacers a 98 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Pistons an 87 percent chance, and the Bulls just an eight percent chance of catching one of them. Sorry Wizards, but you’re toast.
1-4 seeds set, basically locked in place with Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers. While mathematically there could be shifts if the Warriors or Thunder lost every remaining game, in practice the top of the Western Conference is set. Golden State will finish first, San Antonio second, Oklahoma City third, and the L.A. Clippers fourth. That also lets you look forward to the second round because those four teams likely advance in a stratified Western Conference.
5-8 seeds much more wide open, with the big question how far do Grizzlies fall? Memphis is the current five seed in the West, but injuries have made that team a shell of itself, and it has lost six straight games (with a tough schedule ahead). How far they fall determines a lot. Portland is just half a game back of Memphis and seems poised to grab the five seed. Dallas and Utah are tied for the 7/8 seed, two games back of Memphis and just one ahead of Houston. Most likely one team of the Mavericks/Jazz/Rockets will be on the outside looking in, and fivethirtyeight.com suggests it will be Dallas (a 46 percent chance to make the playoffs, well back of Houston at 69 percent and Utah at 90 percent). Houston has a soft schedule the final four games and should make it. The question becomes:, If Memphis loses its final five games can Dallas/Utah/Houston win enough games to pass it and all make the playoffs while Memphis falls out? It may not be likely, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Dallas plays both Houston (Wednesday, April 5) and Utah (April 11). Those games may well decide who gets in and who is out of the Western Conference playoffs.