The slog that can be the NBA regular season is almost over — you can see the playoffs from where you’re standing. Well, not from where the Cavs and Timberwolves are standing, but a majority of teams can.
But things are not settled. So with 10 days left until the playoffs, here is a little breakdown of where the races stand.
San Antonio’s win Sunday over a sad Phoenix team (without Steve Nash), combined with the Lakers loss to the Nuggets, means the Spurs control their own destiny. The Spurs are now 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers for the tops spot, and they are two games up in the loss column (but only one on the Bulls for the best record overall). More importantly, their magic number is four. The Lakers and Spurs play each other April 12, but that game may be moot — if the Spurs win their other four games left they finish ahead of the Lakers regardless of that game (and the Hawks are the only playoff team of the four on that list).
The Lakers, however, have a magic number of one to clinch the two seed over Dallas. So look for the top three spots to be Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks, in that order. And if things get set look for the veteran coaches on those teams to rest guys.
The Thunder are pretty locked into the four seed, Denver basically is the five seed. That sets up what will be the best first round playoff series on either side.
Portland, New Orleans and Memphis are all within one game of each other for the six, seven and eight seeds in the West. Houston is on the outside looking in and has been hot — 8-2 in their last 10 — but nobody has really fallen back to them. They are three games back and need some help. The most likely scenario is a New Orleans Hornets collapse, but they beat the Pacers Sunday.
The Rockets play the Hornets Wednesday and that is now must win for Houston.
The interesting scenarios would have the six-seed Blazers taking on the Mavericks in the first round and the seven-seed Grizzlies taking on the Lakers — both underdogs who play well against that higher seed and could really push them. If not pull off an upset.
Seven of the eight spots out East are set.
Charlotte remains two games back of Indiana overall and one back in the loss column for the eighth-and-final playoff spot. The Pacers have four games left: Suddenly hot Washington (3-1 in their last 4), Atlanta, New York and at Atlanta. The Bobcats have six games left but have Orlando, Miami and Atlanta in that group. If Indiana goes just 2-2 over the last four the Bobcats would have to win out to pass them. And they have to pass them — Indiana holds the tiebreaker by sweeping the season series. The Bobcats need wins and the Pacers to stumble to return to the playoffs.
Up at the top, the Bulls are three games clear of Miami and Boston in the loss column, so Chicago should wrap up the top spot. They just need to go 4-2 over the last 6 and they cannot be caught. The Heat and Celtics are in almost a dead heat for the two seed (tied in the loss column) but the Heat are 8-2 in their last 10 compared to the Celtics 5-5. No Shaq again for Boston and Ray Allen’s shot has taken a vacation — look for the Heat two get the two seed.
It’s pretty locked in after that: Orlando is the four seed, the Hawks are the five seed (can Jason Collins make that a close first round series?), the Sixers are the six seed (and could give Boston trouble) and the Knicks are the seven seed.