Wednesday is the final day of the NBA season, and while most of the playoff positions are set and plenty of players will be getting the night off for rest, there are still some games that matters. Here’s three races and a few games to keep your eyes on Wednesday.
1) Boston vs. Milwaukee and the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Cavaliers have made it clear rest matters far more to them than the No. 1 seed — LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals, four times his team got there out of the two seed. The fact that Cleveland rested LeBron last game and will sit him again on Wednesday — as well as possibly Kyrie Irving, although there are mixed signals there — shows they are not worried about home court in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The race for the top seed in the East is simple: Boston has a one-game lead over Cleveland, so if they win against Milwaukee Wednesday, the Celtics have home court advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs. And the Celtics should win. The Bucks are locked into the six seed (after Atlanta’s win Tuesday) so they have nothing to play for, and four key Milwaukee rotation players — Matthew Dellavedova, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Tony Snell — are not even making the trip to Boston. This is gift-wrapped for the Celtics.
The Cavaliers have the tiebreaker against the Celtics, but the only way they get the top seed is to beat Toronto and have Boston lose. The Raptors have an interest here: They are the three seed, so they will face whoever is the two seed in the second round, and they would much rather have that be Boston than Cleveland. So expect pretty much a full on tank job from Toronto in the name of rest. That will not matter, however, unless the Celtics lay an egg.
2) Washington vs. Miami and the race for the No. 7 and 8 seeds in the East. This is the real drama on Wednesday night: There are three teams — Miami, Chicago, and Indiana — fighting for two playoff spots at the bottom of the East. At the end of the night, someone is not going to have a ticket to the dance.
What to watch starts with Washington at Miami — the Heat have to win or they are eliminated. It’s that simple. Miami should be motivated and Washington has nothing to play for (they are locked in as the four seed) so you have to like the Heat’s chances here. Washington is expected to rest John Wall and others for this game. Still, the entire process starts with Miami needing a win.
Even if they do win, Miami also needs either Chicago or Indiana to lose.
For the Bulls and Pacers Wednesday is simple: Win and you’re in.
The Bulls are hosting the Nets in a game Chicago should win, as Brooklyn is resting three key rotation players in this one: Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. That said, the Nets have played fairly well since the All-Star break and did beat the Bulls on Saturday. Nothing is guaranteed, but things look good for the Bulls.
Indiana hosts an Atlanta team on the second night of a back-to-back, and since the Hawks locked up the five seed with their win Tuesday they have nothing to play for. Expect a number of key Atlanta players to be rested on Wednesday, setting things up for the Pacers.
All of which is to say Miami has a chance, but it’s a slim one. They need a lot of help.
3) Sacramento vs. L.A. Clippers and the battle for home court in the first round. The matchup is already set, the Clippers will face the Jazz in the first round, an interesting series featuring two of the best defensive big men in the NBA in Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. What we don’t know is who gets home court in that series, both the Clippers and the Jazz are 50-31 heading into Wednesday.
This is very straightforward: The Clippers have the tiebreaker, so if they beat Sacramento they will be home for Game 1 this weekend. The only way the Jazz get home court in this series is if the Clippers lose and then Utah beats San Antonio. Not impossible, but not a likely outcome of events.