Every weekday throughout the NBA season, we have given you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today, for the last day of the regular season (and the last of the Three Things columns) we are looking ahead).
How insanely close has the NBA competition been this season? We head into the last night of the regular season with zero playoff matchups set. Not one. The top couple teams in each conference are locked into their spots, but below them the ground is still shifting. Nothing is settled. Our old friend Matt Moore (now with the Action Sports Network) has been tracking the playoff tiebreaks and outcome with a religious fervor, and this Tweet sums up just how much is still on the line in the West.
With all that said, here are the three games you need to watch Wednesday night:
1) Denver at Minnesota: Win and you’re in. This is Game 7. Or an MLB Wild Card play-in game. Or an NCAA Tournament game. It’s this simple: Minnesota and Denver are tied for the 8/9 seeds in the West at 46-35, and they play tonight at the Target Center. Winner is in the playoffs. Loser can make a tee time for whenever they want tomorrow.
(By the way, the winner is not automatically going to be the eight seed and chum in the first round for the Rockets. If Denver wins it cannot finish eighth — due to tiebreakers — and will be either the six or seven seed. If Minnesota wins it can be anywhere from 6-8 depending upon other games.)
It’s essentially a home game seven for Minnesota, and home teams have a huge advantage in Game 7s. Still, Game 7s are must watch.
2) Utah at Portland, battle for the three seed in the West. It’s the last game of the night, however the playoff seedings and matchups will not be set until it is over. Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers have punched their ticket to the postseason, but the winner of this game gets the three seed in the West and being in Golden State’s side of the bracket (with the Warriors a little banged up that may be preferrable to facing Houston).
Portland looked like a lock for the three seed a week ago, but lost four in a row to put themselves in this position. Meanwhile, Utah has won six in a row to give themselves this shot at a top three seed (which, considering they were 5 games out of the playoffs on Jan. 15, in insane). That said, Utah is on a back-to-back after beating the Warriors last night, their legs could be a little tired.
3) Milwaukee at Philadelphia, who wants to win this one? Time for a little gamesmanship. Remember that teams in the East are trying to line up a chance to play the banged up No. 2 seed Boston Celtics (a good team that will be without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis).
If the Bucks lose this game, they are the seven seed and get the Celtics in the first round. Win and they move up to six and would face LeBron James Cleveland in the first round (assuming the Cavs take care of business and knock off the lowly Knicks). How badly do the Bucks want this one?
If the Sixers win, they hang on to the three seed and would face Boston or the team that beats them (the Bucks) in the second round. A Philly loss combined with a Cleveland win and the Sixers fall to the four seed and face a tougher playoff path, one that goes through Toronto. Meaning the Sixers are motivated to win this one.
So one team is motivated to win, another to lose… you see where this is going, right?
One other game to watch: Toronto at Miami. This doesn’t matter to Toronto, they are the top seed. For Miami, win and they will be the six or seven seed, but a Heat loss combined with a Wizards win (over a tanking Magic team) and the Heat become the seven seed. Miami is motivated in this one, Toronto… not so much.