There is one week left in this condensed, injury-filled, money grab of an NBA season before we move on to the playoffs (and the pace of games actually slows down for teams).
Here’s a breakdown of the NBA playoff picture — there is a lot still to be decided. We’ve got commentary on every team in the race, and for a lot of them this playoff picture isn’t as pretty as they imagined when the season tipped off back in December.
1. Philadelphia 76ers (47-21)
With a three-game lead over the Nets with four to play, the Sixers are on their way to the top seed in the East and home court through the Eastern playoffs (the magic number over the Bucks is two). That’s huge because Philly is 27-7 at home this season, fans or no fans, plus it forces Brooklyn and Milwaukee into the other side of the bracket. The Sixers have the tiebreaker over the Nets but not the Bucks, however, that only matters if they tank this week.
2. Brookly Nets (44-24)
Losers of four in a row, Brooklyn has a half-a-game lead over Milwaukee (the teams are tied in the loss column), and the Bucks have the tiebreaker. The Nets have clinched a top-three seed and have a soft schedule this week: Bulls twice, Spurs, and Cavaliers.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (43-23)
Five games in seven days to close out the season, they have the tiebreaker over the Nets but a couple of games that could trip them up: Miami and always-feisty San Antonio. The Bucks have clinched a top-three seed; they mathematically could catch the 76ers but would need a lot of help (the Sixers magic number is two).
4. New York Knicks (38-30)
Big win against the Clippers on Sunday, but they have a tough schedule this week: Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Celtics. New York is one game up on Atlanta, but the Knicks have the tiebreaker, so it might as well be two. However, New York is also just one game up on Miami and the Heat have that tiebreaker. The Knicks are two games in the loss column up on Boston, but will their showdown on the final day of the regular season matter?
5. Atlanta Hawks (37-31)
Atlanta has a real chance to jump the Knicks into the four seed because of the softer schedule, but because the Knicks have the tiebreaker Atlanta may have to win out to do just that and hold off the Heat. Atlanta has the tiebreaker over both Miami and Atlanta, which means it likely stays a top-six seed. Atlanta plays a hot Wizards team twice this week, but finishes the season with the Magic and Rockets.
6. Miami Heat (37-31)
Miami’s win over Boston on Sunday gives them a two-game cushion over the Celtics with four to play to avoid the play-in (not a lock but close to it). Those two teams face off again Tuesday, a Heat win and that race is over, and Miami can focus on trying to climb past Atlanta to the five seed (and avoid facing Milwaukee or Brooklyn in the first round). Even if the Celtics win on Tuesday, the Heat should be able to hold them off, but the rest of the week still features games against the 76ers and Bucks.
7. Boston Celtics (35-37)
With the loss to Miami on Sunday, the Celtics seem destined for the seven seed (even with one more game against the Heat Tuesday). A win Tuesday against the Heat would keep the door open to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in, but Boston would need a lot of help. As inconsistent as Boston has been — and now without Jaylen Brown for the rest of the season — it’s possible but not likely Charlotte passes them and the Celtics fall to eighth. Boston has locked up at least a play-in berth. After the Heat on Tuesday it’s the Cavaliers, Timberwolves, then Knicks in the final three games.
8. Charlotte Hornets (33-35)
Keeping the eighth seed matters — then the Hornets would only have to win one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs, fall to ninth and they have to win both — and the red-hot Wizards are now just one game back of the Hornets (Indiana is 1.5 back but doesn’t feel like a threat the way it has played of late). The good news is Charlotte has the tiebreaker over Washington, making it essentially a two-game lead. The bad news is a tough final four games: Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks, then a potential showdown with the Wizards on the last game of the season.
9. Washington Wizards (32-36)
Technically one game back of the Hornets for the eighth seed, but Charlotte has the tiebreaker, so it is effectively two games back (but the teams face each other in the final game of the season). The Wizards may have to play this last week without Bradley Beal, who tweaked his hamstring and may not return until the play-in games. Washington has to play Atlanta twice this week, likely without its leading scorer.
10. Indiana Pacers (31-36)
Freefalling and having lost 5-of-7, they have five games in seven days to close out the season, including facing the 76ers, Bucks, and Lakers. The Pacers are tied with the Wizards in the loss column, but Washington has the tiebreaker. Chicago is three games back but the Bulls do have the tiebreaker over Indiana, so the Pacers need to win a game or two this week to secure their play-in spot.
11. Chicago Bulls (29-39)
Chicago is 2.5 games out of the play-in but does have the tiebreaker over stumbling Indiana. The problem is the Bulls basically have to win out, and they face the Nets twice plus the Bucks this week.
1. Utah Jazz (50-18)
The Jazz have a two-game lead over the Suns for the top seed in the West (and the NBA), but the Suns have the tiebreaker so there is a little work left for Utah. Utah’s magic number to clinch the top seed is three (wins or Suns losses), and picking up a couple of wins against a schedule of the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Thunder, and Kings is very doable. Then, hopefully, the Jazz are fully healthy and back together for the postseason.
2. Phoenix Suns (48-20)
Technically they could catch the Jazz (just two games back, and the Suns have the tiebreaker), but then you look at Phoenix’s schedule this week — all teams in the playoff/play-in mix with something to play for — and realize how hard that would be. Phoenix seems destined for the two seed.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (45-23)
Locked in a battle with Denver for the 3/4 seed, the Clippers have four winnable games — Raptors, Hornets, Rockets, Thunder — but all on the road. Denver has the tiebreaker so nothing is decided. The bigger long-term question with the Clippers is just health, with Kawhi Leonard playing through a sore hand and ankle, plus Serge Ibaka still missing in action. This team needs that week off during the play-in games.
4. Denver Nuggets (44-24)
Just one game back of the Clippers for the three seed, and the Nuggets have the tiebreaker, but Denver is going to need a little help to climb up to that spot. Denver closes the season out with four games on the road this week: Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit, Portland.
5. Dallas Mavericks (40-28)
Just for the entertainment factor, a lot of us are rooting for Dallas to finish fifth, setting up a Luka Doncic/Nikola Jokic first-round showdown. Dallas needs a few wins this week to hold on to the five seed, it is one game ahead of Portland, but the Trail Blazers have the tiebreaker. The Mavs close the season with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (39-29)
The Trail Blazers enter the final week just one game back of moving up to the five seed and just a game up on the Lakers and falling back to the seven seed. The good news is Portland has the tiebreakers over both Dallas and Los Angeles. After playing the Rockets things get tough this week for Portland with games against the Jazz, Suns, and Nuggets.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (38-30)
LeBron James is expected to play some games this week, but how many and when are unknown. Things appear headed for a Lakers vs. Warriors 7/8 play-in game — which would get serious ratings but put one of these teams at real risk of missing the playoffs entirely. Los Angeles is just one game back of Portland and avoiding the play-in, but the Blazers have the tiebreaker, so in practice it is two games back. The Lakers face the Knicks but can finish strong thanks to three soft games, facing the Rockets, Pacers, and banged-up Pelicans.
8. Golden State Warriors (35-33)
To keep the eighth seed, the Warriors need to hold off the Grizzlies, which are just half-a-game back and tied in the loss column — those two teams face off on the final day of the season and it could decide who gets the eighth seed (and who only has to win one-of-two play-in games to make the playoffs, rather than both of them). Tough week for the Warriors, who also face the Jazz and Suns in a back-to-back, and need to find a win or two to secure the eighth seed.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (34-33)
They have a chance at the eighth seed but first have to close the season with a gauntlet of five games in seven days (two of those are against a banged-up Kings team). The hope for the Grizzlies is to win enough to set up a final-day showdown with the Warriors on Sunday, the winner gets the eighth seed.
10. San Antonio (32-35)
The Spurs appear destined for the 10 seed. They would need a lot of help to catch the Grizzlies in ninth. The Spurs have a 1.5 game lead over the Pelicans, two up in the loss column, and the Spurs have the tiebreaker, but San Antonio has five games in seven days to close out the season and the lineup is brutal: Bucks, Nets, Knicks, and Suns twice. The Spurs need to find a couple of wins in there.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (31-37)
Two games back in the loss column from the Spurs, San Antonio has the tiebreaker, and no Zion Williamson due to a fractured finger. Still, there is a slim chance for the Pelicans (because of how tough the Spurs schedule is), but New Orleans needs wins going against the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Warriors, and Lakers. Good luck with that.
12. Sacramento Kings (30-38)
Mathematically alive, realistically not.