NBA

NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers: Lakers falling toward play-in; Suns eyeing No. 1 overall seed

Chris Paul has officially turned around the Phoenix Suns, who clinched their first playoff berth since 2010 with a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. Not only are they headed back to the postseason, they have a real chance to secure home court throughout if they finish with the best record in the NBA, which is definitely in their grasp.

A quick reminder on the new play-in format: The top six seeds in each conference are in, with the final two seeds up for grabs via the new play-in tournament. In each conference, No. 7 will play No. 8, with the higher seed having to win one game while the lower seed would have to win two. The winner of that 7 vs. 8 series gets the No. 7 spot, with the loser awaiting the winner of the 9 vs. 10 play-in series to decide the No. 8 seed. 

Below is what the playoff picture looks like entering play on Thursday, April 29. Teams are listed in order of current seed along with the SportsLine projected finishing seed and different magic number scenarios. A “playoff spot” means a top-six seed. This post will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track of these races down to the wire. 

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times to produce the most unbiased and precise projections possible.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Jazz have a clinched playoff spot and continue to hold the league’s best record at 45-17, but their lead over the Phoenix Suns is just one game and the Suns have already clinched the tiebreaker. Oh by the way, Phoenix and Utah play Friday night. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 9
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 18th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

As mentioned at the top, the Suns have clinched their first playoff berth since 2010. They are within a game of the No. 1 Jazz with the tiebreaker in hand, and they have also extended their lead over the No. 3 Clippers to three games in the loss column. The Suns play the Jazz on Friday. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 11th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are now tied in the loss column with the No. 4 Nuggets, whom they play on Saturday in a game with even more ramifications in that it will decide the tiebreaker with the season series currently tied 1-1. The Clippers have clinched at least a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 24th
  • Projected seed: No. 3

The Nuggets have gone 7-1 since Jamal Murray went down with a season-ending ACL tear. They are five games up on the No. 5 Los Angeles Lakers in the loss column and lead the season series 1-0. Denver has one game left against the Lakers. It could be in position to jump the No. 3 Clippers on Saturday when the two meet for their final head-to-head of the season. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 3
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 8th
  • Projected seed: No. 4

5. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are in danger of falling into the play-in tournament. They hold just a two-loss lead over the No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers and a one-loss lead over the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers-Blazers season series is tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining next Friday, which will determine the tiebreaker. At No. 6, it’s the Mavericks who own the tiebreaker over the Lakers, who do not control their own destiny for a top-four seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 2
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 12th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

Dallas has jumped the Portland Trail Blazers for the current No. 6 seed, and sits just one loss behind the No. 5 Lakers. It also owns the tiebreaker over the Lakers via a 2-1 edge in the head-to-head season series, but beneath them, it’s the Blazers who own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 4
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 11
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 28th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers ended their five-game losing streak on Tuesday with a blowout win over Indiana. They still sit at the No. 7 spot, and as you’ll see below, our SportsLine projections have them holding that spot. The Blazers do not control their own destiny for a top-six seed, but they do only trail Dallas by one game in the loss column and they own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 5th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Grizzlies have lost two straight and are now two games back of No. 7 Portland in the loss column. Memphis already owns the tiebreaker over Portland with one more head-to-head set for Wednesday, which is obviously a pivotal game. But the more pressing situation is holding off No. 9 San Antonio. Entering play on Thursday, the two teams are tied in the loss column, but the Grizzlies do own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 29th
  • Projected seed: No. 8

The Spurs are one loss up on the No. 10 Warriors, but Golden State has already sealed the tiebreaker. The Spurs also have the league’s toughest remaining schedule according to opponent win percentage. San Antonio is tied with No. 8 Memphis in the loss column, but Memphis owns the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 1st
  • Projected seed: No. 9

10. Golden State Warriors

Entering play on Thursday, the Warriors appear pretty secure to hold off New Orleans for the final play-in berth. They have a four-loss lead over the Pelicans, but the caveat is the two teams have three head-to-head matchups remaining. If the Pels somehow sweep those games, it could get interesting. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 27th
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Clinging to play-in life)

  • 11. New Orleans Pelicans — Four losses back of No. 10 Golden State
  • 12. Sacramento Kings — Six losses back of No. 10 Golden State
Chris Paul has helped the Suns get back into the playoffs in his first season in Phoenix.
USATSI

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Nets have clinched a playoff spot and have a one-loss lead over Philly for the East’s current No. 1 seed. But that lead is tenuous because the Sixers own the tiebreaker. Our SportsLine projections have Brooklyn now hanging onto the top seed with the 76ers ending up No. 2 in the East. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 10
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 10th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

The Sixers have won two straight and are just one loss back of No. 1 Brooklyn with the tiebreaker in hand. Philly owns a two-loss lead over No. 3 Milwaukee, but it’s the Bucks who have the tiebreaker, thanks to a 3-0 head-to-head sweep. The Sixers have clinched a top-six seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 30th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are almost certainly not going to drop below No. 3 with a five-loss lead over the No. 4 Knicks. The Bucks, again, have a real shot at jumping Philly for the No. 2 seed, which would mean home-court advantage in a potential second-round matchup. The Bucks are two games behind Philly and own the tiebreaker via a 3-0 season-series sweep. Milwaukee also has the league’s fifth-easiest schedule down the stretch, Milwaukee clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament with a win over the Hornets Tuesday night. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 3
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 25th
  • Projected seed: No. 3

The Knicks hold a one-loss lead over the No. 5 Hawks, but that lead is effectively two games as the Knicks own the tiebreaker. New York holds a two-loss lead over No. 6 Boston. Our SportsLine projections have New York ultimately falling below Atlanta due in part to their tough remaining schedule. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 2
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 9
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 7th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

5. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have won seven of their last 11 and are 20-8 under Nate McMillan. Chances are Atlanta isn’t going to catch Milwaukee for the No. 3 seed, but a top-four seed is right there and is, in fact, expected to be obtained via SportsLine projections. As mentioned, the Hawks are one loss back of the No. 4 Knicks, but they also hold just a one-loss lead over No. 6 Boston. The good news is Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston, so that lead is effectively two games. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 2
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 22nd
  • Projected seed: No. 4

The Celtics are one loss back of No. 5 Atlanta, but as mentioned, the Hawks own the tiebreaker. Boston is two losses back of the Knicks, and the two teams play on the final day of the regular season, so Boston has a good amount of control over its top-four destiny. That’s the upside. The downside is the Celtics have fallen into a tie with the No. 7 Heat, whom they play twice over the season’s final week. Those two games could very well determine who secures a top-six seed and who has to battle through at least one play-in series. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 26th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

7. Miami Heat

The Heat are relatively secure to end up with at least the No. 9 seed, as they’re four losses up on the No. 10 Washington Wizards. But they obviously have their sights set on moving up to at least No. 6 and avoiding the play-in tournament altogether. As mentioned, they are tied with the No. 6 Celtics with two head-to-head matchups remaining. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 20th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

8. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have lost two straight and hold a slim half-game lead over the No. 9 Pacers, but the Hornets do hold the tiebreaker. The Hornets are two losses back of the No. 7 Heat, but they do have one more head-to-head matchup with Miami remaining with the tiebreaker already in their pocket. The Hornets do not control their own destiny for a top-six seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 23rd
  • Projected seed: No. 8

The Pacers got drilled by the Blazers Tuesday night and now hold just a two-game lead over the No. 10 Wizards with two more head-to-head matchups remaining. Indiana is relatively safe to make the play-in tournament with a four-loss lead over No. 11 Chicago and No. 12 Toronto. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 14th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

10. Washington Wizards

The Wizards have won 11 of their last 13 and hold a two-loss lead over the No. 11 Chicago Bulls, but Chicago owns the tiebreaker. The Wizards also have a two-loss lead over the No. 12 Toronto Raptors, who also own the tiebreaker with one head-to-head matchup remaining. The Wizards have two games left against Indiana, which they trail by two losses for the No. 9 seed. If the Wizards have designs on moving past Indiana, they probably need to at least split the final two games (which would give them the tiebreaker) if not sweep them, but the more pressing concern is holding off Chicago and Toronto. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 9
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 21st
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Outside looking in)

  • 11. Chicago Bulls — Two losses back of No. 10 Washington
  • 12. Toronto Raptors — Two losses back of No. 10 Washington



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