The state of various NBA playoff races
With 30 games left and football done, let's check in.
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
My Daughters and Wife in the Garden; Joaquin Sorolla; 1910
Most NBA teams have about 30 games remaining in the regular season. There are some things we are reasonably certain about at this point:
The Celtics will be the No. 1 seed in the East.
These seven teams will not make the postseason: the Pistons, Spurs, Wizards, Hornets, Blazers, Grizzlies and Raptors.
The Raptors are significantly closer to the play-in than the other teams listed, but Toronto has been just about the worst or second-worst team in the league since trading O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
That leaves 22 teams with a) postseason chances and b) seeds that are totally up in the air.
Here’s a look at the most interesting races remaining.
WEST #1-4 SEEDS
It’s very likely that these four teams will be the Nos. 1-4 seeds in the West: the Timberwolves, Thunder, Clippers and Nuggets. All four teams are currently within 0.5 games of each other.
Where seeding really matters is in the second round, where the teams are likely to face one of the other top-4 seeds (unless a usurper from the lower half gets a first round upset). All four teams have been significantly better at home than on the road. One wrinkle is that three of the four teams are in the Northwest Division. Winning your division can be a key tiebreaker in seeding determination, so this advantages the Clippers, who will very likely win their division unless Phoenix or I suppose Sacramento goes on a rippin’ run.
Boston has been so good that avoiding Boston for as long as possible should be the goal of the next-best teams in the East. That means landing the Nos. 2 or 3 seeds. The teams in the mix here: the Cavaliers, Bucks, Knicks and theoretically the 76ers.
Cleveland is currently three games up in the loss column over Milwaukee, and Milwaukee is a game up on New York. Philly is an additional one game back and moving in the wrong direction without Joel Embiid. The Cavaliers are wrapping up a second straight month-long period of being unbelievably hot. The Knicks were on fire, too, until the injury stick start whirling around.
In terms of tiebreakers: Cleveland and Milwaukee tied their season series; Cleveland and New York are 1-1 with one to go; the Bucks have claimed the season series over New York; and the Sixers are down 1-0 to each of the other three teams.
You’d prefer No. 2 over No. 3, of course, to get a potential Game 7 at home. But No. 3 is the real prize here, because you avoid Boston until the conference finals.