NBA Playoff Rankings, Tournament Play-In and Live Updates: Schedule, Standings and Latest News – The Athletic

NBA Playoff Rankings, Tournament Play-In and Live Updates: Schedule, Standings and Latest News – The Athletic

Only five games tonight and three of them are functionally irrelevant, unless you think the Blazers can beat Golden State.

Yet the other two combine with last night’s results to once again give us something to talk about.

In the East, the biggest news is Orlando’s loss to a short-handed Milwaukee team. This now puts the Magic in a dangerous position to slide down the standings; they were alive to grab the second seed with a win, but now they could land as low as eighth!!! More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, the Bucks are in good shape to hold on to the second seed, or at worst, slip to third. The Bucks win the Central Division with a win or loss in Cleveland, and also clinch the second seed with a win.

However, the Bucks’ final two games will be in Oklahoma City and Orlando. Two losses would open the door for Cleveland and New York to overtake them and push the Bucks into fourth place, but that only happens if both teams win – which requires seven different game outcomes that don’t go into the sense of Milwaukee.

New York’s game against Boston is the most important game in the East tonight. The Celtics are great but have already clinched the first playoff spot, so we’ll see which Celtics actually play and for how long. (Shout out also to Celtics general manager Brad Stevens, who is watching Hoop Summit practice here in Portland with complete chill as news of Jrue Holiday’s extension breaks).

The Knicks can still clinch the second seed if they win their final three games and the Bucks lose their final two. More realistically, New York can lock up the three seeds (and, more importantly, avoid the powerful Boston side) with two wins and either a Cleveland loss or a Milwaukee win. (Yes, a Bucks win helps them in this scenario. A three-way tie with the Bucks and Cavs at 49 wins drops the Knicks to fourth place, but a two-way tie with the Cavs at 49 wins puts New York third. )

And should the Knicks lose two of their last three? This hints at more chaotic scenarios, as the Magic and Pacers could overtake them and push New York into sixth place.

Regardless, Cavs fans should support Boston; Two wins plus two losses from New York or Milwaukee is the equation Cleveland needs to move into second or third place.

Okay, back to Orlando. Suddenly, it’s pretty easy for things to go really bad, even if Miami loses, too. Surprisingly, the Heat can still be division champions with two wins and two losses in Orlando, a scenario that would likely drop Orlando to the eighth seed. With Miami hosting a tanktacular Raptors team in its last two games, and Orlando still having two loseable games with Philadelphia and Milwaukee, it’s possible.

On the other hand, a single win for the Magic wins their division and locks them into the top six, except in a very special scenario where they would land seventh. (Philadelphia and Indiana win, Cleveland beats Charlotte, and New York wins at least once.)

Orlando’s loss also adds to Philly’s hopes of avoiding the Play-In; the two teams face each other on Friday. To move up to sixth place, Philly would simply need to win this game and its finale on Sunday, and have either another loss in Orlando, two losses in Cleveland, two losses in Indiana or two wins in Indiana.

In the West, the focus tonight is on the New Orleans-Sacramento game. The Kings are clinging to a scenario in which they win, the Pelicans lose their final three games and Sacramento steals the sixth seed. New Orleans ends with the Warriors and Lakers, so it’s not completely far-fetched.

Phoenix will be watching closely. The Suns need to win and hope the Pelicans lose at least once to clinch the sixth spot; any combination of three Suns losses and Pelicans wins allows New Orleans to clinch sixth place.

Meanwhile, the Kings can still finish tenth. A loss and a Golden State win would leave the Lakers, Warriors and Kings tied at 45-35; However, Sacramento still has this tiebreaker and wins back-and-forth matches against both. The Lakers and Warriors would both need two Kings losses and no more of their own to overtake Sacramento. Golden State also wins the tiebreaker with the Lakers, by the way, and will move up to ninth, assuming they beat Portland tonight.

However, what we really care about is MAXIMUM CHAOS. So let me present you with a scenario in which the Lakers and Warriors win, the Kings beat New Orleans and Portland but lose to Phoenix, and the Suns lose to Minnesota.

In this case, we end the season with a five-way tie at 47-35 between New Orleans, Sacramento, Phoenix, Lakers and Warriors.

Unfortunately, resolving this tie would be relatively straightforward rather than dragging us into the netherworld of records against conference playoff teams and other arcana of the tiebreaker table. Based on the first tiebreaker record, Phoenix would be sixth, Golden State seventh, Sacramento eighth, New Orleans ninth and the Lakers tenth.

Still, it shows the Pelicans’ work isn’t done; falling to ninth and needing two wins next week just to qualify for the playoffs would be quite a fall.

Denver controls the West’s top seed after last night’s win over Minnesota, but the Nuggets’ work isn’t done. They have a tough game in San Antonio on Friday, with Victor Wembanyama likely to play, and a loss there would put Oklahoma City back in pole position to steal the seed. The Thunder won a three-way tie with Denver and Minnesota, while the Nuggets finished third. However, Denver surely won’t lose its finale to the remnants of a broken Memphis team.

If the Nuggets finish first, Minnesota wins the two-way tiebreaker with Oklahoma City for second place. Both teams are tied and likely have at least one tough game left; Minnesota on Sunday against Phoenix and Oklahoma City at home against Milwaukee on Friday. I expect their other opponents (Atlanta for the Wolves, Dallas for the Thunder) to rest their players based on their locked-in playoff positions.

Clippers’ loss to Phoenix means Los Angeles still needs a win or loss in Dallas to seal the 4th seed; regardless, they will face the Mavs in the first round. With the Clips then having a Utah team in decline, this one still seems safe.


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