If you were hoping for some clarity on the NBA Playoff picture heading into the last week of the NBA season, then I'm sorry for you. We have just two games left, and basically nothing is settled. This is all we know at this point:
- The Cavaliers will be the number one seed in the East.
- The Magic will be the number two seed in the East.
- The Lakers will be the number one seed in the West.
Everything else is still up for grabs. Here are the standings as we speak.
- Cleveland: 61-20
- Orlando: 57-23
- Atlanta: 51-29
- Boston: 50-30
- Milwaukee: 45-35
- Miami: 45-35
- Charlotte: 43-37
- Chicago: 39-41
- Toronto: 38-42
Atlanta is currently the three seed, but if they and Boston finish with identical record, the Celtics will get the three seed because they are a division winner and Atlanta is not. The Bucks and Heat have the same record, but Milwaukee will get the fifth seed if they are tied by virtue of their 3-1 head-to-head record against the Heat. Charlotte will likely be the seventh seed, assuming Milwakee or Miami wins one of their final two games. Chicago's win over Toronto last night vaults them a game ahead of the Raptors in the race for the eighth spot, but the Raptors have the tiebreaker because of their 2-1 record against the Bulls this season.
So that's complicated. But check out the West right now.
- LA Lakers: 56-24
- Dallas: 53-27
- Denver: 52-28
- Utah: 52-28
- Phoenix: 52-28
- Portland: 49-31
- San Antonio: 49-31
- Oklahoma City: 49-31
Let me try to sum this up as best as I can. Dallas is in the driver's seat in the race for the two spot in the conference. They hold the tiebreaker advantage over Denver (head-to-head record) and Phoenix (division winner), and would hold the advantage over Utah unless the Jazz win the Northwest Division, because the Jazz are 2-1 against the Mavericks this season. Denver has the tiebreaker advantage over Utah if the two finish with identical records. At the bottom of the conference, Portland and Oklahoma City will play tonight for the right to avoid a first-round matchup with the Lakers. If the Thunder lose, they will be the eighth seed, because the Spurs hold the tiebreaker over them. If the Blazers lose, they could still avoid eighth, because they have the tiebreaker advantage over the Spurs.
Confused? Don't be. The bottom line is that this week's games carry extra weight because of their ramifications for playoff positioning. Here are the games you should be watching over the next three days.
Toronto at Detroit, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV - The Raptors need a win to stay in the race for the eighth spot in the East. If they lose, the Bulls will only need to win one of their final two games to finalize a first-round date with Cleveland. A Raptors win is by no means a sure thing. Not only are they playing terribly with Chris Bosh out, Andrea Bargnani space cadet-ing and Hedo Turkoglu partying, but Detroit has won three of their last four games, having not received the memo that it's tanking season.
Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:00 p.m. - A Hawks win, combined with a Celtics loss to the Bulls on Tuesday, means the Hawks will have the number three seed. A Bucks win, combined with a Heat loss in Philadelphia tonight, means the Bucks will have the fifth seed. There is no truth to the rumors that Andrew Bogut will play through a shattered wrist.
Oklahoma City at Portland, 10:00 p.m. - As previously noted, this game is huge. A Thunder loss dooms them to the eighth seed, while the Blazers could still rise to seventh if they can match San Antonio's record. In other words, it's a pretty bad time for Brandon Roy to not play. Roy suffered a knee contusion in yesterday's win over the Lakers and will miss tonight's game. Oklahoma City also has an injury to worry about, but it's center Nenad Kristic, who is replaceable. Advantage, Thunder.
Dallas at LA Clippers, 10:30 p.m., NBATV - A Mavericks win means they will likely be the two seed. The only way they wouldn't be is if Utah won both of their final two games to steal the Northwest Division from the Nuggets.
Boston at Chicago, 8:00 p.m., TNT - A Bulls win combined with a Raptors loss, which is very likely because Toronto stinks right now, gives Chicago the eighth seed. Boston needs to win to keep pace with Atlanta for the third seed. Just to drive this point home, if Boston and Atlanta finish with identical records, the Celtics would get the three seed because they play in a terrible division, while the Hawks have to deal with the Magic. This would happen even though the Hawks are 4-0 against the Celtics this season. This is why divisions in the NBA are worthless.
Denver at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m., TNT - The Suns need this win to earn the tiebreaker advantage over the Nuggets, which, because of the dumb division rule, would only come into play if the Jazz finish with a better record than Denver. Have I mentioned that divisions are dumb?
Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:00 p.m. - How's this for a reward for the Hawks season? They're in the driver's seat for the third seed, but they'd have to beat both Milwaukee and Cleveland to ensure they get it. Then again, Cleveland is probably resting their starters, so the Hawks might have caught a break.
Milwaukee at Boston, 8:00 p.m. - This is a possible first-round playoff preview, either as a 3-6 or a 4-5 matchup. Boston would have nothing to play for if they lose to Chicago Tuesday and the Hawks beat the Bucks on Monday, but otherwise, the three seed could be on the line. The Bucks will definitely have something to play for, unless they beat Atlanta on Monday and the Heat lose to Philadelphia, which would allow the Bucks to wrap up the fifth seed. Confused yet?
Chicago at Charlotte, 8:00 p.m. - Charlotte will probably have the seventh seed wrapped up by now, so they probably won't have any reason to play hard. The Bulls could also have the eighth seed wrapped up if they beat Boston on Tuesday, but only if Toronto loses to Detroit on Monday. If that happens, the Bulls could still miss the playoffs if they lose to Charlotte and Toronto beats the Knicks on Wednesday. If that scenario seems improbable, rest assured, it isn't. The Bulls were a game up on Philadelphia for sixth last year, but they lost a home game to the crappy Raptors on the final day of the season and the Sixers vaulted ahead of them by beating the shorthanded Cavaliers. If the Bulls win that game against Toronto like they're supposed to, last year's epic seven-game series with Boston never happens. Maybe it's a good thing the Bulls lost.
San Antonio at Dallas, 8:00 p.m. - Dallas could have the number two seed wrapped up by now, so this might not mean anything to them. For the Spurs, however, this game is critical, particularly if the Thunder beat the Blazers tonight. I'll go ahead and give the Spurs a win over Minnesota on Monday, so let's assume they're 50-31 coming into this one. If the Thunder beat the Blazers, the Thunder are also 50-31, while the Blazers are 49-32. However, Oklahoma City has a home game against Memphis that they should win, so a Spurs loss coupled with a Thunder win puts them behind the Thunder. Worse, the Blazers hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Spurs and play an easy home game against the Warriors. If Portland wins and the Spurs lose, the Spurs are suddenly knocked all the way down to eighth and are forced to play the Lakers in the first round. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Indiana at Washington, 8:00 p.m. - What do you mean this game doesn't matter? It's huge for lottery position!
Phoenix at Utah, 10:30 p.m., ESPN - Last year, the playoff seeding wasn't set until the Blazers knocked off the Nuggets in the final game of the year. The same could happen again this time around. Assuming the Jazz beat Warriors on Tuesday, they need a win coupled with a Nuggets loss to either Memphis or Phoenix to win the Northwest Division. Phoenix could still theoretically be the two seed, but they'd need to win out and the Mavericks would need to lose one of their final two games, so that's unlikely. They would, however, guarantee themselves the third seed if they beat the Nuggets and Jazz in the final two games of the season.