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The NBA playoff picture is still incomplete, as teams in the Western Conference are still jockeying for position. The Spurs have locked up the top seed in the West, and we know that the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder are behind them, but the sequence is still yet to be determined. Here are all of the possible scenarios.
Lakers win, Mavericks lose: This would give the Lakers the 2-seed, the Thunder the three-seed, and the Mavericks the 4-seed.
Lakers win, Mavericks win: Lakers No. 2, Mavericks No. 3, Thunder No. 4.
Mavericks win, Thunder wins, Lakers lose: Mavericks No. 2, Lakers No. 3, Thunder No. 4.
Thunder wins, Lakers lose, Mavericks lose: Lakers No. 2, Thunder No. 3, Mavericks No. 4.
All three teams win/lose: Lakers No. 2, Mavericks No. 3, Thunder No. 4.
All three teams wrap up their regular seasons on Wednesday. The Thunder host the Bucks, the Mavericks host the Hornets, and the Lakers travel to Sacramento to face the Kings.
For NBA playoff picture updates, be sure to check back with this StoryStream.
The Portland Trail Blazers provided some clarity to the bottom half of the West bracket for the 2011 NBA Playoffs on Tuesday, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in a game Memphis did not seem to want to win. That win locked the Blazers into the No. 6 seed, joining the Spurs at No. 1 and the Nuggets at No. 4 as the only set spots in the West. The Lakers and Mavericks will determine the order of seeds 2-4, while the Hornets and Grizzlies will figure out seeds 7-8.
If the Hornets beat the Mavericks on Wednesday, they will move to 47-35 and hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Grizzlies, putting New Orleans in the No. 7 spot. If the Hornets lose and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers, Memphis would become the No. 7 seed and New Orleans would slide to No. 8 (and a date with the Spurs). If both teams lose, New Orleans will be No. 7 and Memphis No. 8. In a sense, then, the Grizzlies control their own destiny.
Unfortunately for them, they won't know who is in the No. 2 spot when they tip off in L.A. unless the Mavericks lose. Hornets-Mavs tips off at 8 p.m. ET; the result should be in by the time Grizzlies-Clippers tips off at 10:30. If Dallas wins, Memphis still won't know who the No. 2 seed will be; the Lakers tip off in Sacramento at 10:30, as well, and would then need a win to claim No. 2.
With a win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls moved into a tie with the San Antonio Spurs for the top record in the league just days from the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Spurs fell to Lakers, knotting Chicago and San Antonio at matching 61-20 records.
If both teams win on Wednesday in the final day of regular season action, a random draw would determine home court advantage in a prospective NBA Finals matchup between the teams. If only one wins, that team would have home court should the teams meet in the Finals.
The Spurs had an opportunity to guarantee at least a tie with Chicago, but Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Antonio McDyess against the Lakers. Part of the motivation could have been to avoid injury, though note that with two losses to end the season, L.A. could have ended up matched up with San Antonio in the second round.
Every year, NBA teams miss the playoffs despite owning superior records to teams that made it into the postseason. This happens in every league, but which are the worst about this? Are we okay with it? Should it be different?
The Los Angeles Lakers didn't play on Monday, but everything around them crumbled just a little. The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder each won, slotting the Lakers in a precarious No. 3 spot. The Mavericks (56-25) lead the Lakers by a half-game for the No. 2 spot, and the Thunder (55-26) trail L.A. by just a half-game.
The Lakers do hold tiebreaker advantages over each rival, though, meaning that if L.A. wins its two remaining games, it will claim the No. 2 seed, which comes with an apparent first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies and home court advantage through the second round.
L.A. plays the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. The Spurs are quarreling with the Chicago Bulls for the No. 1 seed overall, and as such Gregg Popovich had indicated he will play his normal rotation. The Lakers visit the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday in the regular season finale. That game could be the final contest in Sacramento for any team, and is already sold out.
The Miami Heat expected the race for the No. 2 seed in the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs to go down to the final day; while Miami had a one-game advantage in the standings, Boston had the tiebreaker, meaning that the Heat needed to win both remaining games to clinch the spot. Instead, Doc Rivers all but conceded Monday's game against the Wizards by sitting his four All-Stars, and Miami's win over the Hawks shut the door on the race. Miami will be the No. 2 seed, and Boston will take No. 3.
There's also resolution down under, thanks to the Philadelphia 76ers' loss to the Orlando Magic. That clinched the No. 6 spot for the New York Knicks and locked the Sixers into No. 7. Here's what the first-round matchups will look like in the East.
The playoffs begin Saturday. The full NBA playoffs schedule will be released Thursday, once the regular season has ended.
With a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers fell into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 2 spot in the West bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Lakers maintain a tiebreaker advantage over the Mavericks by virtue of a division championship, but should Dallas win its final two games (against Houston and New Orleans) and L.A. loses to either San Antonio or Sacramento, the Mavericks would pick up the No. 2 spot and home court advantage in the second round, should both teams advance.
The Lakers could actually fall all the way to the No. 4 seed, which with it would come a first-round matchup against the terrifying Denver Nuggets and a potential second-round pairing with the 61-win (and counting) Spurs. To fall to fourth, the Lakers would have to lose to both San Antonio and Sacramento, the Mavericks would have to win one of their two remaining games and the Thunder would have to beat the Kings and the Bucks.
L.A.'s final game of the reason is at Sacramento. With relocation rumors hounding the Kings, that game is already sold out, as it could be the final NBA game in Sacramento.
The Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs have each clinched the top seed in the conferences heading into the 2011 NBA Playoffs. But that doesn't mean it's time for rest in the closing days of the regular season. The Bulls and Spurs are now pushing each other for the top record in the league, with home court advantage in the NBA Finals potentially on the line.
No matter the matchup, home court advantage in the Finals is awarded to the team with the best record. The Bulls are already guaranteed to have a better record than any West team but the Spurs; the opposite is true for San Antonio -- Chicago is the only team the Spurs could fall behind at this point. The Spurs picked up win No. 61 over the weekend, and the Bulls earned No. 60 on Sunday. Each team has two games remaining; the Bulls face the Knicks Tuesday and Nets Wednesday, and the Spurs draw the Lakers Tuesday and Suns Wednesday. The Bulls need to make up a game, meaning Chicago will be rooting for L.A.
If the Bulls and Spurs end up tied with 61 or 62 wins, the first tiebreaker is the team's records against the opposite conference. But Chicago and S.A. happen to be tied there, so it'd come down to a random draw.
The Memphis Grizzlies are going back to the NBA Playoffs. The Grizzlies clinched their bid for the 2011 postseason with a tight win over the Sacramento Kings in front of 16,000 fans at the FedEx Forum. Memphis hasn't made the playoffs since 2006, when Mike Fratello was the coach and Pau Gasol and Shane Battier were the stars. (Oddly enough, Battier's back, having been traded from the Houston Rockets -- who were eliminated in the course of the Grizzlies' clinching -- at midseason.)
This is Memphis' fourth postseason bid in franchise history, which dates back to the 1996 season in Vancouver. The Grizzlies have yet to win a playoff game after being swept out of the first round by the Spurs, Suns and Mavericks from 2004-06. The Grizzlies are currently in line to face 60-win San Antonio in the first round. But there's some reason for hope this time around. Memphis is playing well late in the season, having gone 14-8 since the All-Star break against a brutal schedule. The Spurs, meanwhile, have tailed off (despite three straight wins). The guard matchups would heavily favor the Spurs, but Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur cause problems.
Regardless of the outcome, after the awful season Memphis had after Gasol was traded, a postseason bid is respite in and of itself. For more on the Grizzlies' win, visit Straight Outta Vancouver.
The Chicago Bulls clinched the No. 1 seed in the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs with a Friday win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. At 59-20, the Bulls maintain a four-game lead on the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat for the top spot in the East, an insurmountable margin.
The top seed means that the Bulls not only draw the sub-.500 Indiana Pacers in the first round, but that Chicago will avoid Boston and Miami in the second round as well. Should each of those teams win their first-round matchups against the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, they'd face off in the second round while the Bulls take on the Orlando Magic or Atlanta Hawks, teams a bit less frightening than Miami and Boston.
The Bulls would then have home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals, should they make it that far. If Chicago advances to the NBA Finals, it is currently in position to have home court advantage against every potential opponent but the San Antonio Spurs, who are one game ahead. If the Bulls and Spurs finish tied in the standings, due to other even tiebreakers, a coin flip would determine home court advantage in a prospective Finals pairing.
The Chicago Bulls need just one win in the final four games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs after beating the Boston Celtics on Thursday. The Bulls (58-20) are four games ahead of the 54-24 Celtics and Miami Heat in the standings, but only own the tiebreaker over the Heat, meaning that Miami has no chance at No. 1. If Boston were to win out and Chicago lose out (highly, highly unlikely), the Celtics would have the conference record tiebreaker. The C's and Bulls split their season series 2-2.
In all likelihood, the Bulls will claim the No. 1 seed on Friday in a visit to the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers. That would guarantee a first-round series between the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, who earlier this week clinched the No. 8 seed in the East. The Pacers are just 36-43, some 22.5 games behind the Bulls in the standings. No series in recent memory -- not even Celtics-Hawks in 2008 or Cavs-Bulls last season -- featured such long odds.
A second-round series will be tougher, especially if the Orlando Magic can beat the Atlanta Hawks quickly. The Bulls won the season series 2-1, but Dwight Howard had some mammoth performances and the team has plenty of pressurized playoff experience.
With one week to go until the NBA Playoffs, we already know the eight teams that will be the lower seeds when action begins. Which one has the best chance to upset a top seed?
The Indiana Pacers have clinched a spot in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, thanks to a win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. The Pacers moved to an unspectacular 36-43 on the season, but that's good enough in the East. The Pacers will likely face to the No. 1 Chicago Bulls in the first round.
Indiana hadn't made the postseason since 2006, when Rick Carlisle led a team starring Stephen Jackson, an injury-riddled Jermaine O'Neal and half of a season of Peja Stojakovic to a 41-41 record and a first-round dismissal by the New Jersey Nets. Only two Pacers remain from that 2006 team: Danny Granger, who was a rookie playing 22 minutes a game, and Jeff Foster, who has played just 1,200 minutes in the past two seasons due to injuries.
The Bulls won the season series 3-1 over the Pacers this season. Chicago would be heavy, heavy favorites, but interim coach Frank Vogel and his rather young team deserve kudos for getting this far. They weren't on the playoff path early this season, so this is a real accomplishment, regardless of the sub-.500 record.
The New Orleans Hornets clinched their spot in the 2011 NBA Playoffs with a win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. The Rockets' loss helped out the idle Memphis Grizzlies, who now need just one more win or Houston defeat to claim their own spot.
The Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers are tied for the No. 6 spot at 45-33. With the No. 3 Dallas Mavericks struggling, there could be a real bonus in having the sixth seed over the No. 7 or No. 8 spot. That said, the Oklahoma City Thunder are closing in on Dallas, and pose nearly as big a challenge for teams in this lot as the No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers would.
The Grizzles are one game behind the Hornets and Blazers, but face each team next week. Memphis draws the Kings on Friday; Houston's only hope is for the Grizzlies to lose out and for the Rockets to run the table. That is highly unlikely.
The San Antonio Spurs pounded the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, and later watched the Los Angeles Lakers forfeit to the Golden State Warriors. Those results clinched the West's No. 1 seed in the 2011 NBA Playoffs for the Spurs. San Antonio had a commanding 8.5-game lead for No. 1 just weeks ago, but a six-game losing streak combined with L.A.'s continual excellence after the All-Star break put home court advantage in danger. But the Lakers have lost three straight as the Spurs pick themselves up off of the ground, and San Antonio will be start every series in the West bracket at home.
The Spurs still have the Chicago Bulls to be concerned with; the Bulls, 57-20, have five games remaining, and are effectively just one game behind the 60-19 Spurs. Should the teams meet in the NBA Finals, whichever squad had the better regular season record would have home court advantage. If they finish the season tied, humorously enough, according to John Schuhmann, a random draw would determine home court advantage. The teams split their season series and have identical 23-7 records against the opposite conference, which are the first two NBA Finals tiebreakers.
The Houston Rockets had a great opportunity to make up a game on the Memphis Grizzlies in the standings, and to pull within two games of a bid to the NBA Playoffs. Memphis had lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, slipping to 44-34. All Houston had to do to get to 42-36 and put some pressure on the Grizzlies over the final week was beat the visiting Sacramento Kings, who came in with a 22-54 record.
But the Kings managed to maintain a lead throughout, and Marcus Thornton hit some huge buckets and free throws down the stretch to essentially knock Houston out of the playoff race. Memphis now needs just two wins to clinch a playoff bid; the idle New Orleans Hornets need just one.
So (likely) ends a really improbable run for Houston, who has missed Yao Ming for all but five games this season and has relied heavily on the backcourt pairing of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. Houston made two midseason trades, sending veteran defender Shane Battier to Memphis for Hasheem Thabeet and a draft pick, and swapping Aaron Brooks for Goran Dragic. Both moves were made with an eye toward the future, but Houston somehow got better immediately and made this great run. It's too bad it looks like it's coming up short a week early.
The San Antonio Spurs need just two wins or Los Angeles Lakers losses in the final week of the season to guarantee the No. 1 seed in the West bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Lakers lost to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and the Spurs beat the Hawks, putting L.A. 3.5 games back with just five games remaining. The Spurs face the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
The Lakers will almost assuredly enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed out west; the Dallas Mavericks are two games back, but L.A. has a tiebreaker, meaning struggling Dallas would need to finish perfect and watch the Lakers lose three of five to a schedule that includes Golden State and Sacramento.
The bottom of the West bracket remains a mess as the Hornets, Blazers and Grizzlies fail to sort themselves out. Dallas could still fall behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, too, meaning that a potential second-round matchup for the Lakers could be the Thunder, not the Mavericks or a lower seed.
The Houston Rockets beat the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday to stay alive in the race for the West's final bid to the NBA Playoffs. The New Orleans Hornets -- a team Houston's chasing -- also won, though, setting up a huge game between the two on Wednesday.
The Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies are both currently 44-33. On paper, Houston has a better chance of catching Memphis as the Hornets have the tiebreaker edge over both; New Orleans leads each season series 2-1 with a game remaining against both teams, but has a big lead on the next tiebreaker -- division record. (All three teams represent the Southwest Division.) That makes it difficult for the Rockets to catch New Orleans.
But Memphis has been playing out of its mind, winning seven of eight (with the only loss coming against the Bulls). The Grizzlies walloped the Hornets by 12 points in New Orleans last week, and draw the Clippers and Kings this week, and close the season against those Clippers. The likelihood of Memphis losing three games -- which is what Houston would need to catch the Grizzlies -- is minuscule.
So Houston's hope rely on New Orleans catching a losing bug. If the Rockets can win out (including Wednesday's game against the Hornets), Houston needs New Orleans to go 1-3 against the Suns, Grizzlies, Jazz and Mavericks. The Suns and Jazz are out of playoff contention and have been limping to the finish line, so Houston needs a bit of divine intervention.
If New Orleans beats Houston on Wednesday, the Hornets are in and the Rockets are left praying the Grizzlies lose four of their final five games.
With a win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, the San Antonio Spurs retook control of the race for the No. 1 seed in the West bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had closed to within 1.5 games after the Spurs lost their sixth straight game on Friday, but San Antonio's Sunday win combined with a Lakers loss to the Denver Nuggets pushed the Spurs' lead back to 2.5 games.
The Spurs now have a magic number of four to clinch the No. 1 seed. That means San Antonio can win the spot without beating the Lakers on April 12. But to do so, assuming the Lakers don't lose, the Spurs would need to beat the Hawks, Kings and Jazz this week, and the Suns again on the final day of the regular season.
The Lakers need just one more win or Dallas Mavericks loss to clinch no worse than the No. 2 seed, which means that L.A. would have home court advantage in the second round. In terms of specific matchups, with Dallas struggling of late, it's not clear that facing the Nuggets or Thunder in the second round is of any more relief than facing the Mavericks would be.
The Lakers draw the Warriors, Jazz and Blazers this week.
The Memphis Grizzlies added another win to their total on Saturday night, acing the Minnesota Timberwolves. The victory moved Memphis into the No. 7 spot in the West's NBA Playoffs seeding, a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers and a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Hornets. If the playoffs began today, the Grizzlies would face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The Lakers are 4-3 against Memphis since the start of 2009-10; the Grizzlies are one of the few teams in the league with two big men capable of making L.A. sweat on both ends. One of the keys to the Lakers' back-to-back success has been in its potent frontline, with Pau Gasol and either Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum controlling the boards and scoring efficiently in the paint. But with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis has been up to the challenge.
Randolph has played in six of the games against the Lakers in the last two seasons, and Memphis is 3-3 in those. He's scored 20 or more in four of the six games and has averaged 3.5 offensive rebounds per game. Marc has also been trouble on the offensive glass over his career against the Lakers. In 11 career games against L.A., Marc has averaged three offensive rebounds per game.
A first round matchup between the teams could still be avoided if Memphis moves up another seed or falls back down, or if the Lakers manage to catch the San Antonio Spurs for No. 1.
The Rockets tipped the Spurs 119-114 in overtime on Friday, with Kevin Martin scoring nine of his 33 points in extra time. While the result probably helped the Lakers more than any other team, the win kept the Rockets in shouting range of the teams currently in the Nos. 7 and 8 spots in the West.
The Memphis Grizzlies beat the New Orleans Hornets handily to drop the teams into matching 43-33 records. Houston is at 40-36, three games back with six remaining. If the Rockets do catch one of the teams, it would likely be the Hornets; Houston gets a direct shot at New Orleans on Wednesday, which gives the Rockets a rare chance to make up a game without relying on someone else. But the odds remain long; New Orleans needs just two wins or Rockets losses to clinch a spot.
The Grizzlies need four, but can mix things up with another win over the Hornets on April 10. The Hornets currently have a 2-1 season series lead on Memphis. New Orleans will finish with a better division record, so if the Hornets and Grizzlies finish the season tied, N.O. will get the better seed. But the Rockets are counting on the Hornets to lose enough to fall out, because relying on Memphis to lose lately has been a bad bet.
The Indiana Pacers are a step closer to clinching a bid for the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs after a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and a Charlotte Bobcats loss to the Orlando Magic. The Pacers lead the Bobcats by two games in standings with five games remaining; Charlotte has seven games left. Indiana has just one fewer loss than the Bobcats, though, so there's still pressure to win.
Indiana's magic number is four -- they need four combined wins and Bobcats' losses to claim the No. 8 seed. Four of Indiana's five remaining games come against playoff teams, and two of those -- the Hornets (Sunday) and Knicks (April 10) are currently playing for seeding. Another playoff opponent, the Hawks, haven't had anything but momentum to play for in a week or so, yet they have managed to beat the Magic and Celtics in the last few days.
The Bobcats saw their winning streak vanish in Orlando on Friday. Since losing badly at home against the Pacers on March 23, the 'Cats responded by beating the Celtics, Knicks, Bucks and Cavaliers -- all in close games. But Dwight Howard overwhelmed Charlotte on Friday, and the Bobcats lost a game to Indiana. Three of Charlotte's seven remaining games come against playoff teams, with games against the Magic and Heat on tap this week. Losses in both of those matches would make it extremely unlikely the Bobcats could catch Indiana.
The Los Angeles Lakers moved a game closer to the San Antonio Spurs' previously untouchable No. 1 seed in the West bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs on Friday. The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz at Staples Center to move to 55-20, while the Spurs lost an overtime thriller to the Houston Rockets to fall to 57-19. It was San Antonio's sixth consecutive loss, the longest skid the franchise has seen since 1997.
That leaves the Lakers just 1.5 games behind the Spurs in the standings. The teams have one game against each other remaining; if the Lakers win out, including that game against San Antonio on April 12, they'd finish 62-20. The Spurs would have to win each of their other five games other than the Lakers match to end with a tied record. If the teams are tied at season's end and the Lakers have won the April 12 game (tying the season series at 2-2), the team with the better conference record would get the No. 1 seed nod. The Lakers have the advantage there, currently 34-11 compared to the Spurs' 35-12.
So essentially, the Spurs must beat the Lakers to control their own destiny. This after leading the race by seven games just a couple weeks ago.
It's an incredible change of course for each team; the Lakers had been fighting with the Dallas Mavericks over the No. 2 seed for so long as the Spurs maintained a scorching pace. It's amazing what a bad losing streak can do when combined with a hot stretch for the chaser.
That the San Antonio Spurs would earn the Western Conference's No. 1 seed seemed like such a foregone conclusion for such a long time that it was almost accepted as cast in bronze. As it turns out, the Los Angeles Lakers are just 2.5 games behind the Spurs with a real chance to take over the spot after Thursday's action.
The Lakers destroyed the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, taking a 1.5-game lead over the Mavs for the No. 2 spot in the West. L.A. effectively has an extra game on Dallas by virtue of being a division winner; if two teams have the same record, but only one is a division champ, the division champ cannot be the lower seed. Since Dallas needs to be a game ahead of L.A. to grab No. 2, the Lakers are effectively 2.5 games in front.
That's the same margin the Spurs have over the Lakers, with one caveat. The Spurs have a 2-1 season series lead on the Lakers, and the teams will meet again on April 12. If the Spurs win that game, they'd have the tiebreaker as both are division champs. If the Lakers win, the tiebreaker would move to conference record -- the Spurs are currently 35-11, the Lakers 33-11.
But to set those tiebreakers in motion, the Lakers have to catch the Spurs first. San Antonio needs six combined wins and Lakers' losses to clinch No. 1. That means that if L.A. wins out -- including the April 12 game against the Spurs -- San Antonio would need to sweep the rest of its games to guarantee the No. 1 seed. The Spurs have seven games left; removing the Lakers' matchup, San Antonio's schedule includes games at the Rockets, Hawks and Suns, and home games against the Suns, Kings and Jazz. The Spurs should be able to beat all of those teams. The Spurs, however, have lost five straight.
The Lakers' schedule is tougher, and has one big ol' stumbling block, the almost-as-hot-as-L.A. Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
The Houston Rockets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. With that defeat, Houston lost much of its hope of catching up to the final three teams in line to earn bids to the NBA Playoffs in the Western Conference.
The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets each won on Wednesday, adding a game to those teams' leads on Houston. The Grizzlies, who currently sit in the No. 8 spot, lead the Rockets by three games with seven remaining. The Hornets, currently No. 6, have a four-game lead on Houston with seven games left. The Rockets also have seven games left.
The Portland Trail Blazers, currently No. 7, lost to New Orleans, and also sits four games ahead of Houston. Basketball-Reference.com's playoff forecast gives the Rockets just 6.9 percent chance of making the postseason; that's down from 14 percent before Wednesday's action. Adding to Houston's trouble is that it has limited opportunity to create its own destiny; the Rockets have just one game remaining against the team's ahead of them, April 6 at New Orleans. The Hornets and Grizzlies do play each other twice, though, and Memphis visits Portland in the final week, so there is the hope that the teams will beat up on each other while Houston gets hot. But it's a longshot.
Houston hosts the San Antonio Spurs on Friday; a win for the Rockets would be unexpected, but could help keep the team alive a little while longer.
The Indiana Pacers beat the Boston Celtics on Monday, adding an improbable gold star to their otherwise regrettable record. The Charlotte Bobcats did that -- beat the Celtics, that is -- a few days ago, and followed it up with wins over the Knicks and, on Monday, the Bucks. The Pacers are now 33-42, and the Bobcats are 31-42 -- that's right, the two teams fighting for the East's final spot in the NBA Playoffs are a combined 20 games under .500. The least they can do is give us a dramatic race, right?
The Pacers effectively lead by one game, though the contenders are tied in the loss column, which means that the Bobcats could catch up without relying on Indiana losses. But the Pacers have a tiebreaker on Charlotte -- Indiana went 4-0 against the Bobcats this season -- so the 'Cats do need to finish a game ahead of Indiana to get the spot.
Three of Indiana's remaining seven games come against teams currently over .500; another game comes against the Knicks, who could be better than .500 by then. The Bobcats have four games against playoff teams (two against Orlando, one each against Miami and Atlanta) and five against poorer squads. Because of the Pacers' lead in the win column and tiebreaker, Basketball-Reference.com's excellent forecast tool gives Indiana an 83 percent likelihood of winning the spot.
The Bucks are all but dead after the loss to Charlotte on Monday. B-Ref begs their chances at less than 3 percent.
The Memphis Grizzlies have knocked off the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs in the past week. Those wins, both after the team learned Rudy Gay would not return this season due to shoulder surgery, have greatly boosted the odds Memphis will find itself in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2006. After the Grizzlies' win over the Spurs on Sunday and the Houston Rockets' tough loss to the Miami Heat, Basketball-Reference.com's Playoff Probabilities Report gives Memphis a 92 percent likelihood of making the postseason.
Memphis has a 2.5-game lead on Houston with eight games remaining. Only three of the Grizzlies' remaining games feature opponents with winning records: the New Orleans Hornets twice and the Portland Trail Blazers once. If Houston was going to gain by watching Memphis lose, the past week would have been the opportunity. Instead, in a brutal three-game stretch against the league's best, the Grizzlies lost only to the Chicago Bulls (and even then by only three points).
The Rockets actually have nearly as good odds of knocking out the New Orleans Hornets as they do the Grizzlies. The Hornets are 42-32, 3.5 games ahead of Houston. But New Orleans lost David West last week, and faces a rather daunting schedule, with dates against the Blazers, Mavericks and Grizzlies twice. The Rockets and Hornets hook up on April 6; if Houston can continue to win, that game could decide the No. 8 seed.
The Boston Celtics have had a rough stretch, going 5-6 since March 9. The Miami Heat, meanwhile, escaped a tough run and, since March 9, have gone 8-1. That's brought the teams to a near-tie behind the Chicago Bulls in the East's NBA playoff picture.
The Celtics have a half-game edge on the Heat after Sunday's action, and own the tiebreaker due to head-to-head record. Boston is two games behind Chicago, and while that first-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks or Charlotte Bobcats would be a dream, facing the New York Knicks -- currently looking like the No. 7 seed -- would be much preferred to the solid No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers, especially for a team with a damaged offense like the C's.
The Celtics and Heat do meet one more time this season, on April 10. But Miami has a good shot at having a lead on Boston by that point. None of the Heat's next six opponents leading into that game have winning records. Four of Boston's seven do; two of those are the Bulls and Spurs, current conference leaders. PlayoffStatus.com gives the Heat better odds of capturing the No. 2 seed than the Celtics, but that comes with a caveat: Boston has better odds to grab No. 1 from Chicago. The Bulls have a schedule tougher than that of the Heat but not as rough as that of the Celtics. It's highly likely they will finish the season the East's No. 1 seed.
The Eastern Conference's NBA Playoff picture remains unsettled as the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, each fallible of late, sit tied atop the standings at 49-19. The teams meet April 7 with, potentially, the No. 1 seed on the line. That supposes, however, that the Miami Heat, currently two games back and with the easiest schedule remaining, don't make a run at the top.
The No. 3 Heat (48-22) just completed a run of 11 consecutive games against plus-.500 teams. Miami finished the span 5-6, with a five-game losing streak to start the run. But because the Celtics and Bulls have continued to trip up -- the Celtics lost to the New Jersey Nets and Houston Rockets last week; Chicago dropped a game to the Indiana Pacers on Friday -- the Heat aren't out of it. Just four of Miami's 12 remaining opponents currently have winning records, and that includes the barely-over-.500 Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. The two other matches -- against the Celtics and Hawks -- come in the final week, which means that Miami could slip into an advantageous position by the time those games arrive.
The Bulls' schedule certainly isn't a problem, though; seven of its 14 opponents have plus-.500 records, but only the Celtics and Magic are true stumbling blocks. If Miami goes 10-2, Chicago could go 9-5 and still edge the Heat for seeding purposes. Boston has the toughest schedule of the three, as it faces both the Heat and the Bulls in April, in addition to the Spurs and Knicks twice. But as is the case with Chicago, the Celtics could go 9-5 to the Heat's 10-2 and still finish on top by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Orlando Magic are solidly in the No. 4 spot, and will certainly face the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks in the first round. The Magic are four games behind the Heat and four games ahead of the Hawks. The Hawks, in turn, are four games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, who passed the New York Knicks for the No. 6 seed over the weekend.
There's no chance the Knicks will fall out of the playoffs; even at 35-34, New York leads the No. 8 Indiana Pacers by 5.5 games and the No. 9 Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats by seven. The Pacers do have the pole position on No. 8, and all three teams in contention have similarly fair schedules. The trio play each other once each, with the next battle -- Bobcats vs. Pacers -- set for Wednesday.
The New Jersey Nets, in case you were wondering, are certainly dead.
The Houston Rockets have won four straight games, leaping the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz in the chase for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Rockets, who were in 11th place in the West a week ago, beat the Jazz on Sunday to skip ahead of Utah and stay in front of the Suns. Houston is now just 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the West, and a first-round date with the San Antonio Spurs.
Seven playoff hopefuls in the West remains bunched up within five games of each other. The Denver Nuggets, currently No. 5 in the West at 41-29, are locks to make the postseason, but the team's seed is up in the air. Denver has just a one-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 5 spot, and a 1.5-game lead over the No. 7 New Orleans Hornets. The Nuggets won't play the Blazers or Nuggets the rest of the season, but Denver does have dates with the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Thunder (twice). The Blazers have a tough road too, with two matches against the Spurs, two against the Thunder, and games against the Hornets, Lakers and Mavericks; Portland's remaining schedule is by far the toughest in the West.
The Hornets are done with the Spurs and Thunder, and have one game each against the Lakers and Mavericks. The Grizzlies, most at risk of falling behind the Rockets, Suns or Jazz, has a brutal three-game stretch this week, with road games at the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls followed by a home game against the Spurs. The Grizzlies also face the Hornets twice and the Blazers once in April.
Other than the Thunder, the Rockets have the easiest schedule remaining. With Luis Scola back from injury (though completely ineffective on Sunday), Houston should fare well against the lighter parts of its docket. But games against the Heat, Spurs and Mavericks loom.
Be sure to check out our full NBA Playoff Picture StoryStream.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs are now less than a month away, and the NBA playoff picture remains muddled. But there's one thing that's perfectly clear: The San Antonio Spurs will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Spurs, at 56-13, have an insurmountable 6.5-game lead on the No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (50-20) with 13 games to go. The Lakers have been exceptionally hot since the All-Star break -- 12-1, with the only loss a very notable one to the Miami Heat. But given how well the Spurs have continued to play, progress has been minor.
There is a reason to press for the Lakers, though, as L.A. has been unable to separate itself from the Dallas Mavericks, who at 49-21 sit one game behind the two-time defending champs. In reality, the Mavericks need to make up two games on the Lakers. By virtue of being a division champion -- something impossible for the Mavericks, thanks to the Southwest-leading Spurs -- the Lakers will have the first tiebreaker on Dallas. In order to finish with the No. 2 seed and home court advantage in a prospective second-round series with the Lakers, Dallas must finish a game ahead of L.A. in the standings.
The Lakers have a somewhat tougher schedule through the end. In addition to a March 31 game against the Mavericks at Staples Center that could very well decide the race, the Lakers have home games against plus-.500 teams the Suns, Hornets, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder and Spurs, and away games against plus-.500 teams the Jazz and Blazers. The Mavericks face Nuggets, Suns and Hornets at home, and the Jazz, Suns, Blazers and Rockets on the road. Plenty of potential pitfalls for each team.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24) appear to remain safe in the No. 4 spot. There's little chance the Thunder makes up the 3.5 games necessary to capture the No. 3 seed to avoid the Spurs in the second round; there's similar little chance after this past weekend that the Denver Nuggets will catch the Thunder for No. 4. OKC has a 4.5-game lead on Denver.
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