Let's get this out of the way: the West playoff bracket is not settled, and probably won't be any time soon. Technically speaking, the East isn't settled either. After Wednesday's critical win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Knicks' magic number is six, with eight games remaining. But what's effectively a three-game lead (thanks to a tiebreaker) seems insurmountable, right?
Because of the Wednesday loss, the Bucks are essentially three games out of a playoff berth. They trail by two games in the standings, but need to finish a game ahead of New York to get the spot. A reasonable assessment of New York's remaining schedule picks out four probable wins (Wizards, Nets, Cavs, Bobcats), three probable losses (Miami, Boston, the Clippers) and an in-the-air match-up (Hawks). Let's say the Knicks win that one and chalk rides in the other seven games. That puts the Knicks at 35 wins.
The Bucks would need 36 to get in (ignoring the Sixers, for a second). That would require Milwaukee to run the table. So at this point, the Bucks need the Knicks' good opponents to play up to their talent and they need to beat every team in their path. A home-and-home with Indiana is the most daunting bit of that -- a loss in either game there would require an additional loss from New York to balance it. So long as the Knicks do their part against bad teams, a win against either Boston or New York next week could end this thing.
Philadelphia has an additional game of cushion on Milwaukee, but the Bucks can steal the tiebreaker in the final week of the season in the teams' rubber match. But given the way the Sixers have bounced back in their last few games, making up the three games seems like a longshot.
Elsewhere in the East, a win for Indiana kept the Pacers two games clear in the No. 3 spot. Boston's win over Atlanta really mucked up the middle seeds, though: the Celtics, Hawks and Magic are now even at 34-24. The No. 4 seed will go to Boston no matter what, but home court advantage is still at stake, and the Hawks and Magic are still fighting for the No. 5. It's going to go down to the wire. Philadelphia is three games behind this cluster, and as such pretty much locked in to No. 7 or No. 8.
In the West, the Thunder and Spurs both lost, keeping OKC ahead by one game in the race for No. 1. The Lakers won to remain 1.5 games ahead of the victorious Clippers; the Clips' win kept them a half-game ahead of the Grizzlies for No. 4. Denver won and Houston lost, sending those teams into a three-way tie with idle Dallas at 32-26. That cluster is 1.5 games ahead of No. 9 Utah (who caused the mess by beating the Rockets) and two games clear of No. 10 Phoenix.
The Mavericks have tiebreakers over every other team in the mix (including Utah and Phoenix). That could prove mighty important.