The Raptors have quietly been fading down the stretch while the Celtics have stayed strong. That allowed Boston to close within two games of Toronto for the No. 1 seed going into Tuesday. The Raptors lost to the Cavaliers in a disturbing, anxiety-creating game. That gave Boston an opening to close to within one game with a week left. But the Celtics fell to the Bucks in a potential first-round preview. Boston will see Giannis Antetokounmpo in its nightmares.
That Cleveland win over the Raptors keeps the smoking 76ers at bay one more day — the teams are still virtually tied, with the Cavaliers having a head-to-head advantage and likely the division title. The Sixers need to beat Cleveland on Friday or get some help to pass them for No. 3. The Pacers lost to the Nuggets to fall two games behind the Cavs and Sixers; they are looking closer to being set in the No. 5 spot.
The three final playoff spots in the East are a mess. The Bucks and Heat won and the Wizards lost, leaving all three teams at 42-36. Miami has the tiebreaker over Milwaukee. The other tiebreakers remain undetermined (head-to-heads knotted up). The Bucks’ games remaining: three non-playoff teams and the Sixers. The Heat’s games remaining: two non-playoff teams, the Thunder and Raptors. The Wizards’ games remaining: two non-playoff teams, Cavs and Celtics. What a mess!
Here’s the current East bracket.
Raptors (1) vs. Bucks (8)
Sixers (4) vs. Pacers (5)
Cavaliers (3) vs. Heat (6)
Celtics (2) vs. Wizards (7)
Here’s some good news: the West playoff situation is much cleaner. JUST KIDDING. It’s worse. We know the top two seeds, certainly. We know the Blazers are very likely to hold onto the No. 3 seed, despite a weird loss to Dallas on Tuesday. Everything else is up in the air.
The Jazz won and Spurs lost Tuesday, knotting those teams up with 33 losses. That puts Utah in the No. 4 seed with the tiebreaker. The Thunder lost again, keeping them one behind with 34 losses, now tied with inactive Minnesota and New Orleans. Denver won again — a strong win over Indiana — to hang at 35 losses. The Clippers knocked off the Spurs to hang in there at 36 losses.
What a mess!
Here’s the West bracket.
The Sixers and Heat are in action on Wednesday against lesser teams, and the Celtics have a direct shot to gain a game on the Raptors (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Pelicans and Spurs both have games against non-playoff teams, too. Otherwise, it’ll be a quiet night.