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NBA playoff standings: Nuggets refuse to go away

Their season finale with the Timberwolves is starting to look incredibly important.

The Wizards could have really shaken up the Eastern Conference playoff picture — they led the Cavaliers by 17 points midway through the fourth. But then LeBron James led (another) epic comeback and Cleveland secured the win. (Poor Scott Brooks.) That keeps Cleveland tied with the 76ers at 30 losses in the race for the No. 3 seed. Those two teams face off Friday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) with the seed basically on the line.

The Pacers beat the chalk out of the Warriors, securing no worse than the No. 5 seed and improving their odds for No. 4 slightly. The most likely scenario: the winner of Cavs-Sixers on Friday is No. 3, the loser is No. 4 and faces Indiana in the first round.

The Bucks, meanwhile, lost to the Nets, thus missing a chance to jump the Wizards in the standings. With the Kyrie Irving news, the No. 7 seed is more attractive than ever. Unless this is three-dimensional chess to win No. 7 in the final day of the season, missing the chance to move up for Milwaukee seems bad. After last season’s dramatic first round, the Raptors are going to be out for blood in the playoffs.

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)

The Clippers got smoked by the Jazz, keeping Utah a game up in the No. 4 spot and just about ending LA’s playoff hopes. The Clippers have a shot, but need multiple teams to lose multiple games with 3-4 matches left for each squad. It’s tough.

The Blazers lost a heartbreaker to the Rockets, leaving the door to No. 3 a bit open for Utah. The Jazz need to win out with Portland losing to either the Spurs or Nuggets, and then finish the season by beating the Blazers. Portland could definitely lose to the Spurs or miracle Nuggets with Damian Lillard banged up.

In the nightcap, the Nuggets won a pretty fierce struggle with the Timberwolves at home to virtually tie Minnesota for the No. 8 seed. The teams meet again in the season finale, with tiebreakers potentially on the line. What a disaster if the Timberwolves miss the playoffs!

Here’s the current West bracket.

Rockets (1) vs. Timberwolves (8)
Jazz (4) vs. Spurs (5)
Blazers (3) vs. Thunder (6)
Warriors (2) vs. Pelicans (7)

As noted, Cavaliers-Sixers is the game on Friday. Ramifications galore ... and it should be a fun game, even without Joel Embiid. Indiana vs. Toronto could be a second-round preview, and other teams including Washington, Miami, New Orleans, and Minnesota have trap games.