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NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers: Knicks projected to secure No. 4 seed; Bucks closing on Nets

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The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Brooklyn Nets two times over a three-day span to pull within one game of the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed. Milwaukee has seven games remaining and the tiebreaker over the Nets in hand. As it looks increasingly likely these two will meet in the second round, the fight for the No. 2 seed becomes about home-court advantage. 

In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday to move back into the No. 1 seed by way of owning the tiebreaker over the Jazz, who were idle. The Clippers also leaped back above the Nuggets for the No. 3 seed and the Mavericks jumped the Lakers for the No. 5 seed. 

A quick reminder on the NBA‘s new play-in format: The top six seeds in each conference are in, with the final two seeds up for grabs via the new play-in tournament. In each conference, No. 7 will play No. 8 with the winner getting the No. 7 seed. The loser will then play the winner of 9 vs. 10 for the No. 8 seed.

Below is what the playoff picture looks like entering play on Wednesday, May 5. Teams are listed in order of current seed along with the SportsLine projected finishing seed and different magic number scenarios. A “playoff spot” means a top-six seed. This post will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track of these races down to the wire. 

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times to produce the most unbiased and precise projections possible.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

1. Phoenix Suns

The Suns beat the Cavaliers on Tuesday to move back into the West’s No. 1 seed by virtue of owning the tiebreaker over the Jazz, who were idle. Phoenix has clinched a top-four seed. Our SportsLine projections have Phoenix eventually landing as the No. 2 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 7
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 9th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

2. Utah Jazz

The Jazz are tied with the Suns, who own the tiebreaker, with seven games remaining for each team. Utah has clinched a top-four seed, and SportsLine projections have them ultimately securing the No. 1 overall seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 23rd
  • Projected seed: No. 1

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers moved back ahead of the Nuggets into the No. 3 seed by beating Toronto on Tuesday night. They have a higher win percentage than Denver at the moment, but they are tied in the loss column and it’s the Nuggets who own the tiebreaker. The Clippers have clinched a playoff spot. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 25th
  • Projected seed: No. 3
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4. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are tied with the No. 4 Clippers in the loss column and own the tiebreaker, but for now the Clippers have played one more game (they beat the Raptors Tuesday night) and thus carry a higher win percentage. Denver still controls its own destiny to pass the Clippers for the No. 3 seed and has clinched a playoff spot. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 12th
  • Projected seed: No. 4

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks defeated the Heat on Tuesday to jump the Lakers into the No. 5 seed by virtue of owning the tiebreaker. The Mavericks are tied in the loss column with the No. 6 Lakers and and have a one-loss lead over the No. 7 Blazers, who have secured the tiebreaker over Dallas. The Mavericks have clinched a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 27th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

6. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers were idle Tuesday night, but by way of the Mavericks’ win over Miami, they fall back into the No. 6 seed. Dallas, with the same 37-28 record, owns the tiebreaker. The Lakers have a one-loss lead over No. 7 Portland with one matchup remaining Friday night and the season series tied 1-1. The Lakers have clinched a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 10th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

The Blazers are pretty safe to remain in at least the No. 7 seed, which would give them two chances to get one win in the play-in tournament and secure a playoff spot. Portland leads No. 8 Golden State by four in the loss column. The Blazers trails the No. 6 Lakers and No. 5 Mavericks by one in the loss column. They have one game remaining against the Lakers (Friday night) and have already secured the tiebreaker over Dallas. The Blazers have clinched a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Strength of remaining schedule: 8th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Warriors let one get away in New Orleans on Tuesday night, falling four games back in the loss column of No. 7 Portland. The Warriors (33-33) also have one more loss than the No. 9 Grizzlies (32-32), but they’ve played two more games to this point and remain in the higher seed for the moment. The season series between Golden State and Memphis is tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining on the final day of the season. The Warriors are tied in the loss column with No. 10 San Antonio (31-33) but have played two more games (both wins) and own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 17th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

9. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are 32-32 to Golden State’s 33-33. The season series is tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining on the final day of the season, which could very well determine which team has to win two play-in games and which has to win one to make the playoffs. Memphis has a one-loss lead over San Antonio, but with the tiebreaker already secured, that lead is effectively two. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 28th
  • Projected seed: No. 8
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San Antonio has lost four straight, a run that includes blowing a 32-point lead to Boston and a Ben Simmons buzzer-beater tip-in. The Spurs are one loss back of the No. 9 Grizzlies, who own the tiebreaker, making that gap effectively two games, and are tied in the loss column with No. 8 Golden State, which owns the tiebreaker. The Spurs have a three-loss lead over the No. 11 Pelicans with the tiebreaker in hand. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 1st
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Clinging to play-in life)

  • 11. New Orleans Pelicans — Three losses back of No. 10 San Antonio (Spurs have the tiebreaker) and No. 8 Warriors (season series tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining). Four losses back of No. 9 Memphis (Pelicans own tiebreaker with one matchup remaining). 
Giannis and the Bucks are in position to jump the Nets for the No. 2 seed.
Getty Images

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Sixers have a two-loss lead over the Nets for the No. 1 seed. Philly also has the tiebreaker over Brooklyn, meaning that lead is effectively three. Philly has a three-loss lead over No. 3 Milwaukee and has clinched at least a top-three seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 5
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 30th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

2. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have lost two straight to Milwaukee. Brooklyn now leads the Bucks by just one in the loss column and Milwaukee owns the tiebreaker. The Nets have clinched a top-four seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 6
  • Magic number to clinch top-three seed: 1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 21st
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are within one loss of No. 2 Brooklyn with the tiebreaker secured. Milwaukee owns a four-loss lead over the No. 4 Knicks with eight to play, so the No. 3 seed is pretty secure even though the Knicks own the tiebreaker. Milwaukee has clinched a playoff spot. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 1
  • Magic number to clinch top-three seed: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 29th
  • Projected seed: No. 3

The Knicks hold a two-loss lead over the No. 5 Hawks, but that lead is effectively three games as the Knicks own the tiebreaker. The Knicks have a three-loss lead over No. 6 Miami (Heat own tiebreaker) and No. 7 Boston (season series tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining on final day of season). The Knicks have clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 3
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 3rd
  • Projected seed: No. 4
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5. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have clinched a spot in the play-in tournament. Entering play on Wednesday, Atlanta is two games back of the No. 4 Knicks, who own the tiebreaker, making that deficit effectively three games. The more pressing concern is holding off No. 6 Miami and No. 7 Boston. The Hawks got a big break with Miami losing to Dallas on Tuesday. Atlanta now leads both Miami and Boston by one in the loss column with the tiebreaker in hand over both, making those leads effectively two games. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 24th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

6. Miami Heat

The Heat took a big loss to Dallas on Tuesday that really hurt their chances of getting up to the No. 5 seed. At No. 6 or 7, the Heat will likely face the Bucks or Nets in the fist round. There’s still a chance to get to No. 5. The Heat only trail Atlanta by one in the loss column, but the Hawks have the tiebreaker, so that’s effectively a two-game deficit. Miami is tied with No. 7 Boston with two matchups remaining, and SportsLine projection has the Heat ultimately falling into the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 18th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

(Current play-in teams)

Boston is tied in the loss column with No. 6 Miami. The Celtics play the Heat twice more before season’s end, so they still control their own destiny to move out of the play-in tournament. Boston has clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament.

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 28th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

The Hornets are two losses back of No. 7 Boston, but the Celtics own the tiebreaker so that deficit is effectively three. The better bet for Charlotte is to catch No. 6 Miami, which also has a two-game lead over the Hornets, but the Hornets own the tiebreaker. Charlotte has a one-loss lead over No. 9 Indiana with the tiebreaker in hand, making that gap effectively two games. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 16th
  • Projected seed: No. 8

The Pacers trail the No. 8 Hornets by one in the loss column, but Charlotte owns the tiebreaker. Indiana has a one-loss lead over No. 10 Washington, which has secured the tiebreaker, with one matchup remaining. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 15th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

The Wizards trail the No. 9 Pacers by one game with the tiebreaker secured and one head-to-head remaining on Saturday. The Wizards have a four-loss lead over the No. 11 Raptors and No. 12 Bulls

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 19th
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Outside looking in)

  • 11. Toronto Raptors — Four losses back of No. 10 Washington
  • 12. Chicago Bulls — Four losses back of No. 10 Washington


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