NBA Playoffs 2012: Breaking Down 6 Key Games That Will Determine Playoff Seeds
With four days remaining in the NBA regular season, very little has been settled at this point. Most of the playoff slots are accounted for, but just about every team in the postseason is still jockeying for position as we reach the homestretch.
The Pacific Division is still up for grabs, as are the eighth and final spots in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. And since home-court advantage is based on record instead of seeding, there are a number of teams who have plenty to play for this week.
It's anyone's guess as to how it's all going to shake out, but let's take a moment to look ahead at six key games that will go a long way to determining NBA playoff seeds.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Atlanta Hawks: April 24
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Over the course of the next four days, the Los Angeles Clippers could either win the Pacific Division, or they could be the No. 5 seed heading into the Western Conference playoffs. So it's safe to say that this matchup is somewhat important.
Unfortunately for them, they're facing an Atlanta team who is eager to get home-court advantage in its own first-round series. With both teams needing a win, this should be one of the more exciting games of the week.
Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics: April 24
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Both teams already have their tickets punched for the dance—this one is all about positioning.
As Atlantic Division champions, the Celtics are locked into the No. 4 seed, but would love to finish with a better record than the Atlanta Hawks. Otherwise, Boston won't have home-court advantage in the projected first-round matchup between the two teams.
While the Heat have an outside chance of stealing the No. 1 seed from the Chicago Bulls, Miami's "maintenance plan" may take precedence, and the Celtics just might face a depleted team this Tuesday at the TD Garden.
Phoenix Suns vs. Utah Jazz: April 24
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Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash obviously didn't get the tanking memo as he's single-handedly kept his mediocre team in the playoff race. The winner of this Tuesday showdown in Salt Lake City will have the inside track on the No. 8 seed out West.
A Jazz win gives them the final playoff spot outright, while the Suns need to win this game as well as their season-ending contest against San Antonio on Wednesday night (and hope that Utah loses Thursday to Portland), in order to make the postseason.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks: April 25
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With a win (or with a Milwaukee loss) on Monday, Philadelphia can clinch the final remaining playoff spot in the East. But if neither one of those things happen, the 76ers-Bucks matchup on Wednesday is crucial for the Bucks' postseason hopes.
Milwaukee has to win out (and hope the 76ers lose out) for the Bucks to earn their first playoff berth since 2009-10. At the very least, this game will affect Philadelphia's goal of passing the New York Knicks for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Atlanta Hawks: April 26
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The Dallas Mavericks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Denver Nuggets, so a win on Thursday could land them the No. 6 seed if the Nuggets falter this week. With four days of rest, expect the Mavericks to come out firing on all cylinders—that is, unless they decide to rest Jason Kidd for the playoffs.
The Hawks, of course, want to win every game left on the slate so that they can get home-court advantage in the first round. While many teams go through the motions on the last day of the regular season, this game will be a hotly-contested battle.
Orlando Magic vs. Memphis Grizzlies: April 26
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Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies "positioned themselves" (read: tanked) in order to face the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. This season, they could position themselves in a positive way in order to get home court in their opening-round playoff series.
The Magic won't have much to play for in this one, but they may want to build up some momentum before the playoffs start next weekend. For a team currently in a tailspin, a win over the Grizzlies would provide a much-needed boost heading into the postseason.