After a big day of basketball on Monday, the NBA playoff picture has become much clearer. However, there are a number of postseason matchups still to be decided.
Thanks to the Memphis Grizzlies' 97-91 victory over the Phoenix Suns, we now know the identity of all 16 playoff teams. The Indiana Pacers also clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the San Antonio Spurs had already earned that spot in the West.
With most teams having just one game remaining and a few more having just two, there are only a few more seeds up for grabs. However, moving up one spot could change a matchup and be the difference between advancing in the postseason and going home early.
This means that everyone will be fighting hard in the final two days of the season for those last few seeds. Here is a look at the spots still to be decided.
|Eastern Conference Standings (as of April 15)|
|5||Brooklyn Nets||44||36||.550||10 ½|
|-||New York Knicks||35||45||.438||19 ½|
Bulls and Raptors Battle for No. 3 Seed
When the Toronto Raptors settled into the No. 3 seed earlier in the season, few people believed they would stay there. However, the squad kept improving and have remained in the spot until the very end.
Toronto set a franchise record with its 48 wins, leading DeMar DeRozan to say this about exceeding expectations, via Holly MacKenzie of Raptors.com:
All it takes is the right chemistry, the right group of guys and you can do whatever it takes. You don’t need no big-name players, you don’t need this, that and the third, what people supposedly say you need. We’re proof of that and we continue to keep growing, keep learning and keep building.
As good as this story has been, the Raptors still have work to do before the start of the playoffs. They are currently tied with the Chicago Bulls for the No. 3 seed, but they hold the tiebreaker due to the fact that they are division winners.
This means that Toronto simply has to win its road game against the New York Knicks or hope for a Bulls loss at the Charlotte Bobcats to secure the higher seed.
Then again, this is not much of a prize with tough teams trying to get the No. 6 seed and the Miami Heat looming at No. 2. Still, you can be certain both squads would love to end the year with a win.
Wizards Going Anywhere from No. 5 to No. 7
Looking at the remainder of the Eastern Conference, there is still a lot of uncertainty. The Atlanta Hawks have the No. 8 seed and will play No. 1 Indiana, but the rest of the bottom half is interesting.
The Brooklyn Nets will host rivals the New York Knicks on Tuesday night in a matchup that schedule makers thought would be much more interesting for both teams. However, the Knicks are out of the playoffs, and a win for the Nets would be enough to secure the No. 5 seed.
On the other hand, a loss to the Knicks and then again to the Cleveland Cavaliers would open things up for the Washington Wizards. The Nets lost three times to the Wizards this year and would in turn lose the tiebreaker.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are only still in play for this spot thanks to a dominant performance against the Miami Heat:
Of course, it helped that LeBron James and Chris Bosh were out as the Heat seemed content to settle for the No. 2 seed.
Despite the recent success, the Wizards must still look over their backs at the Charlotte Bobcats, who could grab the No. 6 seed. It would take a Washington loss to the Boston Celtics and a Bobcats win over Chicago, but it remains possible.
The most likely scenario is that the Nets finish in the sixth spot, followed by the Wizards and Bobcats. However, do not be surprised to see Washington flip seeds with either team.
|Western Conference Standings (as of April 15)|
|1||San Antonio Spurs||62||19||.765||-|
|2||Oklahoma City Thunder||58||23||.716||4|
|3||Los Angeles Clippers||56||24||.700||5 ½|
|5||Portland Trail Blazers||53||28||.654||9|
|6||Golden State Warriors||50||31||.617||12|
|-||Denver Nuggets||36||44||.450||25 ½|
|-||New Orleans Pelicans||33||48||.407||29|
|-||Los Angeles Lakers||26||55||.321||36|
Thunder Trying to Hold Off Clippers for No. 2 Seed
Thanks to an incredible second half of the season, the San Antonio Spurs pulled away from their top competition and clinched the No. 1 seed. Now the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to make sure they do not drop to No. 3.
Oklahoma City holds a 1.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, but they could lose the current seed with a loss to the Detroit Pistons to go with two wins by the Clippers. Los Angeles plays the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.
While one would look at the schedule and say the Thunder should have little trouble holding on to the No. 2 seed, they have already lost two games in a row. The last one was particularly embarrassing, as described by Royce Young of Daily Thunder:
The gameplan for the Thunder coming in against a Pelicans team missing six of their top seven scorers was simple: Don’t play terrible. Play bad, play poorly, play below average. Just don’t play a horrible, terrible game and everything should be fine.
Annnnnnnnd whoops, because the Thunder played some kind of awful.
Los Angeles has played extremely well lately, winning 19 of 23 since the middle of February. The squad has the talent to make a run in the postseason and could end up having home-court advantage over anyone but the Spurs (including the Eastern Conference).
You can be certain the Clippers will be fighting hard to earn the No. 2 spot.
Mavericks and Grizzlies Hoping to Avoid No. 8 Seed
Although the Memphis Grizzlies appeared dead in the water earlier in the season, they have turned things around to secure a spot in the playoffs. The team's vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger pointed out the extent of the turnaround:
Of course, the humor is that Hollinger is the one who developed the formula for ESPN, but the second half of the season was quite impressive.
However, the next step is to get out of the No. 8 hole to avoid the red-hot Spurs, as noted by Marc Stein of ESPN:
The Dallas Mavericks hold the tiebreaker with the teams both coming into the last game with a 49-32 record, but that does not matter since they face each other on Wednesday night. The Mavs' three wins during the year mean nothing if they cannot get a fourth on the last day of the season.
While no one wants to play the Thunder or Clippers in the first round, it seems like a much better proposition than facing the Spurs. Considering San Antonio has only lost four times since the All-Star break, winning four out of seven does not seem like fun for whichever team gets the No. 8 seed.
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