There's about a month left in the regular season. Three teams have already clinched a playoff spot, and a handful of clubs can look toward the draft without a mathematical chance at the postseason.
For teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, seeding isn't important. LeBron James made that point in an interview, per the team's official website, via Sports Illustrated:
Sports Illustrated @SInow
Reporter: This could be a critical trip, [Cavs] could slip to 6th [seed] if things don't go right LeBron: It doesn't matter to me if I'm a 6th seed, 3 seed, 2 seed, 8 seed...If I come into your building for a Game 1, it will be very challenging (via @cavs) https://t.co/rnlvzb5O7L
In the Western Conference, postseason placement holds more weight because there's a two-game gap between the No. 4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs in the No. 10 spot.
The Thunder could possess home-court advantage for a playoff series one night and not have a spot in the top eight within the next two contests. It's a conference in which every game counts. Though, one team in the West could see a significant boost with a star player nearing a return.
As for the East, there's a clear route to the No. 1 seed for one club. How much does it matter for the current leader in the standings?
Latest Power Rankings
1. Toronto Raptors
2. Houston Rockets
3. Golden State Warriors
4. Portland Trail Blazers
5. Boston Celtics
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
7. Indiana Pacers
8. New Orleans Pelicans
9. Cleveland Cavaliers
10. San Antonio Spurs
11. Washington Wizards
12. Philadelphia 76ers
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Miami Heat
15. Denver Nuggets
16. Utah Jazz
17. Milwaukee Bucks
18. Los Angeles Clippers
19. Detroit Pistons
20. Los Angeles Lakers
21. Charlotte Hornets
22. Chicago Bulls
23. New York Knicks
24. Brooklyn Nets
25. Orlando Magic
26. Sacramento Kings
27. Dallas Mavericks
28. Memphis Grizzlies
29. Atlanta Hawks
30. Phoenix Suns
Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding
1. *-Toronto Raptors (49-17)
2. *-Boston Celtics (46-21)
3. Indiana Pacers (39-28)
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (38-28)
5. Washington Wizards (38-29)
6. Philadelphia 76ers (36-29)
7. Milwaukee Bucks (36-31)
8. Miami Heat (36-32)
Western Conference Playoff Seeding
1. *-Houston Rockets (53-14)
2. *-Golden State Warriors (51-16)
3. Portland Trail Blazers (41-26)
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-29)
5. New Orleans Pelicans (38-28)
6. Minnesota Timberwolves (39-29)
7. Los Angeles Clippers (36-29)
8. Utah Jazz (37-30)
*-Indicates team clinched a playoff spot
Injuries Piling Up for the Boston Celtics
Second-year forward Jaylen Brown went into the concussion protocol after an awkward landing following a dunk last Thursday. Kyrie Irving has experienced soreness in his left knee that needs management, or in other words, limitations on minutes.
Al Horford missed the team's previous outing against the Indiana Pacers with an illness. Backup center Daniel Theis suffered a torn meniscus, which requires surgery, per Yahoo Sports reporter Shams Charania. Guard Marcus Smart has a thumb injury, per Boston Globe reporter Adam Himmelsbach.
It reads like a small manual, but the Celtics look like the walking wounded going through March. Irving will cope with the most notable injury that will linger throughout the season. He played nearly 16 minutes against the Pacers before the team ruled him out for the game.
Earlier in the season, Boston resembled a squad on a mission, winning without forward Gordon Hayward on their way to home-court advantage in the postseason. Now, head coach Brad Stevens must consider rest for his best player in Irving and more minutes for the reserves in preparation for a deep postseason run.
Toronto Raptors' Clear Pathway to the No. 1 Seed in the East
The Toronto Raptors hold a 3.5-game lead over the injury-riddled Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the East. Head coach Dwane Casey utilizes a deep rotation, which features 11 players logging 16 or more minutes per contest.
It's important to note the Raptors possess the league's best home record at 28-5. They're also red-hot riding an eight-game win streak. Recently, Casey has kept it humble in front of cameras, insisting his team must stay focused on the next opponent without looking ahead.
Nonetheless, it's no secret Toronto wants to shake off its reputation for shrinking in the postseason. General manager Masai Ujiri decided to keep the team's nucleus together. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka all signed new deals over the past two years.
The front office opted to add a rock-solid supporting cast around its key contributors to reach new heights in the postseason. Right now, the plan could help them land the No. 1 seed with Boston slipping in the standings.
Kawhi Leonard's Return to Provide Late-Season Boost for San Antonio Spurs
Two-time league Defensive Player of the Year and the San Antonio Spurs' leading scorer from the previous season could return to the court Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski:
The Spurs would breathe a sigh of relief watching Leonard suit up for the first time since January 13 against the Denver Nuggets. The 26-year-old has appeared in just nine games due to a bothersome quad injury.
Despite head coach Gregg Popovich's brilliance as a basketball mind, the Spurs are 10th in the West, and they have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Yes, there's a possibility the Spurs miss the postseason for the first time in Popovich's tenure. A conference loaded with teams vying for positioning doesn't allow San Antonio to coast down the stretch without its best player.
Whether Leonard returns at 100 percent or not, this team needs him, specifically on the offensive end. The Spurs rank 28th in scoring at 102.1 points per game.