Even as the seeding portion of the NBA restart nears its halfway point, most races for contested playoff positions remain too close to call.
The Los Angeles Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the West, and the Milwaukee Bucks could claim the East's top spot any day now. But nearly everything else is up for grabs.
Both conferences have traffic jams near their midsections, and the fight for the West's final playoff ticket runs six teams deep. After updating the standings and latest playoff bracket, we'll break out our crystal ball to crown a winner in some of the closest races.
1. x-Milwaukee Bucks (54-14)
2. x-Toronto Raptors (49-18)
3. x-Boston Celtics (45-23)
4. x-Miami Heat (43-25)
5. x-Indiana Pacers (42-26)
6. x-Philadelphia 76ers (41-27)
7. Brooklyn Nets (32-36)
8. Orlando Magic (32-37)
9. Washington Wizards (24-44)
1. x-Los Angeles Lakers (51-16)
2. x-Los Angeles Clippers (45-22)
3. x-Denver Nuggets (45-23)
4. x-Utah Jazz (43-25)
5. x-Oklahoma City Thunder (42-25)
6. x-Houston Rockets (42-25)
7. x-Dallas Mavericks (41-29)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-37)
9. Portland Trail Blazers (31-38)
10. San Antonio Spurs (29-38)
11 New Orleans Pelicans (29-38)
12. Phoenix Suns (29-39)
13. Sacramento Kings (28-39)
*x = clinched playoff berth
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic
No. 4 Miami Heat vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
No. 4 Utah Jazz vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Houston Rockets
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
Celtics Stay at No. 3
Boston hasn't had the most comfortable stay at Disney World.
The Celtics have split their first four games, losing to the Heat for the first time this season and needing to sweat out a win against the ninth-seeded Trail Blazers. Kemba Walker has battled a knee injury that predates the season's suspension, and Jayson Tatum has only shown flashes of the superstar ability he displayed with regularity before the hoops world went into hiatus.
And yet, the Celtics should still like their chances of maintaining the No. 3 seed.
Boston has a two-game cushion on Miami, and it faces the softer schedule going forward. While the Celtics only face one more team with a winning record, four of the Heat's final five opponents have winning percentages north of .600.
Thunder Climb to No. 4
Oklahoma City has spent much of this season as arguably the feel-good story of the campaign. Many doomsday scenarios were written up once the franchise moved on from both Russell Westbrook and Paul George last offseason, but the Thunder have actually elevated their winning percentage (.627, up from .598).
If OKC was still a surprising success, one could say this squad is playing with house money at this point. But it seems what we've actually seen is the Thunder transforming from surprisingly good to just plain, old good.
Wednesday's takedown of the Los Angeles Lakers—by a 19-point margin, no less—was the latest example of that change. The Thunder moved within a half-game of the No. 4 seed and rank 10th overall in net efficiency rating (one spot ahead of the fourth-seeded Jazz).
OKC gets the Jaren Jackson Jr.-less Grizzlies, then the Bradley Beal-less Wizards up next. After that, it's a Suns squad that's playing well but owns a .426 winning percentage, a plucky Heat team and finally a Clippers club that might have its seed secured before the contest. That's hardly a murderer's row, and the Thunder—who won their season series against the Rockets and Jazz—should have a path to the No. 4 seed.
Blazers Win Race for No. 8
The six-team race for the West's No. 8 seed is really only half that size. The Grizzlies are 0-4 in Orlando and lost Jackson to a season-ending meniscus tear. The Kings are the conference's only other winless team inside the bubble. The Spurs don't have LaMarcus Aldridge and have previously said they're prioritizing development.
All three teams are technically still alive—Memphis actually holds the spot for now—but the eye test says they've essentially been eliminated.
That leaves only the Blazers, Pelicans and Suns still standing. Phoenix is the West's only undefeated team inside the bubble, and Devin Booker is using this stage to have his breakout. New Orleans has a cakewalk for a remaining schedule (it won't play another .500-plus team) and possibly saw freshman phenom Zion Williamson get his groove back his last time out.
But this is Portland's spot to lose.
Assuming the Grizzlies are cooked, the Blazers control their own destiny. Their schedule is challenging—their second-weakest remaining opponent is Dallas—but they have the personnel to pull this off. Damian Lillard should get some MVP votes thrown his way, CJ McCollum is one of the better sidekicks in basketball and Jusuf Nurkic has been a difference-maker since returning from a year-plus absence (leg).
Portland made the conference finals just last season. While our crystal ball doesn't see that deep of a playoff run in the franchise's future, it does like the Blazers' chances of securing the eighth seed and making the Lakers earn their way out of the opening round.