NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers: Knicks clinch play-in spot; Lakers fall behind No. 5 Mavericks

The New York Knicks are going to be playing postseason basketball in some capacity. They have clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament and continue to occupy the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, have dropped to the No. 6 seed in the West and are, entering play on Sunday, just one loss from having to play their way into the playoffs. 

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 higher seed having to win one game while the lower seed would have to win two. The winner of that 7 vs. 8 series gets the No. 7 spot, with the loser awaiting the winner of the 9 vs. 10 play-in series to decide the No. 8 seed. 

Below is what the playoff picture looks like entering play on Sunday, May 2. 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)

The Jazz technically hold the West’s No. 1 seed after beating Toronto Saturday night as they have played one more game than No. 2 Phoenix, but the two teams are tied in the loss column and it’s the Suns who own the tiebreaker. The Jazz have clinched a top-four seed. They do not control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed, but our SportsLine projections have them earning the top spot nonetheless. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 24th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

2. Phoenix Suns

As mentioned above, the Suns are tied with the No. 1 Jazz in the loss column and own the tiebreaker. Phoenix has clinched a top-four seed and holds a three-loss lead over the No. 3 Nuggets

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 9
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 19th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets beat the Clippers to leap into the No. 3 seed on Saturday. Denver now owns an effective two-game lead over the No. 4 Clippers (one in the loss column) with the tiebreaker in hand. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 11th
  • Projected seed: No. 4

4. Los Angeles Clippers

After falling to Denver on Saturday night, the Clippers are now the West’s No. 4 seed, one loss behind No. 3 Denver. But since the Nuggets now own the tiebreaker as well, that is effectively a two-game gap. The Clippers have clinched at least a spot in the play-in tournament. 

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

Dallas jumped the Lakers into the No. 5 seed with a win over the Wizards on Saturday night. Dallas and the Lakers are tied in the loss column but it’s the Mavericks with the tiebreaker. Dallas is just one loss ahead of the No. 7 Blazers, and it’s Portland that owns the tiebreaker.

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 27th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

6. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers lost to the Kings in LeBron James‘ return Friday night and have now slipped to the No. 6 seed after Dallas’ win over the Wizards on Saturday. The Lakers are tied in the loss column with the No. 5 Mavericks, who own the tiebreaker. The Lakers are just one loss up on the No. 7 Blazers, whom they play this coming Friday in a game that will determine the tiebreaker and perhaps the No. 6 seed when it’s all said and done. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 10th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

(Current play-in teams)

The Blazers have steadied their ship with three straight wins and sit just one loss back of the No. 5 Mavericks and No. 6 Lakers. Portland owns the tiebreaker over Dallas. The Blazers-Lakers season series is tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining this coming Friday. As you’ll see below, our SportsLine projections have the Blazers sticking at the No. 7 spot with a three-loss lead over No. 8 Memphis. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 9th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Grizzlies took a bad loss to the Magic on Saturday night and now trail the No. 7 Blazers by three games in the loss column. Attention now turns to holding off the No. 9 Warriors and No. 10 Spurs. Memphis has a one-loss lead over the Warriors with the season series tied 1-1 and one matchup remaining on the final day of the regular season. The Grizzlies are tied in the loss column with San Antonio with the tiebreaker already secured. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 28th
  • Projected seed: No. 8

9. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors jumped the Spurs for the No. 9 seed with a win over Houston on Saturday. Entering play on Sunday, the Warriors actually have one more loss than the Spurs, but they have one more win, too, plus the tiebreaker. As far as ensuring at least the No. 10 seed and making the play-in tournament, the Warriors have a three-loss lead over the Pelicans with three head-to-head matchups remaining. If the Pels somehow sweep those games and both teams were to win out otherwise, New Orleans would jump the Warriors courtesy of owning the tiebreaker.

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 15th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

10. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs actually have one fewer loss than the Warriors, but Golden State has played two more games and owns the tiebreaker. San Antonio is tied in the loss column with No. 8 Memphis, but again, the tiebreaker isn’t in San Antonio’s favor. 

  • 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. 9 Golden State; four losses back of No. 10 San Antonio
Nerlens Noel and the Knicks have secured at least a play-in spot, but home court is in their grasp.
Getty Images

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

The Nets technically sit above the Sixers because they have played one more game to this point, but the two teams are tied in the loss column and the Sixers have the tiebreaker, so it’s Philly that controls its own top-seed destiny. The Nets have locked up at least a top-four seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-three seed: 1
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 12th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

The Sixers have moved into a tie in the loss column with Brooklyn for the No. 1 seed. Since Philly owns the tiebreaker, it controls its own destiny to jump the Nets and finish with the East’s top seed. Philly owns a three-loss lead over the No. 3 Bucks, and has clinched a top-four seed with nine games to play and a nine-loss lead over the No. 5 Hawks and the tiebreaker over Atlanta in hand. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 9
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 30th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks hold a four-loss lead over the No. 4 Knicks, but their chances of catching Philly or Brooklyn look slim. The Bucks are three games behind Philly but do own the tiebreaker via a 3-0 season-series sweep. Milwaukee has clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament and is two wins from clinching a top-six seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 2
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 22nd
  • 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. That would seem like a pretty safe lead, but our SportsLine projections have the Knicks ultimately falling below Atlanta due in part to their tough remaining schedule and Atlanta’s soft slate. The Knicks also hold a two-loss lead over the No. 6 Celtics, and they have clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament via Toronto’s loss to Utah. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 4th
  • Projected seed: No. 5

5. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks got a massive win over the Bulls on Saturday. Had they lost, they would’ve fallen to the No. 7 seed. Instead, they stay at No. 5, tied in the loss column with No. 6 Boston and No. 7 Miami. Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and the Heat, and have clinched at least a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 25th
  • Projected seed: No. 4

Boston is tied with the No. 5 Hawks in the loss column, but Atlanta holds the tiebreaker. Boston remains two losses back of the No. 4 Knicks with one head-to-head matchup remaining, so Boston still has a good amount of control over its top-four destiny. That’s the upside. The downside is the Celtics have fallen into a tie with the No. 7 Heat, whom they play twice over the season’s final week. Those two games could very well determine who secures a top-six seed and who has to battle through at least one play-in series. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 26th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

(Current play-in teams)

7. Miami Heat

The Heat are pretty secure to end up with at least the No. 9 seed, as they’re five losses up on the No. 10 Washington Wizards. But they obviously have their sights set on passing either No. 5 Atlanta or No. 6 Boston and avoiding the play-in tournament altogether. As mentioned, they are tied with the No. 6 Celtics with two head-to-head matchups remaining. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 17th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Hornets got LaMelo Ball back Saturday night and immediately got back into the win column. The Hornets are two losses back of the No. 7 Heat and have one more head-to-head matchup with Miami remaining with the tiebreaker already in their pocket. The Hornets hold a one-loss lead over No. 9 Indiana, but with the tiebreaker already secured that lead is effectively two games. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 21st
  • Projected seed: No. 8

The Pacers absolutely throttled the Thunder on Saturday, 152-95, and are now two games up in the loss column on the No. 10 Wizards. But with two matchups against the Wizards remaining, it’s the Wizards who control their own destiny to pass Indiana. The Pacers are pretty safe to make the play-in tournament with a five-loss lead over No. 11 Chicago and No. 12 Toronto. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 16th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

10. Washington Wizards

The Wizards lost a tight one to Dallas on Saturday and now trail the No. 9 Pacers by two losses. However, as mentioned above, Washington still has two games vs. Indiana remaining and controls its own destiny for the No. 9 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 20th
  • Projected seed: No. 10

(Outside looking in)

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

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