NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers: Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers all tied with play-in series looming

The Los Angeles Lakers might eventually be fine, but for now, the expectation that LeBron James and Anthony Davis were going to come back and everything was magically going to return to normal isn’t coming to fruition. 

On Sunday, the Lakers lost their second straight game since LeBron’s return, 121-114 to the Toronto Raptors, and consequently dropped into a three-way tie with the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers. By way of the fourth multi-way tiebreaker, the Lakers, for now, are clinging to the No. 6 seed with Dallas at No. 5 and Portland at No. 7. 

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 Monday, May 3. 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)

1. Phoenix Suns

The Suns beat the Thunder on Sunday night to match Utah’s 46-18 record. By virtue of owning the tiebreaker, Phoenix is the No. 1 overall seed entering play on Monday. The Suns have clinched a top-four seed. Our SportsLine projections have Phoenix falling back below and into the No. 2 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 8
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 13th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

2. Utah Jazz

The Jazz have clinched a top-four seed. They do not control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed as Phoenix owns the tiebreaker, but our SportsLine projections have Utah eventually earning the top spot nonetheless. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 4
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 22nd
  • Projected seed: No. 1

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: 2
  • 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: 2
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 28th
  • Projected seed: No. 3

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks lost to Sacramento on Sunday, but for the moment they remain in the No. 5 seed by way of a three-way tie with the Lakers and Blazers. If it were a two-way tie, the Mavericks own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers, but the Blazers own it over the Mavericks (head-to-head), but in this case, with three teams with identical win percentages tied, Dallas gets the edge by way of being a division leader. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 26th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

6. Los Angles Lakers

The Lakers have lost five of their last six and haven’t won two straight games in over a month, and the result of that stretch is falling into the aforementioned three-way tie with No. 5 Dallas and No. 7 Portland. The Lakers play Portland on Friday with the season series tied 1-1. That game will decide the head-to-head tiebreaker and could very well determine which team has to go through the play-in tournament. 

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

(Current play-in teams)

7. Portland Trail Blazers

Just when it looked like they were about to sink, the Blazers have rattled off four straight wins and now sit tied with the No. 6 Lakers and No. 5 Mavericks. If the Lakers weren’t involved in this multi-way tie, the Blazers own the tiebreaker over Dallas. The Blazers and Lakers will square much of their part away on Friday, when they meet for the final time this season with the head-to-head series tied 1-1. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 8th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

The Grizzlies took a bad loss to the Magic on Saturday night and now trail the No. 7 seed 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. They also hold a one-loss lead over San Antonio, but with the tiebreaker already secured, that lead is effectively two games. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in series: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 27th
  • Projected seed: No. 8

9. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors trail the No. 8 Grizzlies by just one game in the loss column and they still have one matchup left. Below them, the Warriors are tied in the loss column with No. 10 San Antonio but own the tiebreaker. The Warriors have a three-loss lead over No. 11 New Orleans with three head-to-head matchups remaining — the first one being Monday night. 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: 17th
  • Projected seed: No. 9

10. San Antonio Spurs

After blowing a 32-point lead to Boston on Friday, the Spurs lost on a Ben Simmons buzzer-beating tip-in Sunday night. They are tied with Golden State in the loss column but the Warriors own the tiebreaker. San Antonio leads the No. 11 Pelicans by three losses with the tiebreaker in hand, making that lead an effective four games. 

  • 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 with three head-to-head matchups remaining; three losses back of No. 10 San Antonio (Spurs have the tiebreaker). 
Damian Lillard and the red-hot Blazers are making a late push for the West’s fifth seed.
Getty Images

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Current playoff teams)

1. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers got a game-winning tip-in from Ben Simmons on Sunday night and now have a one-loss lead over the Nets for the No. 1 seed. Philly also has the tiebreaker over Brooklyn, meaning that lead is effectively two losses. Philly’s magic number to clinch a top-two seed is one higher than Brooklyn’s because the Bucks own the tiebreaker over the Sixers. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 7
  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 30th
  • Projected seed: No. 1

2. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets lost to Milwaukee on Sunday to fall to the No. 2 seed, one loss back of No. 1 Philly, which, as mentioned above, also owns the tiebreaker. The Nets now lead the No. 3 Bucks by two in the loss column with one matchup remaining on Tuesday. Whoever wins that game will secure the tiebreaker for the season. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-two seed: 5
  • Magic number to clinch top-three seed: 1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 15th
  • Projected seed: No. 2

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks hold a four-loss lead over the No. 4 Knicks, so the No. 3 seed is pretty secure. The Bucks are just two games back of No. 2 Brooklyn with one more matchup remaining on Tuesday. That game will also decide the tiebreaker between Milwaukee and Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the Bucks trail No. 1 Philly by three losses, but they do own the tiebreaker over the Sixers via a 3-0 head-to-head advantage. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 3
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 25th
  • 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 Heat, and they have clinched a spot in at least the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 5
  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: 7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 3rd
  • Projected seed: No. 5

5. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have clinched at least a spot in the play-in tournament. Entering play on Monday, Atlanta is two games back of the No. 4 Knicks, who own the tiebreaker. The more pressing concern is holding off No. 6 Miami and No. 7 Boston. The Hawks are tied in the loss column with Miami and lead Boston by one, and they own the tiebreaker over both. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 23rd
  • Projected seed: No. 4

6. Miami Heat

The Heat, by way of beating the Hornets in combination with the Celtics losing to Portland, have moved out of the play-in tournament for the time being. Miami is now one loss up on the No. 7 Celtics, but they have two head-to-head matchups remaining. Miami is tied with the No. 5 Hawks but Atlanta has secured the tiebreaker. The Heat have clinched at least a spot in the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 14th
  • Projected seed: No. 7

(Current play-in teams)

7. Boston Celtics

Boston lost to Portland on Sunday and is now one loss back of No. 6 Miami. The Celtics play the Heat twice more before season’s end, so they still control their own destiny to move out of the play-in tournament. 

  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 6
  • Strength of remaining schedule: 29th
  • Projected seed: No. 6

The Hornets are two losses back of No. 7 Boston, but the Celtics own the tiebreaker so that deficit is effectively three. The Hornets are tied in the loss column with No. 9 Indiana with the tiebreaker in hand. 

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

The Pacers are tied with the No. 8 Hornets but Charlotte owns the tiebreaker. Indiana is two games up on the No. 10 Wizards with two matchups remaining. The Pacers are pretty safe to make the play-in tournament with a five-loss lead over both the No. 11 Raptors and No. 12 Bulls. 

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

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