As the NBA season winds down, so many races are undecided
With just over a week left in the NBA regular season, there’s still a ton to be decided before the playoff field is set.
In the East, four spots remain unclaimed. In the West, two are up for grabs. And while some seedings look wrapped up, none are officially clinched.
Want drama? It’s not hard to find.
”To be in competition like this, it’s a privilege,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Monday was a most-needed day for most of the NBA to catch its breath. The league always tries to avoid scheduling games on the day of the NCAA men’s championship game and would have done so this year if a Portland-Minnesota game didn’t have to be postponed because of floor conditions earlier this season.
Things pick up in earnest again Tuesday.
So to get ready for the final nine days of the season, here’s a primer on playoff chases.
TOP OF THE EAST
The Celtics host the Cavaliers on Wednesday, with the winner assured of leaving that night with the No. 1 spot in the East standings. If Cleveland wins, it essentially becomes two victories since the defending champions will also own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Boston. … LeBron James got his first ring in 2012 as a No. 2 seed in the East with Miami, so it’s not like he’ll be deterred even if the Cavs don’t get that top spot. … Boston is trending up, going 9-2 in its last 11 games. The Cavs have nine wins in their last 20 games.
BEST OF THE WEST
Golden State (63-14)
San Antonio (59-17)
The Warriors have won 11 straight, might get Kevin Durant back this weekend and face only one playoff-bound team in the final five games. It’s only a matter of time before Golden State wraps up the No. 1 seed in the West and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. … San Antonio can’t be caught for No. 2, and coach Gregg Popovich has two full weeks to get his players rested and his rotation ready.
EAST NO. 3
Toronto took the season series 2-1, so it’s like the Raptors have a two-game lead with five left. But the Raptors play four of their last five on the road, and still don’t have Kyle Lowry back from wrist surgery. … Washington still has to play Miami twice, Detroit and Charlotte, teams very desperate right now to get in. … Both the Raptors and Wizards have wrapped up home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
WEST NO. 3-4-5
Los Angeles Clippers (47-31)
The Rockets’ magic number for clinching the No. 3 spot is 1, and the only mystery is if MVP candidate James Harden will get some rest. … The Jazz are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and now have to hold off the Clippers in order to host Game 1 of the postseason for the first time since 2001, when John Stockton and Karl Malone were still starters in Utah. … The Clippers won the season series against Utah 3-1, big if tiebreakers are needed.
EAST NO. 5
Milwaukee’s schedule is brutal with four road games in the final five, including ones at Oklahoma City, Indiana and Boston – teams all playing for something. … Atlanta took the season series 3-0, but the Hawks have a three-game, four-day stretch this week that goes Boston, at Cleveland, Cleveland.
REST OF THE WEST
Oklahoma City (43-33)
Portland (38-38, plays Monday at Minnesota)
New Orleans (33-44)
The Thunder are in, the Grizzlies are on the brink of officially getting in, and the No. 6 seed might come down to the winner of the Oklahoma City at Memphis game on Wednesday. … Portland is surging, having won six straight to open up a cushion over Denver and reach .500 for the first time since being 12-12. … Denver still has to go to Houston, plus plays Oklahoma City twice in the final three games. … New Orleans is alive only in the mathematical sense.
EAST NO. 7
The Bulls won’t play another playoff team until the playoffs, if they get in. Chicago’s final five games are at New York, at Philadelphia, at Brooklyn, then home for Orlando and home for Brooklyn again. … Miami goes to Charlotte on Wednesday, in an enormous game for both teams. … Indiana’s next two games are against playoff-bound Toronto and Milwaukee, and the Pacers go to Orlando on Saturday to face former coach Frank Vogel. … All five of Charlotte’s remaining opponents are playoff-bound or hoping. … Detroit needs a miracle.
TO THE LOTTERY
New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, Brooklyn, Dallas, Minnesota, Sacramento, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix have been eliminated.