Top 2 seeds set in East and West; everything else TBD
A look at where things stand in the NBA playoff picture, with five days remaining in the regular season:
The top two seeds are locked up: Toronto is No. 1 going into the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and Boston will open the playoffs as the No. 2 seed.
Everything else is unclear.
Philadelphia (49-30) now leads in the race for the No. 3 spot, passing Cleveland (49-31) by beating the Cavaliers 132-130 on Friday night. The 76ers, who haven’t been a top-three seed in the East since their run to the NBA Finals in 2001, would finish third if they end the season with wins against Dallas, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
The Cavaliers have two games left, both against New York. So if Philly slips even once, Cleveland could return to No. 3 by sweeping the Knicks.
Indiana (47-33) still has a chance at No. 3; to get there, the Pacers have to win out and have both the Cavaliers and 76ers lose out. That seems unlikely, and Indiana is probably heading for the No. 5 spot.
Miami, even after a bad loss in New York, controls its fate in the race for No. 6. Milwaukee is No. 7 for now, and Washington – a loser of four straight, including a head-scratcher against Atlanta on Friday – has slipped to No. 8.
Five days left, five spots left to clinch, and six seeds left to decide.
A frantic finish is coming to the West.
Portland controls the race for the No. 3 seed, and Utah knows that if it wins out the worst it can finish is No. 4 – which is astounding, considering it got off to a 19-28 start and was 10 games out of the fourth spot.
New Orleans (45-34) beat Phoenix to jump two spots to No. 5, and Minnesota (45-35) topped the Los Angeles Lakers to remain a half-game ahead of Denver for No. 8. Those two results mean four teams have exactly 45 wins going into Saturday, with Denver currently at 44 wins and the Los Angeles Clippers still able to get to 45 if they win out.
Some clarity might … finally … come to the West.
– Denver at L.A. Clippers: The Clippers have to win out, or the season ends. Denver must try to match that desperation.
– Milwaukee at New York: Milwaukee is 10-12 since the All-Star break. Some momentum might help the playoff cause.
– New Orleans at Golden State: The Warriors embarrassed themselves at Indiana on Thursday. Will this be more of the same?
– Brooklyn at Chicago has no playoff implication.
First-round matchups if the season ended Friday …
East: 1-Toronto vs. 8-Washington, 2-Boston vs. 7-Milwaukee, 3-Philadelphia vs. 6-Miami, 4-Cleveland vs. 5-Indiana.
West: 1-Houston vs. 8-Minnesota, 2-Golden State vs. 7-Oklahoma City, 3-Portland vs. 6-San Antonio, 4-Utah vs. 5-New Orleans.
NOTE OF THE DAY
Philadelphia has a chance to set an NBA record – the longest winning streak to end a regular season.
The 76ers have won 13 straight and have three games left. Win them all, and they would top the 15-game season-ending stretch by the Rochester Royals in 1949-50.
The last double-digit streak to end a season was posted by San Antonio in 2011-12, when the Spurs won their final 10 games. Philly coach Brett Brown was an assistant under Gregg Popovich on that Spurs team.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
”You’ve got to go through whoever it is anyway.” – Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, asked about the Eastern Conference seeding jumble.