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2024 NBA playoff picture: Everything at stake on Sunday with crucial seeding, Play-In positioning on the line


After an exciting six months, the 2023-24 NBA regular season will come to an end on Sunday with a action-packed slate that features all 30 teams. All 15 games will take place in two windows, one at 1 p.m. ET and the other at 3:30 p.m. ET. The first will feature seven all-Eastern Conference matchups, while the second will have seven all-Western Conference showdowns and a meeting between the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs

Heading into Sunday, there are a few things we know:

Everything else is still up for grabs. Ahead of Sunday, here’s a look at everything that’s still at stake:

Three teams battling for the No. 1 seed out West

The Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets have been scrapping over the top spot in the West for months, and there is nothing to separate them heading into the final day of the season. They are all 56-25, which makes this the first time in NBA history that three teams have the identical records after 81 games and all have a chance to earn the No. 1 seed. 

Here’s a look at the games for each team:

The Thunder currently hold the upper hand, as there are four scenarios in which they get the No. 1 seed, compared to three scenarios where it goes to the Timberwolves and just one where the Nuggets finish on top. Here’s a chart from the league that lays out all the potential outcomes. 

How the West can be won

Pelicans vs. Suns for the final automatic playoff spot

Slightly lower down the table, there is another big race going on between the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns for the No. 6 seed, which is the final automatic playoff spot. 

The Pelicans have a one-game lead and control their destiny. If they can beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, they’ll earn the sixth seed and record their first 50-win season since 2008. Even if they lose, they could still finish sixth if the Suns also lose to the Timberwolves. The only way for the Suns to jump into sixth and guarantee a fourth consecutive playoff berth is if they beat the Timberwolves and the Pelicans lose. 

All eyes on the West Play-In 

None of the four Play-In spots in the West are set. Whichever one of the Pelicans or Suns does not get sixth will drop down to seventh and host the No. 7 vs. 8 Play-In game. It is anyone’s guess how the other three spots shake out between the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors

The Lakers have a one-game lead on both teams and control their own destiny in the race for eighth, while the Kings are in the driver’s seat for ninth and the Warriors will need help to move up. Each team, though has a path to each seed. Here’s a look at the final matchups for all three teams, and the various ways this could play out:

How will the Play-In spots shake out in the West?

Can the Bucks hold on to No. 2 in the East?

At the start of the month, the Milwaukee Bucks had a 2.5-game lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers and a three-game advantage on the New York Knicks in the race for the No. 2 seed. Now, heading into the final day of the season, any three of those teams could finish in second place. 

The Bucks are just 2-5 in April and will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for their final game against the Orlando Magic after he went down with a calf strain when the two teams met earlier in the week. As for the Knicks, they’ve won four games in a row to give themselves a chance at the No. 2 seed for the first time since 2013. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have done just enough lately to put themselves in the mix. 

If the Bucks win tomorrow, the standings will stay as they are now, with the Bucks in second, the Knicks in third and the Cavaliers in fourth, regardless of what happens in the other games. Should the Bucks lose, however, things get very interesting. Here’s a look at each team’s matchup, and the possible scenarios:

  • Bucks at Magic
  • Knicks vs. Bulls
  • Cavaliers vs. Hornets
If the Bucks win, they get second place. If not, things could get crazy

Four teams for two automatic playoff spots

If you thought there was a lot going on with the three-team battle for 2-4 in the East, just wait until you see what’s going on with the 5-8 race. The Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers all have the same 46-35 record, while the Miami Heat are at 45-36, and any of the four teams could finish in any of the four available slots.  

The big prizes, of course, are the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds, which come with automatic playoff berths. The Nos. 7 and 8 seeds will be sent to the Play-In Tournament, where they face the possibility of winding up in the lottery. 

What makes this situation so complicated is that none of the teams control their own destiny, not even the Magic, who currently occupy fifth place. Even if they win their final game, there’s a scenario where they drop a spot to sixth. As such, nothing will be settled until all four teams complete their games. 

Here’s the matchup for all four teams, and the seemingly endless set of possible outcomes:

  • Magic vs. Bucks
  • Pacers vs. Hawks
  • Sixers vs. Nets
  • Heat vs. Raptors
There are four teams fighting for two automatic playoff spots

Time to think about the lottery

Down at the other end of the standings, there is in interesting “race” going on between the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards for the worst record in the league, and another between the Hornets, Trail Blazers and Spurs for the third-worst record. 

The Pistons and Wizards are already locked in as the two worst teams, but the Pistons’ surprise win over the Mavericks on Friday means they are now only one game behind the Wizards in the overall league standings. If the Pistons win on Sunday — possible against the Spurs — and the Wizards lose — likely against the Celtics — the two teams would finish with identical 15-67 records. 

In that scenario, there would be a coin flip to determine who has best lottery odds. While both will receive a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick regardless, the team with the worst record/best odds cannot pick worse than fifth overall. 

The more consequential spot up for grabs on Sunday is the third-worst record in the league. The 20-61 Hornets have the inside track, and a loss to the Cavaliers would assure that they finish third from the bottom. Should they win, however, that opens the door for either the Trail Blazers or Spurs, who are both 21-60, to draw even with a loss. 

Should two or more of this group finish with the same 21-61 record, there would be a coin flip to determine the third-best lottery odds. That is notable because the three worst records all have a 14% chance at winning the lottery, while the fourth-worst team has a 12.5% chance and the fifth-worst team has a 10.5% chance. 


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