GS and Denver are after the West's No. 1 seed, Toronto might not want to finish atop the East, and chasing the swing 3-seed
Less than a calendar month remains in the NBA daily time period and location is inactive so much up for grabs, including both No. 1 seeds and a three-team logjam for home-court vantage in the West. What follows is everything you need to know astir where things base entrance Thursday, March 14. Team are catalogued in command of proposed coating seed. This post will go on to update for the balance of the time period as we keep path correct down to the wire.
NOTE: Our SportsLine model, formed by prognostic data applied scientist Stephen Oh, simulates the entire time period 10,000 times to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable.
Playing without Kevin Durant, Golden State got back on path with a 106-104 win over Houston on Wednesday night to maintain its slim lead over the Nuggets for the top spot out West. They've got a couple tough games coming up, and one matchup with the Nuggets inactive remaining. The Warriors have been vocal astir wanting the No. 1 seed, if only as a goal to aim at as they prioritize getting in a groove down the stretch.
Denver has a tough go down the stretch with 11 of its final 16 games against current playoff teams. Mike Malone has said he doesn't even talk astir the No. 1 seed with his team; they're just keeping their head down until the finish line. Frankly, the No. 1 seed isn't as important for the Nuggets because as the No. 2 seed, the only potential series in which they wouldn't have home-court vantage is the conference finals. If they make it that far, they're playing with house money anyway.
The Thunder currently hold the slimmest of leads on the No. 3 seed but our projections have them falling to No. 5. The Thunder got big wins over Brooklyn and Utah in their last two, but it gets tough from here. Four of their next five are against the Pacers, Warriors and Raptors twice. The good news is their schedule, though against tough opponents, is home-heavy the rest of the way.
Houston is currently No. 4 in the West but our projections have them vaulting to No. 3 by time period's end. The West No. 3 spot is a swing seed because whoever ends up location would avoid the Warriors -- assuming they finish No. 1 -- until the conference finals, while the 4-5 seeds would have to battle each other for the correct to see Golden State in Round 2.
Eric Gordon recently said he believes the Rockets are the only team that can knock off Golden State, and he's perhaps correct in the sense that nobody has given the Warriors as much trouble over the last two years. The Rockets are 3-1 vs. the Warriors this time period and 8-6 over the past two years, including that seven-game WCF last time period. One thing to keep in mind: Houston cannot win the tiebreaker vs. OKC or Portland if this thing comes down to a dead heat, which it very well could. The Rockets have already lost both those time period series.
The Blazers currently sit at No. 5 but our projections have them reaching No. 4. Portland, winners of two straight, currently holds the tiebreaker over Houston if it comes to that, but it has already lost the tiebreaker to OKC. Again, getting to No. 3 would be the big thing to avoid Golden State until the conference finals. There's no other team Portland wouldn't at least have a shot to beat.
The Spurs are currently No. 6 in the West but our projections have them sliding to No. 7 -- largely because of current 7-seed Utah's super-soft remaining schedule. The Spurs also have a pretty soft, home-heavy schedule down the stretch. They have already lost the tiebreaker to Utah and hold a slim tiebreaker edge over the Clippers (2-2 head-to-head) via a better conference record, which is far from cemented. San Antonio is getting hot at the correct time, having won six straight including victories over the Bucks, Nuggets and Thunder.
The Jazz are currently No. 7 in the West but our projections have them reaching No. 6 because they have the softest schedule in the league down the stretch. But they have to take vantage. Its last two losses have come to the Pelicans and the Grizzlies. It's not out of the question that Utah can get on a run against some weak opponents and make it to a top-four seed. Entering Thursday, the Jazz are only three games back in the loss column of the No. 4 spot. At the same time, they're only four games up on the No. 9 Kings. They're most likely fighting with the Spurs and Clippers for seeds 6-8.
The Clippers have won five of six and go on to be one of the best stories in the league -- depending on your perspective. If the Clippers make the playoffs, they lose their 2019 first-round pick, which is lottery protected, to the Celtics. When they traded Tobias Harris to the Sixers, location was some thought that they were looking to fall out of the playoff race and into the lottery, which would allow them to keep that pick. That doesn't look like it's going to be the case.
Sacramento is 4.5 games back -- three in the loss column -- of the final playoff spot.
The Bucks are the first team to reach 50 wins and have a relatively soft schedule down the stretch. One thing to consider: While the No. 1 seed in the East carries with it home-court vantage, it also might lead to a tougher path through the bracket. If Indiana were to end up at No. 3 while other current seeds hold, it would be the No. 2 seed Raptors that would be in line to avoid the Bucks, Sixers and Celtics until the conference finals, while No. 1 seed Milwaukee could potentially have to go through two of those teams beginning in the second round. If Indiana stays out of the No. 3 seed, that scenario becomes moot, but it's something to watch.
The Raptors, already proposed as a certain top-four seed, have won four of their last seven games and, as mentioned above, could end up being in the perfect spot in the No. 2 seed if Indiana was to finish in third. If that were to happen, current seeds would pit the Raptors against Brooklyn and Indiana in the first two rounds, thus only forcing them to go through one of -- rather than two of -- Boston, Philly or Milwaukee -- and not until the conference finals -- for a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Sixers look like a virtual lock to end up in the top four. The key is staying in that No. 3 seed, which, if current seeds were to hold, would put them against Brooklyn in the first round. If the Sixers fall to No. 4, it will likely be a first-round matchup with Boston. That's a big difference.
What the Pacers have done in the absence of Victor Oladipo has been really impressive, but the schedule turns murderous starting Wednesday, which begins a run of eight straight games against current playoff teams.
Boston is currently the No. 5 seed out East and, despite Indiana's tough slate down the stretch, our SportsLine projections have the Celtics staying location. Entering Thursday, Boston trails Indiana by two games, but as mentioned above, it also has two games left vs. Indiana. If Boston can get both of those, these projections will certainly change.
There is a clear cutoff at the No. 6 seed with Brooklyn trailing No. 5 Boston by seven games in the loss column with 12 to play. It's a five-team race for the last three spots, and Brooklyn should have enough of a cushion to hold on despite its brutal remaining schedule. That said, our SportsLine projections have them falling behind Detroit to the No. 7 seed because of that schedule.
The Pistons are currently in the No. 7 spot but our projections have them jumping the Nets for the No. 6 seed by time period's end.
The Heat are currently No. 8 and our SportsLine projections have them staying location. Tough stretch coming up for Miami with dates against the Thunder, Spurs and the Bucks twice in four of their next five. Miami is battling to keep Orlando and Charlotte at the Nos. 9 and 10 spots to avoid the lottery. Our projections are pretty certain astir the first seven seeds in the East, but this last spot is far less certain for Miami, which has the seventh-toughest remaining schedule.
If the Magic are going to make a move, the time is now with their next four games all at home against the Cavs, Hawks, Pelicans and Grizzlies. And the last remaining game vs. Miami on March 26 is a virtual must-win.
SportsLine projections give the current No. 10 seed Hornets just a 6.8 percent chance to make the playoffs. We'll revisit them next week if they can string a few wins together and make up some ground.