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NBA Playoff Picture and Magic Numbers: Can Knicks take the Heat?

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James both have something to play for Sunday.  (USATSI)
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James both have something to play for Sunday. (USATSI)

More NBA: Power Rankings | Expert Picks | Seasons in Review | Playoff Picture

For previous updates, click here.

Results entering Sunday's games (April 6):

Clinched playoff berth: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Raptors, Bulls,Nets, Wizards, Rockets, Bobcats

Clinched division title, top-four seed: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder

Magic Numbers (combined wins and losses with closest team out of the playoffs) for playoff berth:

Hawks: 6

Trail Blazers: 2

Warriors: 4

Mavericks: 4

Grizzlies: 6

Magic Numbers for division title:

Raptors: 4

Current matchups:

Heat (1) vs. Hawks (8)

Pacers (2) vs. Bobcats (7)

Raptors (3) vs. Wizards (6)

Bulls (4) vs. Nets (5)

Spurs (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)

Thunder (2) vs. Mavericks (7)

Clippers (3) vs. Warriors (6)

Rockets (4) vs. Trail Blazers (5)

East Nos. 1-2: Heat, Pacers (No action Saturday)

Both teams failed to capitalize on an opportunity Friday. The Pacers fell to the Raptors who were without Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, about as bad a loss as you're going to find. The Heat fell at home to Minnesota in double overtime without Dwyane Wade (and Greg Oden).

It's a big blown opportunity for both teams to gain an advantage in the race for home court.

Relevant games Sunday: So the Pacers are better than the Pistons right now, but worse than the Raptors. So against the Hawks, they should tie. Right?

Anyway, Pacers play the Hawks and either way, it's a big game. They either have to keep pace with Miami or have the opportunity to pull ahead by a game.

Miami plays New York with the same stakes. New York has had some success against Miami in recent years, but their late-season matchups when the Heat are entering playoff mode usually result in a lot of bloodletting for the Knicks. This will provide a sense of how serious Miami is about gunning for the No. 1 spot.

East Nos. 3-6: Raptors, Bulls, Nets and Wizards

Toronto was down at the half to Milwaukee and the game came down to the final minutes, but they pulled away late, because, well, it's the Bucks. The win locked no-worse-than-fifth for Toronto.

Chicago obliterated the Wizards, just pantsed them and left them wandering around with no mobility. The Wizards are now 2.5 back of Brooklyn, and can't finish higher than fourth. More concerning? They're a game ahead of Charlotte who all of a sudden can make a play for the sixth seed.

Brooklyn took care of business vs. Philadelphia after a close call. Brooklyn's magic number for the fifth seed is four.

Relevant games Sunday: None.

East Nos. 7-9: Bobcats, Knicks, Hawks

Charlotte clinched a playoff spot with their win over Cleveland and put the gravestone over the Cavs' playoff hopes.

Relevant games Sunday: It seems on the surface like this is a monster game for New York vs. Miami, but with Atlanta playing Indiana, there's a good chance they won't lose ground.

It does present an opportunity, however. A win combined with a Hawks loss essentially takes off the sting from the Washington loss and gets them back in control of their own destiny.

If the Heat knock off the Knicks, which Atlanta will know before tip, they need to play desperate vs. Indiana, even more so than if the Knicks win. They can survive if the Knicks catch, but if the Knicks give them a window, they need to jump through it, establish a two-game lead, and put the Knicks to the edge.

West Nos. 1-2: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers (No action Saturday.)

So much for all that progress the Thunder made against the Spurs Thursday. OKC lost to Houston on the back to back, and that might be it for the No.1 seed. San Antonio's magic number for home court throughout the playoffs is four.

The problem for Oklahoma City is that it can't even rest the starters knowing the No. 1 seed is out of reach. The Clippers are two back with tiebreaker.

The Thunder clinched the division Friday after the Blazers lost. They have clinched home court advantage in the first round.

I'm moving the Clippers into this bracket. They have a three-game lead on Houston, and the tiebreaker. Magic number for no-worse-than-third is three.

Relevant games Sunday: The Spurs play Memphis Sunday, in what could be a first round matchup. They can send a message or they can rest starters. They have some options here. Their magic number for home court throughout is four.

OKC has their hands full with the Suns, on the road. Both the Spurs and Thunder play teams desperate to stay in the hunt. OKC needs some luck to get back within range of the Spurs. Meanwhile, the Clippers play the Lakers, a team they beat by 48 points last time and they're only two games back of OKC.

So the Thunder have a lot on the line in Phoenix Sunday night.

West No. 4: Rockets (No action Saturday)

Houston's win clinched a playoff berth for the Rockets. Their magic number for home court in the first round is four. They're two up on Portland with tiebreaker.

Relevant games Sunday: The Rockets get a break in banged-up Denver coming to town. The Nuggets' season is over and they have a myriad of injuries. They should be able to keep distance from Portland and knock a number off towards the four-spot Sunday.

West Nos. 5-6: Blazers, Warriors (No action Saturday)

Portland's loss puts them 1.5 up over Golden State. They're three up on Dallas in the loss column, so that's pretty safe. But the Warriors are making a push for the No. 5 seed. The Warriors have tiebreaker.

Portland's magic number for a playoff berth is two.

OK, so this confuses me, but here's the deal. The Warriors' magic number for a playoff berth straight up after their win Friday is five. But since Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix play one another at the end of the season, ensuring at least one team will finish with 32 losses, their magic number is really four.

Relevant Games Sunday: Both the Warriors and Blazers face lottery teams (Utah and New Orleans respectively) Sunday. With Houston playing Denver and the Clippers playing the Lakers, don't expect a lot of movement Sunday.

West Nos. 7-9: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Suns (No action Saturday.)

Mavs win. Grizz win. Suns win. No quarter asked, quarter given.

Relevant games Saturday: The Memphis Grizzlies face the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs who swept them in the Western Conference Finals last season and have won all three previous meetings this year.

The Phoenix Suns face the hottest team in the Western Conference outside of San Antonio in the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Mavericks get the Kings.

The schedule is going to wind up deciding this race, which is a pity, but true.

A win by Dallas combined with losses by Phoenix and Memphis (very possible) would make Dallas' magic number three. The Suns can get back into the 8th seed with a win and a Grizzlies loss.

A Dallas loss and a win by either of the other two and things get interesting.

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