NBA Playoff Picture and Magic Numbers: The pressure intensifies
Memphis faces Portland with huge implications while the Knicks need an upset to try and close in on a playoff spot.
Results entering Sunday's games (March 29):
Clinched playoff berth: Indiana Pacers , Miami Heat , San Antonio Spurs , Oklahoma City Thunder , Los Angeles Clippers , Toronto Raptors , Chicago Bulls
Clinched division title, top-four seed: Pacers, Heat
Magic Numbers (combined wins and losses with closest team out of the playoffs) for playoff berth:
Brooklyn Nets : 2
Washington Wizards : 1
Charlotte Hornets : 5
Atlanta Hawks :9
Houston Rockets : 3
Portland Trail Blazers : 6
Golden State Warriors : 8
Phoenix Suns : 9
Memphis Grizzlies : 10
Magic Numbers for division title:
East Nos. 1-2: Pacers, Heat
Indiana leads Miami by 1.5 games entering Sunday.
Indiana needs some combination of nine wins and Heat losses over their remainig 19 combined games. That number drops by two if they win the final regular-season matchup (April 11), securing tiebreaker for the Pacers.
Relevant games Sunday: Indy is on the road in an early game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers , who have played much better the past three weeks. This is not an easy game for them, and it's a big one. Not only does a loss put them just a game up on Miami, but it costs them a conference win for tiebreaker in case they don't beat Miami next week.
East Nos. 3-6: Raptors, Bulls, Nets and Wizards
Washington has come roaring back, knocking off Atlanta on Saturday night and pulling even with the Nets in the win column. They have a legit shot to get back into talk for home court in the first round if they keep this up.
Relevant games Sunday: Brooklyn plays Minnesota and that's a tough matchup. They're no longer just trying to hang on for shot at the division, they've got Washington on their heels and Charlotte's not dead-dead yet either.
Toronto plays Orlando, which has been quietly very hot. The three-seed means facing Washington, the four seed means Brooklyn. There's not a great option between the two but if Washington slips that could mean Charlotte, which would be optimal, at least on the surface. A lot left to play for, but this could be a trap game.
The Bulls face the Boston Celtics in Boston, so they've got a chance to sneak back into a tie with Toronto. That won't help them much since Toronto will in all likelihood wind up with the division tiebreaker, but it obviously helps.
East Nos. 7-9: Bobcats, Hawks, New York Knicks
Well, the Hawks did their part, losing to the Wizards, but now New York (down 1.5 games for the 8th seed, two in the loss column) has to actually, you know, win in order to help themselves.
Relevant games Sunday: The Knicks, fresh off being absolutely slaughtered by the Suns, are in Roaracle to take on the Warriors. Stephen Curry loves torching New York. This should work out well. This isn't a must-win for New York due to how bad Atlanta is and since it's not a conference game. But I mean, they're running out of games.
Not for nothing, but if the Cavs knock off Indy in an early road game for a struggling Pacers team and New York loses to the Warriors ... things are going to get interesting.
West Nos. 1-2: Spurs, Thunder
San Antonio leads Oklahoma City by 3.5 games.
The Spurs picked up yet another win, and have clinched home-court advantage in the first two rounds. Their magic number for home court throughout the Western Conference playoffs is 7.
Relevant games Sunday: OKC has an early tilt vs. Utah. We've hit the "if you're in a relevant race you can't afford to lose the easy ones" part of the schedule. To put this into context, if OKC were to lose to Utah, the Spurs, and either the Rockets or Clippers (the latter three very possible), then San Antonio would have to win four more. They've won 17 in a row, so that doesn't sound hard for them.
Related, a win and a Portland loss puts OKC within a game of their division.
West Nos. 3-4: Clippers, Rockets
Houston's two back, one in the loss column and are trying to manage injuries to Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley . The Clippers swept the season series vs. Houston which didn't affect the tiebreaker they already won (and were going to have on account of them winning the division in a few games), but it put another game between them. Still, no let-ups alowed.
The Clippers' magic number for home court in the first round is 4, for Houston it's 6.
Relevant games Sunday: No games impact this race Sunday.
West Nos. 5-6: Blazers, Warriors
Portland has a game lead for the No. 5 seed, their magic number for a playoff spot is 6. Golden State's magic number for a playoff spot is eight on account of tiebreaker. What will be interesting is if the injury to Patrick Beverley causes a slide by Houston, and makes the 5-spot the desired seed.
Relevant Games Sunday: Portland is at home vs. the Grizzlies, the Warriors host the Knicks. The Blazers and Warriors split the season series but Portland has a 2.5-game lead in conference record so the advantage stays with them for now. Portland has LaMarcus Aldridge back but it's about to get serious for them if they want to hang on for a chance at Houston and not risk falling back to the Clippers or worse.
West Nos. 7-9: Suns, Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks
Dallas narrowly escapped the Sacramento Kings , and that's kind of their thing. They always duck the fatal blow. Losing to the Clippers was survivable because they knocked off OKC last week.
The Grizzlies are up by tiebreaker over Dallas based simply on having played fewer games, Phoenix has a half-game lead on the other two. Phoenix's magic number for a playoff spot is 9, for Memphis it's 10.
Relevant games Sunday: As mentioned above, the Grizzlies face Portland, while the Suns have the Los Angeles Lakers Embarrassment Squad. A Memphis loss puts Dallas back in the 8th spot while a Phoenix loss and Grizzlies win puts Memphis in the 7 spot, and, should reality invert itself and the Knicks beat the Warriors, Memphis or Phoenix with a win could be within a game to a game and a half back.
Dallas needs everyone, to lose.
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