The NBA playoffs begin in just over a week. The races are tightening, the seeds are being sorted out, the picture is slowly becoming clear. With that, here’s a look at the current playoff picture, and what to know about each team that’s in, or in the running for a spot. 

Some quick notes: 

  • The Cavaliers now have a one game lead on the Celtics after Cleveland’s slip vs. Atlanta Thursday. The Cavs have to go 2-1 to clinch, if the Celtics win out. 
  • Boston’s only up 1.5 games on Toronto now. The C’s have an easy schedule so they should be fine for the 2-seed, but they are far from playing their best basketball right now.  
  • Golden State locked the No. 1 seed and home court throughout the playoffs Wednesday with a win and the Spurs’ loss to the Lakers. 
  • Seeds 1-2-3, and 7 in the West are locked: 1. Warriors, 2. Spurs, 3. Rockets. Memphis is the 7th seed and will face San Antonio.
  • Things went berserk in the back half of the Eastern Conference standings. At the end of it, the Bulls are in seventh, a game back of sixth, and have the tiebreaker advantage over the Heat and Pacers behind them. 
  • Miami’s closing schedule is brutal, and it has little margin for error. Indiana’s resurgence is making things tough for the Heat. 
  • The scenarios in the Eastern Conference are crazy. For example: If the Heat, Pacers and Bulls tie, the Bulls get the highest seed available. If the Hawks get into that tiebreaker, it’s possible the Bulls slide to the bottom. We have a week to sort this out, but you might want to prepare yourselves for some crazy scenarios. 
  • The Clippers keep hanging around and pushing the Jazz, who are desperately trying to hold onto home court in the first round. 
  • Utah secured the Northwest Division and a top-five seed in the West with their win and OKC’s loss Friday.
  • The Thunder have secured no worse than the sixth seed. They won’t face San Antonio or Golden State in the first round. For them to catch the Clippers, however, they have to win out and the Clippers have to lose out. L.A. can clinch a top-five seed and a matchup with Utah with a win Saturday vs. the Spurs. 
  • The Pelicans were eliminated Tuesday after their loss to Denver.  
  • In the event of a three-way tie for 7-9 in the East, the tiebreakers (right now) go 7. Bulls, 8. Heat, 9. Pacers.
  • The Bucks and Hawks are a near-lock to make the playoffs.
  • It’s likely that all eight West seeds will be locked by the end of the weekend. Portland gets halfway there with a win Saturday.

If the playoffs started today ...

EAST

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Indiana Pacers

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls

(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks

(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks

WEST

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers


Seeding analysis and magic numbers

Some notes: SportsLine data is based on 10,000 simulations based on SL’s forecast model. That’s why teams that have yet to clinch have “100 percent” chances at things they haven’t clinched yet. Strength of schedule is courtesy of NBA.com, and rank refers to rank among conference teams. Magic number for the assigned tables refer to their magic number to make the playoffs. 

Curious as to why tiebreakers matter so much? The Nos. 3-6 seeds in the Western Conference were decided by a tiebreaker in 2015. The same thing happened in the Eastern Conference in 2016. Teams wind up clumping together at the end. Tiebreakers matter. 

Note: “Magic numbers” refers to combination of wins and losses by the competing team. Example: If the Cavaliers have a magic number of seven for a playoff spot, that means they need a combination of seven wins and losses by Miami (the team currently out of the playoffs with the fewest losses). “Tragic numbers” are the combination of a team’s losses and competitor’s wins which would eliminate a team from a position.


Western Conference

The contenders

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched the No. 1 seed in the West and home court throughout the NBA playoffs, along with the Pacific division.
  • Strength of schedule: .334 (weak)
  • Remaining games: Three: NO, UTA, LAL
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 1 seed. 
  • SportsLine projection: 65.6 percent to win Western Conference finals, 55.6 percent to win NBA title. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a top-two seed, locked as the second seed. 
  • Strength of schedule: .601 (difficult)
  • Remaining games: Three: LAC, @POR, @UTA
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 2 seed.  
  • SportsLine projection: 26.0 percent to win Western Conference finals, 13.6 percent to win NBA title. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched home court in the first round and the third seed.
  • Strength of schedule: .420 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Three: @SAC, @LAC, MIN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 3 seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 49.8 percent to win the first round, 2.8 percent to win the conference finals. 

The dangerous second tier

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and no worse than fifth. Magic number for the fourth seed and home court is three. 
  • Strength of schedule: .638 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three: @POR, @GS, SAS
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Lead Clippers by a game and Clippers have the tiebreaker. Cannot secure higher than fourth seed. 
  • SportsLine projection: 31.8 percent to win home court, 42.4 percent to win first round. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and a top-six seed. Magic number for the fifth seed is two.
  • Strength of schedule: .549 (tough)
  • Remaining games: Three: @SAS, HOU, SAC
  • Lead/trails and tiebreakers: Trail Jazz by a game, and own the tiebreaker. Lead OKC by three games, tiebreaker split, will come down to conference record. If the Thunder catch, that means they won out and the Clippers lost out, giving OKC tiebreaker and the four-seed. That’s the only scenario the Clippers do not secure a four or five seed. 
  • SportsLine projection: 68.0 percent to win home court, 5.7 percent to reach the conference finals. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and a top-six seed.   
  • Strength of schedule: .446 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Three: @DEN, @MIN, DEN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Trail Clippers by three games, split the tiebreaker, will come down to conference record. Must win out and Clippers lose out to catch, then secure 5th seed with conference record tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 50.1 percent to win first round, 2.4 percent to reach conference finals. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched the 7th seed. Will face San Antonio in the first-round. 
  • Strength of schedule: .262 (super-easy)
  • Remaining games: Three: NY, DET, DAL
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked at 7.
  • SportsLine projection: 7.9 percent to win the first round. 

Someone has to win the eighth seed

  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is two.
  • Strength of schedule: .513 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Three: UTA, SA, NO
  • Leads/trails and tiebreaker: Lead Denver by 1.5 games and have the tiebreaker. Trail Memphis by three games, have the tiebreaker.  A near-lock for the eighth seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 88.5 percent to secure a playoff spot. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is two.
  • Strength of schedule: .503 (tough)
  • Remaining games: Three: OKC, @DAL, @OKC
  • Leads/trails and tiebreakers: Trail Portland by  one game, Blazers have the tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 11.5 percent to make playoffs.

Western Conference note: The Pelicans were eliminated with their loss to Denver on Tuesday. 


Eastern Conference

The champs are back

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched playoff spot, Central Division, a top-two seed, and home court in the first two rounds. Magic number for the No. 1 seed is two.
  • Strength of schedule: .526 (tough)
  • Remaining games: Three: @ATL, @MIA, TOR
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Celtics by one game, Cavs have tiebreaker, lead Raptors by 2.5 games, Cavs have the tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 72.4 percent to win conference finals, 22.5 percent to win title. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and home court in the first round. Magic number for home court in the second round is two.
  • Strength of Schedule: .397 (easy)
  • Remaining games: Three: @CHA, BKN, MIL
  • Owns tiebreaker: Trail Cavs by one game, Cavs have the tiebreaker. Lead Raptors by 1.5 games, Raptors have the tiebreaker. Lead Wizards by two games, Boston leads for tiebreaker with conference record.
  • SportsLine projection: 9.9 percent to win conference finals, 2.0 percent to win title. 

Eastern heirs

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and home court in the first round.  Magic number for the third seed is two. 
  • Strength of schedule: .564 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Two: @NY, @CLE
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Wizards by a half-game, Raptors have the tiebreaker. Trail Celtics by 1.5 games, Raptors have the tiebreaker. Cannot finish with the No. 1 seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 60.7 percent chance to win first round. 4.4 percent to win conference finals. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot, a top-four seed, and home court in the first round and Southeast Division title.  
  • Strength of schedule: .496 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Three: MIA, @DET, @MIA 
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Raptors by a half-game, Toronto has the tiebreaker. Trail Celtics by two games, trail for tiebreaker. Cannot finish with the No. 1 seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 16.2 percent to reach conference finals, 4.7 percent to win conference finals.

The messy middle

  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is one. 
  • Strength of schedule: .602 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three: CLE, CHA, @IND
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Bucks by a game, have tiebreaker. Lead Pacers/Bulls by two games, tiebreaker yet to be decided. Lead Heat by three games. 
  • SportsLine projection: 26.0 percent chance of winning the first round. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is one. 
  • Strength of schedule: .504 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Three: @PHI, CHA, @BOS
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Hawks by a game, Hawks have the tiebreaker. Lead Bulls/Pacers by one game, have tiebreaker over Bulls and Pacers, lead Heat by 2.5 games, Heat have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 94.9 percent chance of a playoff berth. 35.8 percent chance of winning first round.
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is three ... sort of. Basically, if the Bulls win out, they clinch. But there are scenarios where they only win two and the other teams tie them at 41 wins, and they miss out. The tiebreaker scenario is a whole mess that we’ll talk about in further detail if we get there. 
  • Strength of schedule: .268 (super-easy)
  • Remaining games: Three: @BKN, ORL, BKN
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Tied with Pacers, lead Heat by a half-game, hold tiebreaker over both. Trail Hawks for fifth seed by 1.5 games, Hawks have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 94.2 percent chance of a playoff spot. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is three.
  • Strength of schedule: .422 (tough-ish)
  • Remaining games: Three: @ORL, @PHI, ATL
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Tied with Bulls, lead Heat by a half-game, Bulls and Heat have the tiebreaker. Most multi-team ties involving Indiana have them losing out. 
  • SportsLine projection: 72.0 percent chance of a playoff berth, 20.9 percent chance of a first-round upset.
  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is three.
  • Strength of schedule: .600 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three:  @WAS, CLE, WAS
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Bucks by two games, have the tiebreaker. Trail Bulls/Pacers by a game, have tiebreaker over Indiana, Bulls have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 40.4 percent chance of a playoff spot, 7.3 percent chance of winning first round. 

  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is one. They have to win out, Miami has to lose out, and one of Indiana/Chicago have to lose out for them to get in. 
  • Strength of schedule: .561 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three: BOS, @MIL, @ATL
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Indiana by three games, split 2-2 for tiebreaker. Trail Indiana by three games, would have tiebreaker. (Only way Indiana finishes with better conference record is if it also finishes with better record.)
  • SportsLine projection: 0.2 percent chance of a playoff berth

Eastern Conference note: The Pistons, who have a tragic number of one, are stubbornly hanging around. That means if they lose one more game, they’re done. They can make one late charge, but as of now I do not consider them viable playoff contenders. But their win over Houston Friday kept them alive for another day.