NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers, matchups, projections: Nuggets tie Warriors for No. 1 seed; Thunder falling

Right about three weeks remain in the NBA regular season. Barring something unforeseen, the eight playoff teams in each conference appear to be pretty safe, but the seeds are up for grabs from top to bottom. What follows is everything you need to know about where things stand entering Tuesday, March 19th. Teams are listed in order of current seed, with the projected finishing seed below. This post will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track right down to the wire. 

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Fight for No. 1

Golden State Warriors (No. 1 seed)

The Warriors, who have already clinched a playoff spot, lost to the Spurs on Monday night to fall into a tie for the No. 1 seed with the Nuggets, who beat Boston. Golden State currently holds the tiebreaker with Denver via a 2-1 head-to-head advantage. The teams still have one matchup remaining, and if Denver were to win, the tiebreaker would get really close as both teams are division leaders (the second tiebreaker) and have virtually identical conference records (the third tiebreaker). Our SportsLine projections still favor Golden State to win the No. 1 seed, largely because of the difficulty of Denver's finishing schedule. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: Six
  • Projected seed: No. 1 
  • SportsLine odds: 81 percent to get No. 1 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Clippers
  • Remaining games: 13 (seven home, six road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .467 (seventh-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Timberwolves, vs. Pacers, vs. Mavericks
  • Tiebreaker: Currently own tiebreaker 2-1 over Denver (one matchup left)

Denver Nuggets (No. 2 seed)

As mentioned above, Denver, who has also clinched a playoff spot, beat Boston Monday night and is now tied with Golden State for the No. 1 seed. Golden State still owns the tiebreaker via their 2-1 head-to-head advantage, but the teams still have one game remaining. Golden State's schedule is much easier down the stretch. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: Six
  • Projected seed: No. 2 
  • SportsLine odds: 18 percent to get No. 1 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Jazz
  • Remaining games: 13 (eight road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .533 (ninth-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Wizards, at Knicks, at Pacers
  • Tiebreaker: Currently trail Warriors 2-1 head-to-head (one matchup left)

Entering the home-court logjam

Houston Rockets (No. 3 seed)

The Rockets have won 11 of their last 12 and look to be playing their best ball of the season at the perfect time. The race for No. 3 is big because it would mean avoiding the Warriors -- assuming they finish with the top seed -- until the conference finals. Our data model favors the Rockets to stay in that spot. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Three
  • Projected seed: No. 3 
  • SportsLine odds: 53 percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Thunder
  • Remaining games: 12 (seven road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .479 (13th-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Hawks, at Grizzlies, vs. Spurs
  • Tiebreaker:  Clinched tiebreaker over GS, already lost tiebreaker to both OKC and Portland

Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4 seed)

The Blazers have won four of five as they inch closer to securing a top-four seed, though that is far from finished with the Spurs, Thunder and Jazz all within two games of Portland in the loss column. Home-court is nice, but again, assuming Golden State is able to secure the No. 1 seed, getting to the No. 3 seed would be huge for Portland. That would allow the Blazers to avoid the Warriors and potentially the Rockets through the first two rounds. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 4
  • SportsLine odds: 61.8 percent top-four seed, 26.8 percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Spurs
  • Remaining games: 12 (eight road, seven home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .474 (11th-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Mavericks, vs. Pistons, vs. Nets
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Houston; already lost tiebreaker to OKC; currently own tiebreaker over Jazz via division record; currently losing tiebreaker to Spurs via conference record

San Antonio Spurs (No. 5 seed)

The Spurs, after a big win over Golden State Monday night, are currently the No. 5 seed, but you'll see our SportsLine projections have them finishing as the No. 6 seed behind Utah. That's largely because Utah owns the tiebreaker over San Antonio. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Five
  • Projected seed: No. 6
  • SportsLine odds: 6.1 percent to get top-four seed
  • Current first-round matchup: at Blazers
  • Remaining games: 11 (six road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .455 (fourth-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Heat, at Rockets, at Celtics
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Thunder via 2-1 head to head;  currently own tiebreaker over Clippers via conference record; currently own tiebreaker over Blazers via conference record; already lost tiebreaker to Jazz

Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 6 seed)

The Thunder have fallen from the No. 3 seed to the No. 6 seed, and our SportsLine projections have them falling even farther by season's end thanks to the league's fourth-toughest remaining schedule. The good news is OKC's remaining schedule is home-heavy and they own the tiebreaker over Houston, Portland and Utah. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Five
  • Projected seed: No. 7
  • SportsLine odds: 13.6 percent to get top-four seed, four percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: at Rockets
  • Remaining games: 11 (seven home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .573 (fourth-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Raptors, at Raptors, at Grizzlies
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Houston, Portland and Utah; already lost tiebreaker to Spurs

Utah Jazz (No. 7 seed)

The Jazz, winners of four straight, have gone from a four-percent chance to earn a top-four seed to better than a 32-percent chance. Despite having the league's softest remaining schedule, our SportsLine projections don't have Utah quite cracking the top-four, but they do have them jumping from their current No. 7 seed to the No. 5 spot by season's end. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Six
  • Projected seed: No. 5
  • SportsLine odds: 32.3 percent to get top-four seed, seven percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: at Nuggets
  • Remaining games: 12 (six home, six road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .398 (easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Knicks, at Hawks, at Bulls
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Spurs and Clippers; lost tiebreaker to OKC; currently losing tiebreaker with Houston (division leader)

Los Angeles Clippers (No. 8 seed)

The Clippers are pretty safely in the playoffs because the Kings, at No. 9, have all but fallen out of the race. Entering Tuesday, the Clippers have a five-game lead in the loss column over Sacramento, which is effectively a six-game lead because the Clippers own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Six
  • Projected seed: No. 8
  • SportsLine odds: 99.8 percent to make playoffs
  • Current first-round matchup: at Warriors
  • Remaining games: 11 (six road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .477 (12th-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Pacers, at Cavaliers, at Knicks
  • Tiebreaker: Already lost tiebreaker to Jazz, currently losing tiebreaker to Spurs via conference record

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Fighting for No. 1 seed

Milwaukee Bucks (No. 1 seed)

The Bucks have clinched a playoff spot and are now aiming for the No. 1 seed both in the East and overall. It's looking pretty good. The Bucks lead the No. 2 Raptors by three games in the loss column and also own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: Two
  • Projected seed: No. 1
  • SportsLine odds: 95 percent to get No. 1 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Heat
  • Remaining games: 12 (eight home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .462 (sixth-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Lakers, at Cavaliers, vs. Heat
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Raptors

Toronto Raptors (No. 2 seed)

The Raptors have the second-easiest schedule coming down the stretch but they're just too far back of the Bucks to have a very realistic chance to catching them for the No. 1 seed. Interestingly, if somehow Indiana finishes as the No. 3 seed, the Raptors would actually benefit from being No. 2 as it would mean avoiding Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston through the first two rounds. If the Pacers stay at No. 4, where they are now, that scenario becomes moot and Toronto would face Philly in the second round if current seeds hold. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 2
  • SportsLine odds: Four percent to get No. 1 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Nets
  • Remaining games: 11 (six road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .431 (second-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Thunder, vs. Thunder, vs. Hornets
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Sixers, already lost tiebreaker to Bucks

Fighting for Home-Court Advantage

Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3 seed)

The Sixers have clinched a playoff spot but have a ways to go to secure a top-four spot. Their upcoming game vs. Boston will be big, a win would get them a lot closer to sealing a top-four spot as right now Boston's hope of catching Philly rests on the Celtics' owning of the tiebreaker. Philly has already lost that, but distancing themselves further makes that tiebreaker less valuable. Philly has a favorable schedule down the stretch, though it's road-heavy. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: Nine
  • Projected seed: No. 3
  • SportsLine odds: 81 percent to get No. 3 seed, 96.7 percent to get top-four seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Pistons
  • Remaining games: 12 (eight road, four home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .444 (third-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Hornets, vs. Celtics, at Hawks
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Pacers; already lost tiebreaker to Bucks, Raptors and Celtics

Indiana Pacers (No. 4 seed)

The Pacers have clinched a playoff spot and are currently sitting in the No. 4 spot. Our SportsLine projections like them to hold off the Celtics and stay there, but it's slim. Entering Tuesday, Indiana leads Boston by just one game in the loss column and they have two head-to-head matchups remaining. Those games will very likely determine the No. 4 seed, and thus, home-court advantage in a 4-5 playoff series between these two. 

  • Magic Number to clinch top-four seed: 10
  • Projected seed: No. 4
  • SportsLine odds: 66.3 percent to get top-four seed; 8 percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Celtics
  • Remaining games: 11 (six road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .552 (seventh-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Clippers, at Warriors, vs. Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker: Already lost tiebreaker to Sixers, season series with Boston tied 1-1 with two to play

Boston Celtics (No. 5 seed)

As mentioned above, Boston trails Indiana by one in the loss column entering Tuesday, and they still play each other two more times. At this point in the season, that one game lead is enough to make Boston, despite having an easier overall remaining schedule, the underdog to catch Indiana. That said, they control their own destiny. Win their final two games against the Pacers and they will very likely get that No. 4 seed. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: One
  • Projected seed: No. 5 
  • SportsLine odds: 37 percent to get top-four seed; 10 percent to get No. 3 seed
  • Current first-round matchup: at Pacers
  • Remaining games: 11 (seven road, four home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .503 (14th-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at 76ers, at Hornets, vs. Spurs
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Sixers, season series with Indiana tied 1-1 with two to play

Rounding Out the Field

Detroit Pistons (No. 6 seed)

The Pistons have a two-game lead in the loss column over both Brooklyn and Miami. Brooklyn's schedule is brutal and Miami has played two fewer games. The Pistons don't own the tiebreaker against either of those teams, but the two-game lead is enough for our projection model to keep them in the No. 6 seed.

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Eight
  • Projected seed: No. 6
  • SportsLine Projection: 97.8 percent to make playoffs
  • Current first-round matchup: at Sixers
  • Remaining games: 12 (seven road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .513 (12th-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Suns, at Trail Blazers, at Warriors
  • Tiebreaker: Currently losing tiebreaker to Miami via Heat being a division leader, already lost tiebreaker to Nets

Brooklyn Nets (No. 7 seed)

The Nets are currently the No. 7 seed and our SportsLine projections have them falling to No. 8 by season's end. Brooklyn's closing schedule is murder. The Nets aren't assured of a playoff spot with just a two-game lead in the loss column over No. 9 Orlando going into play Tuesday night. The good news is the Nets do own the tiebreaker, so that lead is effectively three games. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: Eight
  • Projected seed: No. 8
  • SportsLine odds: 78.8 percent to make playoffs
  • Current first-round matchup: at Raptors
  • Remaining games: 10 (six road, four home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .610 (toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Kings, at Lakers, at Blazers
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Pistons and Magic, trail season series vs. Miami 2-1 with one to play

Miami Heat (No. 8 seed)

The Heat are currently the East's last team in at No. 8, but projections have them jumping Brooklyn for the No. 7 seed by season's end. They're a good bet to hold off Orlando for a playoff spot, but that will change if the Magic win their remaining game vs. Miami on March 26th. 

  • Magic Number to clinch playoff spot: 10
  • Projected seed: No. 7
  • SportsLine odds: 75 percent to make playoffs
  • Current first-round matchup: at Bucks
  • Remaining games: 12 (eight road, four home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .528 (10th-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Spurs, at Bucks, at Wizards
  • Tiebreaker: Currently own tiebreaker over Detroit and Brooklyn, currently trail Orlando 2-1 in season series

Outside Looking In

Orlando Magic (No. 9 seed)

Orlando is two games back in the loss column of the final playoff spot entering Tuesday. Projections suggest they have the best chance of catching Brooklyn, but they also have a head-to-head matchup with Miami remaining that could go a long way. 

  • Projected seed: No. 9
  • SportsLine odds: 40.7 percent to make playoffs
  • Remaining games: 11 (six road, five home)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .489 (14th-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Pelicans, vs. Grizzlies, vs. Sixers
  • Tiebreaker: Currently leads Miami 2-1 in season series; already lost tiebreaker to Nets
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