NBA playoff picture, standings, magic numbers, strength of schedule: 76ers projected to win home court in East

To say the NBA playoff races are wild right now would be an understatement. What follows is everything you need to know about where things stand in the Eastern Conference entering Thursday, March 22. (Check out the Western Conference playoff picture here). These posts will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track right down to the wire.  

NOTES: 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.

A Magic Number is a combination of wins by team A and losses by team B. For instance, right now Toronto's magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed over Boston is six, which could be six wins by Toronto, six losses by Boston, or any combination that equals six -- say, three Toronto wins and three Boston losses. 

Another example: Philadelphia has a magic number of three to clinch a playoff spot. This is measured against the first team currently out of the top eight seed, Detroit, since that's where they would have to fall to miss the playoffs. So any combination of three wins/losses by Philly and Detroit would clinch a spot for the Sixers. 

Playoff Locks

Toronto Raptors (No. 1 seed)

Only team in the league with a top-five offense and defense. Already have a playoff spot clinched. Took a loss to the Cavs on Wednesday as LeBron played out of his mind, but the Raps are still in clear control of the Eastern standings. 

  • Lead/trail: Four-game lead (loss column) on No. 2 Boston
  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: Six
  • Remaining games: 10 (six home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .520 (12th toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Brooklyn, vs. Clippers, vs. Denver
  • SportsLine projection: 99.8 percent to finish as No. 1 seed

Boston Celtics (No. 2 seed)

The Celtics have clinched a playoff spot and are pretty locked in to the No. 2 seed with a six-game lead in the loss column over No. 3 Cleveland. Boston has a tough one Friday night at Portland.

  • Lead/trail: Trail Raptors by four games (loss column) for No. 1 seed
  • Tiebreaker: Season series tied 1-1 with Raptors with two matchups remaining
  • Magic number to clinch No. 2 seed: Five
  • Remaining games: 10 (three home, seven road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .480 (11th easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Portland, at Sacramento, at Phoenix
  • SportsLine projection: 0.2 percent chance to earn 1-seed

Fighting for top-four seed

Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3 seed)

Statement win over the Raptors on Wednesday, and now the schedule continues to get easier for the Cavs down the stretch. They still don't have much wiggle room if they want to secure a top-four seed and home court in the first round, but that win over Toronto increased their chances of doing so by more than seven percent, a big jump. That was a big-time win.  

  • Lead/trail: Only two games in loss column separate them from No. 6 seed Indiana
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: One
  • Magic number to clinch home court in first round: Nine
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .458 (fifth easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Phoenix, at Brooklyn, at Miami
  • SportsLine Projections: 100 percent to make playoffs, 93.7 percent to get top-four seed

Philadelphia 76ers (No. 4 seed)

Don't look now, but the Sixers, who defeated Memphis on Wednesday and have won four straight and eight of 11, have moved into the No. 4 seed, and our SportsLine projections say they're likely to hold that spot with the easiest schedule in the league coming down the stretch. Just how soft is that schedule? Seven of Philly's remaining 12 games are at home, and the teams they'll face in those games only win 34 percent of their games on the road, based on SportsLine projections. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Three
  • Magic number to clinch home court in first round: 11
  • Remaining games: 12 (eight home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .415 (easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Orlando, vs. Minnesota, vs. Denver
  • SportsLine projection: 99.9 percent to make playoffs, 73.5 percent to get top-four seed

Indiana Pacers (No. 5 seed)

As stated above, Indiana lost its grip on a top-four seed (for the moment) with a tough loss to New Orleans on Wednesday. The Pacers are still right there, but they have a rough remaining schedule. Looking ahead to Thursday's matchup, If the Pacers were to lose at home to the Clippers it could drop them to the No. 7 seed in terms of projected finishing order ... which might be good. It's probably better to play a potentially banged-up Boston team in the first round rather than Toronto or Cleveland.

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Two
  • Logjam: One game in loss column separates No. 4 Philly, No. 5 Indiana and No. 6 Washington
  • Remaining games: 10 (four home, six road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .555 (sixth toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Clippers, vs. Miami, at Golden State
  • SportsLine projection: 99.9 percent to make playoffs, 12.9 percent to get top-four seed

Washington Wizards (No. 6 seed)

Took a hit against San Antonio on Wednesday to fall one game back (loss column) of the No. 4 spot. But they might not be as close as the standings would indicate. According to SportsLine projections, Wednesday's loss, combined with Philly's win, dropped the Wizards' chances of securing a top-four seed by more than seven percent. That's at least a statistically significant swing at this point in the season. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Three
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, five road)
  • Strength of schedule: .488 (12th easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Denver, vs. Knicks, vs. San Antonio
  • SportsLine projection: 100 percent to make playoffs, 15.6 percent to get top-four seed

Bottom seeds but still dangerous

Miami Heat (No. 7 seed)

Routed the Knicks on Wednesday to trim their playoff magic number, and now here comes a tough stretch with games against the Thunder, Pacers and Cavs looming. With Indiana and Washington losing on Wednesday, Miami is just two games in the loss column behind the No. 5 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Four
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .469 (10th easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at OKC, at Indiana, vs. Cleveland
  • SportsLine projection: 100 percent to make playoffs, 4.1 percent to get top-four seed

Milwaukee Bucks (No. 8 seed)

Fell to the Clips on Wednesday and have now lost three of their last four. Not the best time to be hitting the skids, but the Bucks are still a virtual lock to get in, if only as the No. 8 seed, with a five-game lead in the loss column over the No. 9 Pistons.

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Six
  • Remaining games: 11 (four home, seven road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .492 (14th easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Chicago, vs. San Antonio, at Clippers
  • SportsLine projection: 96.6 percent to make playoffs

Not technically dead, but close

Detroit Pistons (No. 9 seed)

Detroit gained a game in the loss column on a playoff spot, thanks to Milwaukee's loss, but this is a courtesy inclusion. Detroit is not making the playoffs. The Pistons play Houston on Thursday night and will likely lose that game along with the little ground they gained Wednesday night. Just for fun, let's check where the Pistons stand, if only to make Milwaukee and Miami fans feel better. 

  • Lead/trail: Five games back (loss column) of No. 8 seed
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .459 (sixth easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Houston, vs. Chicago, vs. Lakers
  • SportsLine projection: 1.9 percent chance to make playoffs
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