The NBA playoffs begin in less than 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 following series are locked in the West: (2) Spurs vs. (7) Grizzlies, (3) Rockets vs. (6) Thunder, (4/5) Jazz vs. (5/4) Clippers (home court TBD), (1) Golden State vs. (8) Portland. The Wizards are locked as the No. 4 seed in the East. 
  • The Cavaliers, in profoundly stupid style, lost twice to Atlanta over the weekend and now are tied with the Celtics again. They still control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed. 
  • Boston is only up 1.5 games on Toronto now. The C’s have an easy schedule so they should be fine for the second 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. 
  • The Pacers have taken advantage of the Bulls’ disastrous close to get a game up.
  • 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 now control their destiny for home court vs. Utah. 
  • Utah secured the Northwest Division and a top-five seed in the West with its 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. 
  • The Nuggets were eliminated Sunday with their loss to OKC.
  • 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.
  • All four first-round West series are locked. The Hawks and Bucks have clinched playoff berths, leaving just two spots open in the East.

If the playoffs started today ...


Seeding analysis and magic numbers

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.
  • Remaining games: Two: UTA, LAL
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 1 seed, will play Portland first round. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a top-two seed, locked as the second seed. 
  • Remaining games: Two: @POR, @UTA
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 2 seed.  
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched home court in the first round and the third seed.
  • Remaining games: Two: @LAC, MIN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 3 seed.

The dangerous second tier

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot, the Northwest Division, and no worse than fifth. 
  • Remaining games: Two: @GS, SAS
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Tied with Clippers, Clippers have the tiebreaker. Cannot secure higher than fourth seed. Do not control destiny for the fourth seed and home court.
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and a top-five seed. Magic number for the fourth seed is two.
  • Remaining games: Two: HOU, SAC
  • Lead/trails and tiebreakers: Tied with Jazz, and own the tiebreaker. Can finish no worse than fifth, control destiny for fourth seed and home court. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and a top-six seed.  Locked at sixth, will face Rockets first round.
  • Remaining games: Two: @MIN, DEN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the sixth seed.
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched the seventh seed. Will face San Antonio in the first round.
  • Remaining games: One: DAL
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked at No. 7. Locked vs. Spurs first round. 

Portland winds up the best of the mess

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched the eighth seed.
  • Remaining games: Two: SA, NO
  • Leads/trails and tiebreaker: Clinched the eighth seed, will face Golden State in the first round. 

Eastern Conference

The champs continue to fade

  • 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.
  • Remaining games: Two: @MIA, TOR
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Tied with Celtics, Cavs have the tiebreaker.
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot, a top-three seed and home court in the first round. Magic number for home court in the second round is one.
  • Remaining games: Two: BKN, MIL
  • Owns tiebreaker: Tied with Cavs, Cavs have the tiebreaker. Lead Raptors by 1.5 games, Raptors have the tiebreaker. 

Eastern heirs

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and home court in the first round.  Magic number for the third seed is two. 
  • Remaining games: One: @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.
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot, the Southeast Division and a top-four seed. Locked as the fourth seed.
  • Remaining games: Two: @DET, @MIA 
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Locked as the fourth seed.

The messy middle

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot. Magic number for the fifth seed is two.
  • Remaining games: Two: CHA, @IND
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Bucks by a game, have tiebreaker. Lead Pacers/Bulls by two games, tiebreaker yet to be decided.
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is one.
  • Remaining games: Two: CHA, @BOS
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Hawks by a game, Hawks have the tiebreaker. Lead Pacers by one game, Bulls by two, have tiebreaker over Bulls and Pacers, lead Heat by two games, Heat have tiebreaker. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is two for a playoff spot.
  • Remaining games: Two: ORL, BKN
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Pacers by a game, tied with Heat, hold tiebreaker over both.
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is two.
  • Remaining games: Two: @PHI, ATL
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Bulls and Heat by a game, Bulls and Heat have the tiebreaker.
  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is two.
  • Remaining games: Two:  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.

Eastern Conference note: The Pistons and Hornets have been eliminated from playoff contention.