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 claimed hold of the No. 1 spot and hold the tiebreaker over the Celtics with four games to go following their dominant victory Wednesday night. 
  • Boston not only failed to claim a top-two seed with a win and a Raptors loss, but Toronto won and now Boston is only up 2.5 games on Toronto. They should still claim the second seed (at least) but the Raptors are going to make them earn it. 
  • 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 in the West are locked: 1. Warriors, 2. Spurs, 3. Rockets.
  • Things went berserk in the back half of the Eastern Conference standings this week. 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. 
  • The Heat got a massive win over the Hornets on Wednesday, putting them back into the playoffs by a tiebreaker over Indiana. Their magic number is four.  
  • 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. 
  • The Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot, but also can’t move up any higher than seventh. They need a win or Portland loss to secure the seventh seed and avoid the Warriors. (As if the Spurs are a gift.) 
  • The Thunder have secured no worse than sixth. They won’t face San Antonio or Golden State in the first round.
  • The Pelicans were eliminated Tuesday after their loss to Denver.  
  • Toronto is now a half-game up on the Wizards. That’ll be a fascinating race to watch, especially depending on where Cleveland winds up. 
  • 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 are a near-lock to make the playoffs.

If the playoffs started today ...

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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: 70.6 percent to win Western Conference finals, 57.7 percent to win NBA title. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a top-two seed, locked as the second seed. 
  • Strength of schedule: .598 (difficult)
  • Remaining games: Four: @DAL, LAC, @POR, @UTA
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 2 seed.  
  • SportsLine projection: 26.0 percent to win Western Conference finals, 12.7 percent to win NBA title. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched home court in the first round and the third seed.
  • Strength of schedule: .422 (moderate)
  • Remaining games: Four: DET, @SAC, @LAC, MIN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Locked as the No. 3 seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 40.1 percent to win the first round, 2.1 percent to win the conference finals. 

The dangerous second tier

  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot and no worse than sixth. Magic number for the fourth seed and home court is four. Magic number for the division title and no worse than fifth is two.  
  • Strength of schedule: .637 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Four: MIN, @POR, @GS, SAS
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Lead Clippers by a half-game and Clippers have the tiebreaker. Cannot secure higher than fourth seed. Lead the Thunder by three games, OKC has the tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 33.3 percent to win home court, 38.9 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 (easy)
  • Remaining games: Three: @SAS, HOU, SAC
  • Lead/trails and tiebreakers: Trail Jazz by a half-game, and own the tiebreaker. Lead OKC by 2.5 games, tiebreaker split, will come down to conference record. 
  • SportsLine projection: 66.5 percent to win home court, 5.2 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: Four: @PHO, @DEN, @MIN, DEN
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Trail Clippers by 2.5 games, split the tiebreaker, will come down to conference record, unless it’s a three-way tie with Jazz, then win with division title. Trail Jazz by three games. 
  • SportsLine projection: 59.5 percent to win first round, 3.0 percent to reach conference finals. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot. Magic number for the seventh seed is one. 
  • Strength of schedule: .262 (super-easy)
  • Remaining games: Three: NY, DET, DAL
  • Lead/trail and tiebreakers: Cannot secure higher than seventh. Magic number for the No. 7 seed is one. Clinch seventh with a Portland loss Thursday. They’re a lock for the seventh seed.  
  • SportsLine projection: 9.0 percent to win the first round. 

Someone has to win the eighth seed

  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is four.
  • Strength of schedule: .459 (easy)
  • Remaining games: Four: MIN, UTA, SA, NO
  • Leads/trails and tiebreaker: Lead Denver by one game and have the tiebreaker. Trail Memphis by 3.5 games, have the tiebreaker.  A near-lock for the eighth seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 82.4 percent to secure a playoff spot. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is three.
  • Strength of schedule: .503 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Four: NO, OKC, @DAL, @OKC
  • Leads/trails and tiebreakers: Trail Portland by 1.5 games, Blazers have the tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 17.6 percent to make playoffs.

The Pelicans were eliminated with their loss to Denver on Tuesday. 


Eastern Conference

The champs have company

  • 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 three.
  • Strength of schedule: .523 (tough)
  • Remaining games: Four: ATL, @ATL, @MIA, TOR
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Celtics by one game, have tiebreaker Lead Raptors by 3.5 games, have the tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 70.6 percent to win conference finals, 20.3 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: .444 (easy)
  • Remaining games: Four: @ATL, @CHA, BKN, MIL
  • Owns tiebreaker: Trail Cavs by one game, Cavs have the tiebreaker (see above). Lead Raptors by 2.5 games, Raptors have the tiebreaker. Lead Wizards by three games, Boston leads for tiebreaker with conference record.
  • SportsLine projection: 10.5 percent to win conference finals, 2.2 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 three. 
  • Strength of schedule: .568 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three: MIA, @NY, @CLE
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Wizards by a half-game, have the tiebreaker. Trail Celtics by three games, have the tiebreaker. Cannot finish with the No. 1 seed
  • SportsLine projection: 60.6 percent chance to win first round. 4.8 percent to win conference finals. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Clinched a playoff spot, home court in the first round and Southeast Division title.  
  • Strength of schedule: .491 (tough)
  • Remaining games: Five: CHA, @NY, MIA, @DET, @MIA 
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Raptors by a half-game, Toronto has the tiebreaker. Trail Celtics by three games, trail for tiebreaker. Cannot finish with the No. 1 seed.
  • SportsLine projection: 15.8 percent to reach conference finals, 5.9 percent to win conference finals.

The messy middle

  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is one. They clinch with a win Thursday.
  • Strength of schedule: .554 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Four: @IND, @PHI, CHA, @BOS
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Lead Hawks by half a game, Hawks have the tiebreaker. Lead Bulls/Pacers by two games, have tiebreaker over Bulls and Pacers, lead Heat by two games, Heat have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 97.2 percent chance of a playoff berth. 31.1 percent chance of winning first round.
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number for a playoff spot is four. 
  • Strength of schedule: .585 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Five: BOS, @CLE, CLE, CHA, @IND
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Bucks by half a game, have tiebreaker. Lead Pacers/Bulls by 1.5 games, tiebreaker yet to be decided. Lead Heat by 1.5 games. 
  • SportsLine projection: 24.4 percent chance of winning the first round. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is five. 
  • Strength of schedule: .314 (super-easy)
  • Remaining games: Four: @PHI, @BKN, ORL, BKN
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Tied with Pacers and Heat, hold tiebreaker over both. Trail Bucks for fifth seed by two games, Bucks have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 88.5 percent chance of a playoff spot. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Magic number is four.
  • Strength of schedule: .596 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Four: @TOR, @WAS, CLE, WAS
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Bucks by two games, have the tiebreaker. Tied with Bulls/Pacers, have tiebreaker over Indiana, Bulls have tiebreaker. 
  • SportsLine projection: 54.2 percent chance of a playoff spot, 12.8 percent chance of winning first round. 
  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is four.
  • Strength of schedule: .433 (tough-ish)
  • Remaining games: Four: MIL, @ORL, @PHI, ATL
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Tied with Bulls and Heat, Bulls and Heat have the tiebreaker.
  • SportsLine projection: 64.2 percent chance of a playoff berth, 22 percent chance of a first-round upset.

  • Clinched/magic number: Tragic number is two.
  • Strength of schedule: .561 (brutal)
  • Remaining games: Three: BOS, @MIL, @ATL
  • Trails/leads and tiebreakers: Trail Miami by 2.5 games, split 2-2 for tiebreaker. Clinch tiebreaker with win Wednesday. Trail Indiana by two games, would have tiebreaker. (Only way Indiana finishes with better conference record is if they also finish with better record.)
  • SportsLine projection: 0.8 percent chance of a playoff berth

Eastern Conference note: I’m removing the Pistons, who have a tragic number of three. That means if they lose one more game and two of Pacers-Heat-Bulls go .500 , they’re done. They can make one late charge, but as of now I do not consider them viable playoff contenders.