NBA playoff picture, standings, projections, magic numbers: Rockets, Blazers in dead heat; Raptors lock up No. 2 in East

The NBA playoffs begin on April 13th. All eight Western teams have been decided and five Eastern teams have clinched a spot. The final three seeds in the East, and really, all the seeds in the West, are still way up in the air. What follows is everything you need to know about where things stand entering Thursday, March 28. Teams are listed in order of current seed, with the projected finishing seed, along with the SportsLine data used to determine that finishing seed, below. This post will continue to update for the remainder of the season as we keep track of these races 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 seed

Golden State Warriors (No. 1 seed)

The Warriors moved back into the No. 1 seed with a win over Charlotte, and a Denver loss to the Wizards, Sunday night. Golden State plays Denver on Tuesday night. A win would go a long way to securing the 1-seed for the Warriors as it would give them a two-game lead in the loss column plus the season tiebreaker, which would make that lead three games effectively, with just five games to play at that point. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: Five
  • Projected seed: No. 1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Thunder
  • Tiebreaker: Currently own tiebreaker 2-1 over Denver (one matchup left)

Denver Nuggets (No. 2 seed)

Denver took a bad loss to the Wizards on Sunday night, but a win over Golden State on Tuesday would put the Nuggets right back in the No. 1 seed. Denver has a three-game lead over both Houston and Portland in the loss column, but it's not out of the question that one of those teams could still catch them given the Nuggets' tough closing schedule. Houston, in fact, owns the tiebreaker over Denver, so that's really only a two-game separation. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: Three
  • Projected seed: No. 2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Spurs
  • Tiebreaker: Currently trail Warriors 2-1 head-to-head (one matchup left)

Fight for No. 3 seed

Houston Rockets (No. 3 seed)

Three of the Rockets' remaining five games are against the Kings, Knicks and Suns. Entering Monday they are tied in the loss column with Portland for the No. 3 seed, but currently have one more win. Portland owns the tiebreaker and thus controls its own destiny for the No. 3 seed. SportsLine likes Houston to prevail because of Portland's two remaining games against the Nuggets coupled with Jusuf Nurkic's season-ending injury. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: Three
  • Projected seed: No. 3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Clippers
  • Tiebreaker: Owns tiebreaker over Denver; lost tiebreaker to Portland

Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4 seed)

Repeated from above: Entering Monday the Blazers are tied in the loss column with Houston but technically trail in the standings because they have one fewer win than the Rockets. Portland, with six games left to Houston's five, owns the tiebreaker and thus controls its own destiny for the No. 3 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 4
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Jazz
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Houston; already lost tiebreaker to OKC; currently losing tiebreaker to Jazz via division record; currently losing tiebreaker to Spurs via conference record 

Entering the 5-8 logjam

Utah Jazz (No. 5 seed)

Our projections like the Jazz to stay ahead of a crowded field and ultimately secure the No. 5 seed, largely because of their soft remaining schedule and the fact that they own the tiebreaker over the Clippers and the Spurs, the two teams currently just behind  Clippers. Getting into the top four is not likely for Utah. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-six seed: Three
  • Projected seed: No. 5
  • Current first-round matchup: at Blazers
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Spurs and Clippers; Currently own tiebreaker over Portland via division record; lost tiebreaker to OKC; currently losing tiebreaker with Houston (division leader)

Los Angeles Clippers (No. 6 seed)

Three of the Clippers' remaining four games are against the Rockets (fighting for the No. 3 seed), the Warriors (fighting for the No. 1 seed) and the Jazz (fighting for the No. 5 seed). That's tough. Good thing the Clips have a two-game lead in the loss column over both No. 7 San Antonio and No. 8 OKC entering Monday -- though the Spurs do have a slight tiebreaker advantage, for now, via a better conference record. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-six seed: Three
  • Projected seed: No. 6
  • Current first-round matchup: at Rockets
  • Tiebreaker: Already lost tiebreaker to Jazz; currently losing tiebreaker to Spurs via conference record; currently have slim tiebreaker advantage over OKC via conference record

San Antonio Spurs (No. 7 seed)

The Spurs are tied in the loss column with OKC but own the tiebreaker. San Antonio has the easiest remaining schedule of the eight Western playoff teams, with four of its final five games against the Hawks, Wizards, Cavaliers and Mavericks. Just like the No. 3 seed is pivotal for avoiding Golden State (again, assuming they stay at No. 1) in the second round, the No. 7 seed is perhaps even bigger because it would mean avoiding the champs in the first round. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 7 seed: Five
  • Projected seed: No. 7
  • Current first-round matchup: at Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Thunder via 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. 8 seed)

The Thunder took a horrific loss the Mavericks, who were playing without Luka Doncic, on Sunday. It dropped OKC back into the No. 8 spot -- tied with San Antonio in the loss column but the Spurs own the tiebreaker, where they would get Golden State in the first round should seeds hold. Remember when the Thunder were looking like a great bet to finish in the top four, if not the top three? Things change fast in the West. The fact that San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over OKC is a big hurdle for the Thunder to climb, and the main reason our projections have them sticking in the No. 8 spot. 

  • Projected seed: No. 8
  • Current first-round matchup: at Warriors
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Houston, Portland and Utah; already lost tiebreaker to Spurs; currently losing tiebreaker to Clippers

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Top three seeds pretty set

Milwaukee Bucks (No. 1 seed)

The Bucks have a three-game lead in the loss column over Toronto with four games to play, and they own the tiebreaker. The No. 1 seed, both in the East and overall, is all but locked up at this point. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: One
  • Projected seed: No. 1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Heat
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Raptors

Toronto Raptors (No. 2 seed)

The Raptors have clinched at least the No. 2 seed -- four games ahead of No. 3 Philadelphia with five to play for the Sixers. The best the Sixers can do is tie Toronto, but the Raptors own the tiebreaker. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 2 seed: One
  • Projected seed: No. 2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Nets
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Sixers; already lost tiebreaker to Bucks

Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3 seed)

The Sixers have a four-game lead over Boston and Indiana. The Pacers can't catch the Sixers because the best they can do with four games left is tie the Sixers, who own the tiebreaker. The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, can technically catch the Sixers because they own the tiebreaker over Philly, but it would require Philly to lose all five of its remaining games and the Celtics to win all four of theirs. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: One
  • Projected seed: No. 3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Pistons
  • Tiebreaker: Own tiebreaker over Pacers; already lost tiebreaker to Bucks, Raptors and Celtics

Fight for final home-court spot

Boston Celtics (No. 4 seed)

As mentioned above, the Celtics can still technically catch the Sixers for the No. 3 seed, but it would require Philly to lose out and Boston to win out. Don't count on it. Boston took over the No. 4 seed by beating Indiana on Friday, giving them a 2-1 head-to-head advantage and thus the tiebreaker for the moment. Indiana and Boston, however, still have one matchup left -- this Friday, which will obviously go a long way in determining how this shakes out. Our SportsLine projections still favor Indiana to end up ahead of the Celtics. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 5 
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Pacers
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Sixers; currently own tiebreaker over Indiana via 2-1 head-to-head advantage with one matchup left

Indiana Pacers (No. 5 seed)

The Pacers still control their own destiny to take the No. 4 seed. With four games to play, if they win out -- which would include a win over Boston -- there is no way Boston could catch them. Again, SportsLine projections like Indiana, which has clinched nothing worse than the No. 5 seed, to prevail for the No. 4 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch top-four seed: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 4
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. Celtics
  • Tiebreaker: Already lost tiebreaker to Sixers; currently losing season series with Boston 2-1 with one to play

The final three seeds

Detroit Pistons (No. 6 seed)

This is where things get dicey in the East, with five teams still in the hunt for the final three spots. Detroit leads No. 7 Brooklyn and No. 8 Miami by one in the loss column, but Brooklyn has already clinched the tiebreaker over Detroit. The Pistons lead No. 9 Orlando by two in the loss column and also own the tiebreaker, which makes that an effective three-game lead with five to play. SportsLine gives Detroit a 97 percent chance to make the playoffs. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 6
  • Current first-round matchup: at Sixers
  • Tiebreaker: Currently losing tiebreaker to Miami via Heat being a division leader; already lost tiebreaker to Nets; currently own tiebreaker over Orlando with one matchup remaining

Brooklyn Nets (No. 7 seed)

The Nets have five super-tough games left -- two against the Bucks (who, to be fair, may be resting players), one against the Raptors (who may be doing the same), one against the Pacers, and then, in what could well be a play-in game, they close the season against the Heat. SportsLine gives Brooklyn a 75.6 percent chance of making the postseason. The fact that Brooklyn already owns the tiebreaker over current No. 9 Orlando goes a long way. 

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Four
  • Projected seed: No. 7
  • Current first-round matchup: at Raptors
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Pistons and Magic; trail season series vs. Miami 2-1 with one to play

Miami Heat (No. 8 seed)

Miami has rebounded after a big loss to Orlando to get back into the No. 8 slot ... for now. But our SportsLine projections have these teams slotted for the same number of wins, and with Orlando already owning the tiebreaker, that slots Orlando for the last playoff spot if the data prevails. There is a way, of course, that both Orlando and Miami could get in. Again, that last game of the season at Brooklyn could be a play-in game.  

  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Five
  • Projected seed: No. 9
  • Current first-round matchup: at Bucks
  • Tiebreaker: Currently own tiebreaker over Detroit and Brooklyn; lost tiebreaker to Orlando

Outside Looking In

Orlando Magic (No. 9 seed)

As stated above: SportsLine has Orlando and Miami projected for the same number of wins, and with the Magic already owning the tiebreaker, that slots them for the last playoff spot if the data prevails. 

  • Projected seed: No. 8
  • Tiebreaker: Clinched tiebreaker over Miami; already lost tiebreaker to Nets; currently trail Pistons via 2-1 deficit in season series with one matchup remaining
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