NBA playoff picture, standings, projections, magic numbers, strength of schedule: Spurs eye top-four seed in West

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 completely nuts Western Conference entering Thursday, March 22. (Check out the Eastern Conference playoff picture here). This post 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 Houston's magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed over Golden State is seven, which could be seven wins by Houston, seven losses by Golden State, or any combination that equals seven -- say, four Houston wins and three Golden State losses. 

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

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Playoff Locks

Houston Rockets (No. 1 seed)

After ending Portland's 13-game win streak on Tuesday, Houston holds a four-game lead in the loss column over Golden State for the No. 1 seed both in the West and in the NBA overall, which would guarantee the Rockets home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. By virtue of their 2-1 record vs. Golden State this season, the Rockets own the tiebreaker, meaning their lead is actually five games in the loss column. Here are a few more notes about Houston entering Thursday:

  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: Seven
  • Remaining games: 11 (eight home, three road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .459 (seventh-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Detroit, vs. New Orleans, vs. Atlanta
  • SportsLine projections: 97.8 percent to get No. 1 seed

Golden State Warriors (No. 2 seed)

The Warriors say Stephen Curry is aiming to come back Friday vs. Atlanta, but they clearly don't care much, if at all, about the No. 1 seed and will likely be resting Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green whenever they can down the stretch. Portland's loss on Tuesday moved the Warriors one game closer to sealing the No. 2 seed. 

  • Magic number to clinch No. 2 seed: Two
  • Lead/Trail: Trail Houston by four (five with tiebreaker) for No. 1 seed
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .464 (eighth-easiest in league)
  • Next three Games: vs. Atlanta, vs. Utah, vs. Indiana
  • SportsLine projections: 2.2 percent to get No. 1 seed

Looking pretty safe

Portland Trail Blazers (No. 3 seed)

It's amazing that the Blazers have won 13 of 14 and we still can't call them a complete lock to even make the playoffs, though we're getting closer to that day. SportsLine says they're a virtual lock to get in at this point, and a very good bet to get a top-four seed.

  • Lead/Trail: Lead No. 4 Thunder by three games in loss column, lead No. 9 Denver by six games
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Five
  • Remaining games: 11 (four home, seven road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .520 (11th-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Boston, at OKC, at New Orleans
  • SportsLine projection: 82.3 percent to get top-four seed

Entering the logjam

Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 4 seed)

Just an absolutely devastating loss to the Celtics on Tuesday for the Thunder, who led Boston by two with less than 10 seconds to play and Melo at the line. They don't play Thursday night, and host Miami Friday. 

  • Current playoff status: Trail No. 3 Blazers by three in loss column
  • The logjam: No. 4 OKC, No. 5 New Orleans and No. 6 San Antonio all have 30 losses 
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Six
  • Games remaining: Nine (five home, four road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .581 (second-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Miami, vs. Portland, at San Antonio
  • SportsLine projections: 41.1 percent to get top-four seed

New Orleans Pelicans (No. 5 seed)

After a clutch win over Indiana on Wednesday, New Orleans remains ahead of San Antonio for the No. 5 seed by virtue of holding the tiebreaker. They also hold the tiebreaker via head to head over OKC, which they trail by percentage points for the No. 4 seed with one less victory entering Thursday. 

  • Good news: Tied with OKC in loss column for No. 4, and Pelicans own the tiebreaker
  • Bad news: Only have one-game lead in loss column over No. 8 Utah
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Seven
  • Remaining games: 10 (five home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .544 (eighth-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Lakers, at Houston, vs. Portland
  • SportsLine projection: 91.8 percent to make playoffs, 33.3 percent to get top-four seed

San Antonio Spurs (No. 6 seed)

San Antonio kept pace with New Orleans with a victory over the visiting Wizards Wednesday night. Who knows if Kawhi Leonard is going to ever come back, but the Spurs are eyeing a top-four seed regardless.

  • Good news: Tied in loss column with No. 4 OKC and No. 5 New Orleans
  • Bad news: Still only three games in loss column clear of No. 9 Denver 
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Seven
  • Remaining games: 10 (five home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .554 (sixth-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: vs. Utah, at Milwaukee, at Washington
  • SportsLine projection: 93.8 percent to make playoffs, 23.7 percent to get top-four seed

Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 7 seed)

The Wolves got off the ejection seat for now with a big win vs. the Clippers on Tuesday. The Jazz blowing their game to the Hawks and the Thunder blowing their game against the Celtics made Tuesday a triple-whammy winner for Minnesota, which has a few days off and will return to action Friday in New York. 

  • Good news: Only trail No. 4 OKC by one game in loss column and hold tiebreaker
  • Bad news: Only two losses clear of No. 9 Denver and one loss clear of No. 8 Utah
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Eight
  • Remaining games: 10 (five home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .416 (2nd-easiest in league)
  • Next three games: at Knicks, at Sixers, vs. Memphis
  • SportsLine projection: 89.5 percent to make playoffs, 11.9 percent to get top-four seed

Utah Jazz (No. 8 seed)

After blowing a home game to the Hawks on Tuesday, Utah cannot afford to have another letdown against the Mavs on Thursday. That loss to Atlanta, as you'll see below, dropped Utah's odds of making the playoffs below the 80 percent mark. But the Jazz are still projected to get in for now. 

  • Good news: Only trail No. 4 seed by one game in loss column
  • Bad News: Only lead Denver by two games for final playoff spot
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: Nine
  • Games remaining: 11 (five home, six road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .540 (ninth-toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Dallas, at San Antonio, at Golden State
  • SportsLine projection: 79.7 percent to make playoffs, 7.1 percent to get top-four seed

Just outside looking in

Denver Nuggets (No. 9 seed)

Denver took care of business against Chicago on Wednesday, which was vital, because now its schedule turns into something of a Murderer's Row down the stretch. Because of that, SportsLine actually has the No. 10 Clippers with a significantly better chance to cracking the postseason.            

  • Good news: Only trail No. 8 Utah by two games in loss column
  • Bad news: That number is actually three as Utah currently holds tiebreaker via division record
  • Remaining games: 10 (four home, six road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .585 (toughest in league)
  • Next three games: at Washington, at Philadelphia, at Toronto
  • SportsLine projection: 15.3 percent to make playoffs

L.A. Clippers (No. 10 seed)

Got a really big win over the Bucks on the road Wednesday night. They currently sit percentage points behind No. 9 Denver, but as stated above, our SportsLine projections say the Clippers are over two times more likely to make the playoffs largely because of the Nuggets' brutal remaining schedule -- although you'll see below that the Clippers' remaining slate is no cakewalk.              

  • Good news: Only trail No. 8 Jazz by two games in loss column
  • Bad news: That number is effectively three as Jazz own tiebreaker via either head-to-head or conference record
  • Remaining games: 11 (six home, five road)
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .545 (seventh-toughest in league)
  • Next 3 games: at Indiana, at Toronto, vs. Milwaukee
  • SportsLine projection: 32 percent to make playoffs
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