NBA playoff picture: Sunday's winners and losers as Lakers have bittersweet day, Thunder grab No. 1 in West


Fifteen different seeds were decided on the final day of the 2023-24 NBA season, and the complete postseason field is now set after a busy, 15-game day across the league. The Oklahoma City Thunder clinched the No. 1 seed in the West with a blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks. The New York Knicks moved up to the No. 2 seed in the East with an overtime win, while the Milwaukee Bucks were blown out in Orlando and fell to No. 4 in the East.

Here's a complete look at the 2024 NBA playoff picture, and the postseason will get started on Tuesday with the Play-In Tournament.

Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

Notable Sunday NBA scores

  • Magic 113, Bucks 88
  • Pacers 157, Hawks 115
  • 76ers 107, Nets 86
  • Hornets 120, Cavaliers 110
  • Knicks 120, Bulls 119 (OT)
  • Heat 118, Raptors 103
  • Thunder 135, Mavericks 86
  • Nuggets 126, Grizzlies 111
  • Lakers 124, Pelicans 108
  • Suns 125, Timberwolves 106
  • Kings 121, Trail Blazers 82
  • Warriors 123, Jazz 116

With the bracket now set, here are the winners and losers of the regular season's final day:

Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

Home-court advantage didn't mean all that much to the Denver Nuggets. They just went 6-3 on the road en route to their first championship last season. The Timberwolves, who had the NBA's second-best road record this season at 26-15, probably don't mind playing road games either. If any of the top three Western Conference teams should have wanted the top seed most, it was Oklahoma City. 

The Thunder tied Denver for the Western Conference's best home record at 33-8, but more importantly, this group is woefully devoid of playoff experience. The Thunder's starting lineup has combined to play a total of 627 postseason minutes in their entire careers. Key reserves Cason Wallace, Aaron Wiggins and Jaylin Williams have never played postseason basketball either, and sixth man Isaiah Joe has played only 24 garbage-time minutes in the playoffs. By earning home-court advantage, the Thunder have not only managed to avoid Denver in the first two rounds, but ensured that if they do face the champs, Game 7 will be in their building. Teams this young need all of the help they can get in the playoffs, and the Thunder set themselves up for a real run by securing the No. 1 seed.

Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves

On Jan. 22, the Timberwolves built an 18-point second-half lead on the Charlotte Hornets at home. They frittered that lead away trying to get Karl-Anthony Towns to 70 points. He finished with 62, but the Timberwolves lost to one of the worst teams in the NBA. That one game was the difference between Minnesota finishing with the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed. The margins were truly that thin this year. Every game counted.

Now, the Timberwolves have to face a Suns team in the first round that they haven't beaten all year. Phoenix has weaknesses, but the Timberwolves aren't built to exploit them. Any team with proper spacing should be able to pace-and-space Jusuf Nurkic into oblivion, and perhaps the Wolves can still do so with Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid's shooting, but this isn't a roster designed to spam high pick-and-roll as, say, the Thunder or Mavericks can. The Suns can match Minnesota's bulk inside with Nurkic and control the terms of engagement offensively by simply running their offense through the star Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards aren't guarding.

Winner: New York Knicks

There was plenty of talk during Sunday's Knicks win over the Bulls about how New York would have been better off losing and falling to No. 3. They'd then be facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round, a theoretically easier opponent than whoever emerges between the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat in the play-in round. Tom Thibodeau doesn't play that way. The Knicks were so committed to beating Chicago that Donte DiVincenzo played more than 52 minutes in the overtime victory.

In the process, the Knicks not only locked up their first 50-win season in more than a decade, but set themselves up for a real run at the Eastern Conference Finals. They'll host whoever they face in the first two rounds, and if Giannis Antetokounmpo comes back healthy, the Knicks will need every edge they can get against a team that has beaten them three times this season. The Knicks are obviously facing an uphill battle to reach the Finals. Everyone in the East is. That's the reality a 64-win Celtics team creates. But if the Celtics suffer an injury? The Knicks have suddenly positioned themselves as the simplest replacement as the favorite in the Eastern Conference. Even if they do get knocked off by the Celtics, a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in itself, especially considering the absence of Julius Randle, would make this season an unmitigated success.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers

The NBA's longest active winning streak belongs to the 76ers. They ended the season on an eight-game winning streak. It took them from No. 8 in the Eastern Conference all the way up to No. 7. Had Giannis Antetokounmpo not gotten injured earlier in the week, it is possible, and perhaps probable, that Orlando would have lost on Sunday and vaulted the 76ers into the top six. Instead, their winning streak buys them a date with old friend Jimmy Butler, who just loves harassing them and Tobias Harris after they infamously let him go in the summer of 2019. Win that game and they face a Knicks team with more size to throw at Joel Embiid than perhaps anyone else in the conference. Lose and your best-case scenario is a date with the 64-18 Celtics. Not a great Sunday for Philadelphia.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

When the Lakers lost to the Warriors on Tuesday, it looked like they were destined to fall to No. 10 in the West. The Memphis Grizzlies, missing 13 players, did everything in their power to push them back there on Friday, but the Lakers escaped with one of their hardest wins of the season. To go from those lows to the top-eight has to be treated as an enormous win for Los Angeles. The Lakers now have two chances to reach the playoffs, and they're playing against a Pelicans team they've outscored by 57 points this season. However...

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

Guess who awaits the Lakers if they manage to beat the Pelicans on Tuesday? That's right, it's their old nemesis, the Denver Nuggets, who have beaten them eight times in a row. If the Nuggets had taken care of business against the Spurs on Friday, the Lakers wouldn't have to worry about the Nuggets. The Lakers could theoretically avoid them by making the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, but remember, they're winless against the Kings this season and Anthony Davis is winless against Domantas Sabonis for their entire careers. Amazingly, a date with Stephen Curry might actually be the preferable option. Couple that with the back spasms Davis suffered on Sunday, and the Lakers aren't in quite as strong a position as they would have hoped getting up to No. 8 would have created.

Winner: Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers

The Lakers were the big losers of Denver's tumble. The Mavericks and Clippers were the big winners. We've already seen these two teams face off in the playoffs twice. Both series were evenly matched and exhausting. No matter who wins, neither would have been especially well-positioned to challenge the Nuggets if Denver had retained the No. 1 seed. That is especially true for the Clippers, who have lost 12 of the last 16 games they've played against Nikola Jokic. The Thunder aren't exactly a walk in the park, but there isn't a team in the field that wouldn't take them over the Nuggets as an opponent. The defending champs terrify the entire league. The Thunder haven't earned that respect yet.

Loser: New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans could have won their way into the No. 6 seed. Instead, they fall down to the play-in, where they face a Lakers team that has embarrassed them in virtually every high-profile game they've played. The Lakers waxed them by 44 in the In-Season Tournament and then dominated them again on Sunday. There was a real chance the Pelicans could have climbed as high as No. 4 as recently as a few weeks ago. Today, they're trapped in play-in purgatory against the one team they didn't want to face there.

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The Play-In round is locked

Here is our play-in bracket:

  • (7) New Orleans Pelicans vs. (8) Los Angeles Lakers. The winner plays (2) Denver Nuggets.
  • (7) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (8) Miami Heat. The winners plays (2) New York Knicks
  • (9) Sacramento Kings vs. (10) Golden State Warriors. The winner plays the loser of Lakers-Pelicans for the right to face (1) Oklahoma City Thunder.
  • (9) Chicago Bulls vs. (10) Atlanta Hawks. The winner plays the loser of 76ers-Heat for the right to face (1) Boston Celtics.
April 14, 2024, 9:52 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 5:52 pm EDT
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Four of the eight first-round series are locked

We have six play-in games still ahead of us to determine who the top seeds will play. However, the middle of each bracket is now set:

  • (4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Dallas Mavericks
  • (4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Orlando Magic
  • (3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Indiana Pacers
  • (3) Minnesota Timberwolves vs. (6) Phoenix Suns
April 14, 2024, 9:50 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 5:50 pm EDT
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The Western Conference bracket is (nearly) set

Alright, with the Nuggets, Suns and Lakers all sporting enormous leads, it looks like we have our Western Conference bracket:

1. Thunder

2. Nuggets

3. Timberwolves

4. Clippers

5. Mavericks

6. Suns

7. Pelicans

8. Lakers

9. Kings

10. Warriors

April 14, 2024, 9:45 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 5:45 pm EDT
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Wrapping up a bit of lottery business

With most of today's games decided, we now have a good idea of how the top 10 of the lottery will shake out:

  • The Detroit Pistons, at 14-68, will have the No. 1 slot.
  • The Washington Wizards, at 15-67, will have the No. 2 slot.
  • The Charlotte Hornets could have clinched the No. 3 slot with a loss. Instead, they won. That put them into a tie with the Portland Trail Blazers. Both will close the season at 21-61.
  • The San Antonio Spurs could have remained in that 21-win tie, but by defeating the Pistons, they will finish 22-60 and claim the No. 5 slot.
  • The Toronto Raptors had already clinched the No. 6 slot, which was huge for them, as their first-round pick will convey to the Spurs unless it lands in the top six. They finish 25-57 on the year.
  • The Grizzlies will have the No. 7 slot at 27-55.
  • Assuming the Utah Jazz complete their loss to the Golden State Warriors, they will clinch the No. 8 slot at 31-51.
  • The Brooklyn Nets will clinch the No. 9 slot if the Warriors do indeed defeat the Jazz, but that pick will go to the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade.
  • The Houston Rockets are the last non-play-in team left to be settled. However, as they have a better record than both the Hawks and Bulls in the play-in round, their slot is not yet settled. If their pick does not land in the top four, it goes to the Thunder.
April 14, 2024, 9:25 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 5:25 pm EDT
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Should the Pelicans be nervous for the play-in round?

The Pelicans don't exactly have a strong track record against the Lakers on big stages. They're down by 29 as of this writing. In the In-Season Tournament semifinals, the Lakers thrashed them, 133-89. The Lakers will likely finish the season 3-1 against the Pelicans with all three wins coming by at least 17 points. Considering these two teams will probably now face off in the 7-8 game, the Pelicans should probably be concerned.

April 14, 2024, 9:10 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 5:10 pm EDT
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Here's how the West is looking right now:

With every meaningful game currently looking like a blowout, here's how the West looks at this moment:

1. Thunder

2. Nuggets

3. Timberwolves

4. Clippers

5. Mavericks

6. Suns

7. Pelicans

8. Lakers

9. Kings

10. Warriors

April 14, 2024, 8:56 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:56 pm EDT
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A stat to keep in mind as we get ready for the second half of Wolves-Suns...

April 14, 2024, 8:46 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:46 pm EDT
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LeBron James gunning for a career-record

LeBron James has never finished a game with 20 assists. His career-high is 19. Well... he has 13 in the first half today. That new career-high is very much in play for the King as the Lakers look to clinch the No. 8 seed.

April 14, 2024, 8:40 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:40 pm EDT
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Minnesota making things interesting

Just when you thought you could count the Timberwolves out after falling down by 22, it's suddenly only a 13-point game at halftime. The Timberwolves are at home. They've been the best defense in the NBA all season. And the Suns haven't exactly been great closers this year. This thing is very much on.

April 14, 2024, 8:35 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:35 pm EDT
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Now this is a team that looks like it wants the No. 1 seed

While the Nuggets and Timberwolves struggle, the Thunder are absolutely rolling the Dallas B-Team, 67-31. The Thunder are well on their way to a No. 1 seed with the way they're playing today.

April 14, 2024, 8:25 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:25 pm EDT
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Where do we sit out West?

  • The Grizzlies, two days after nearly beating the Lakers with 13 players out, are giving the Nuggets all they can handle. It's 39-36 as of this writing.
  • Phoenix is blowing the doors off of Minnesota, 57-38. A Phoenix win clinches a playoff spot. A Minnesota loss could knock the Timberwolves down to No. 3.
  • The Lakers are leading the Pelicans 44-31. A Laker win clinches a top-eight seed for Los Angeles. If the Pelicans lose and Suns win, as is looking like the case as of now, the Pelicans will host the Lakers in the 7 vs. 8 game.
  • The Thunder are dominating the Mavericks bench. They are well on their way to the No. 1 seed.
April 14, 2024, 8:22 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:22 pm EDT
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Early developments out West

The most important score so far: Phoenix leads Minnesota 41-22 with nearly one quarter in the books. If that holds, Oklahoma City is positioned to earn the No. 1 seed regardless of what happens to Denver AND the Pelicans, currently losing 24-17 to the Lakers, are in a must-win situation to escape the play-in.

April 14, 2024, 8:04 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 4:04 pm EDT
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Three of our eight first-round series have been locked:

We have three first-round matchups locked in and five left to be settled:

  • (4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Dallas Mavericks
  • (4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Orlando Magic
  • (3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Indiana Pacers

In two hours or so, we'll know the other guaranteed Western Conference playoff series. The play-in round will determine the rest.

April 14, 2024, 7:54 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 3:54 pm EDT
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The East field is set:

We officially have our Eastern Conference bracket:

1. Celtics

2. Knicks

3. Bucks

4. Cavaliers

5. Magic

6. Pacers

7. 76ers

8. Heat

9. Bulls

10. Hawks

April 14, 2024, 7:51 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 3:51 pm EDT
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Overtime in New York!

The suspense is killing me! The Knicks and Bulls just traded baskets throughout the last five minutes. The Bulls, as a reminder, have nothing to gain by winning. They are stuck in No. 9 regardless of this outcome. But the Knicks get the No. 2 seed if they win. They fall to No. 3 if they lose. In five minutes, we'll have our Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

April 14, 2024, 7:30 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 3:30 pm EDT
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Would you rather...

So here are the stakes for the Knicks as they battle the Bulls in crunch time:

  • Win and you have home-court advantage in the first two rounds. However, your first-round opponent is either the Heat or the 76ers.
  • Lose and you have home-court advantage in the first round against Indiana. However, you start a possible second-round series on the road against Milwaukee. Of course, if Milwaukee were to lose to either Philadelphia or Miami, you'd open the second round at home AND avoid the Bucks entirely.

So... which outcome looks better to you?

April 14, 2024, 7:12 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 3:12 pm EDT
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We're down to one close, meaningful game in the early slot

The Magic are up 20 on the Bucks. The Sixers are up 28 on the Nets. The Pacers are up 34 on the Hawks. The Cavaliers have lost to the Hornets. That leaves us with one meaningful outcome left to settle: the Knicks, trailing the Bulls by six, can earn the No. 2 seed in the East with a win. If they lose? We're looking at Celtic, Bucks, Knicks, Cavs, Magic, Pacers, 76ers, Heat, Bulls, Hawks as our 10-team East standings.

April 14, 2024, 7:04 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 3:04 pm EDT
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Looks like the Cavs want to fall to No. 4

With today's results looking like they'll land Miami and Philadelphia in the play-in, Cleveland is making an inspired effort to fall to No. 4 to avoid them. After leading by double-digits early in the fourth, they've since fallen down by seven by playing the end of their bench. They're still waiting out results in New York and Milwaukee, but it looks like they'll get the loss that's ultimately best for them.

April 14, 2024, 6:58 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 2:58 pm EDT
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Knicks in trouble?

The Knicks led most of the way at Madison Square Garden against a Bulls team with nothing to play for, but Chicago is playing its full roster and it's paying off for them. The Bulls now lead 71-66 thanks to 25 Nikola Vucevic points. Of course, it's worth noting that the Knicks might prefer to lose this game depending on other outcomes. With the way the other games are looking, slipping to No. 4 to face Indiana or Orlando looks a bit more appealing than risking the Heat or Sixers as a No. 2 seed.

April 14, 2024, 6:44 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 2:44 pm EDT
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The entire middle of the East is winning

We entered today with the Heat, Pacers, 76ers and Magic all in position to potentially finish anywhere between No. 5 and No. 8. Well, all four of them are winning by meaningful margins as of this writing. If those results wind up holding, the Magic would finish No. 5, the Pacers would finish No. 6, the 76ers would finish No. 7 and the Heat would finish No. 8. Meanwhile, a Milwaukee loss and New York win would position the Knicks to earn the No. 2 seed, dropping Milwaukee all the way to No. 4 with the Cavaliers slotting between them at No. 3.

April 14, 2024, 6:34 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 2:34 pm EDT
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Who wants to win in Cleveland?

Nate Duncan made an interesting point on Twitter. The Hornets would probably prefer to lose this game to avoid falling into a tie with Portland for the No. 3 lottery slot. The Cavaliers may also prefer to lose to give themselves the best chance to avoid Philadelphia in the first round. So what happens when neither team wants to win a game? It's 84-80, Cavaliers as of this writing.

April 14, 2024, 6:24 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 2:24 pm EDT
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Halftime scores

Two quarters down, two to go in all seven of our Eastern Conference 1 p.m. starts. Here are our scores:

Celtics 69, Wizards 59

Cavaliers 58, Hornets 57

Pacers 86, Hawks 72

Heat 67, Raptors 46

Knicks 50, Bulls 47

Magic 47, Bucks 42

76ers 55, Nets 44

April 14, 2024, 6:10 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 2:10 pm EDT
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Looks like the Warriors are punting

Golden State can technically get up to No. 8 with some help, but it looks like the Warriors, as Steve Kerr suggested, are punting their season finale against Utah. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will set out with the rest designation, while Jonathan Kuminga is listed as questionable. The Warriors could conceivably beat Utah shorthanded, but it looks like they're prioritizing entering the play-in at full strength.

April 14, 2024, 5:55 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:55 pm EDT
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Pelicans getting healthy

We're starting to get some injury news for the Western Conference games, and here's the first scoop: Brandon Ingram will return for the Pelicans today after missing their last 12 games. Throw in the return of Naji Marshall and the Pelicans are healthier today than they've been for most of the season. The timing couldn't be worse for a Lakers team that needs a win to escape the bottom half of the play-in.

April 14, 2024, 5:50 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:50 pm EDT
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We have a franchise record in Indiana

Indiana's offensive prowess this season has been well-documented. They currently have the second-best offensive rating in NBA history, after all. But the 49 points they scored in the first quarter against the Hawks represents a franchise record. It seems that whenever the Pacers and Hawks link up, someone sets records. When they played in the In-Season Tournament, the two teams combined for 309 points in a 157-152 win.

April 14, 2024, 5:47 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:47 pm EDT
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Scores after one quarter in all seven games thus far:

We're through at least one quarter in all seven 1 p.m. starts, so here are our scores as of this writing:

  • Celtics 35, Wizards 32
  • Cavaliers 39, Hornets 27
  • Pacers 49, Hawks 34
  • Heat 23, Raptors 22
  • Knicks 29, Bulls 28
  • Bucks 30, Magic, 22
  • 76ers 26, Nets 25
April 14, 2024, 5:40 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:40 pm EDT
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A nice sendoff for a legendary broadcaster

Celtics broadcaster Mike Gorman is retiring after 43 seasons on the job. His retirement marks the end of an era in Boston, as he and Tommy Heinsohn called games together for more than 39 years until Heinsohn's 2021 death. Now, both halves of Boston's legendary duo will be gone, but the Celtics fans gave Gorman a nice sendoff before his final regular-season home game.

April 14, 2024, 5:33 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:33 pm EDT
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Craig Porter Jr. seemingly sprains an ankle

The Cavaliers sat basically their entire backcourt today due to injury. One of the few healthy guards, rookie Craig Porter Jr., just left their game against the Hornets with what looked like a sprained ankle. Porter isn't a high-minutes player, but he's a rotation guard for a banged up Cavs team. If he's hurt, that doesn't exactly bode well for Cleveland in its first-round matchup regardless of who it ends up playing.

April 14, 2024, 5:29 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:29 pm EDT
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Most important games of the 1 PM window:

We have seven games active at the moment with eight more to come. The NBA has divided today by conference, so the East plays first, followed by the West later. The lone exception are the Pistons, who play in the late window as they are the only East team playing against a West team (the Spurs). So with the East now rolling, here are the most important games going now:

  • Bucks at Magic. This is the only game on the East slate in which both teams are still capable of improving their position. The Bucks clinch No. 2 with a win. The Magic need some help elsewhere on the bracket, but they can finish anywhere between fifth and eighth. The Bucks have a 15-7 lead as of this writing.
  • Bulls at Knicks. The Knicks can climb as high as No. 2 with a win and some help. The Bulls are locked into No. 9.
  • Nets at 76ers. Philadelphia is playing without Joel Embiid, but Philadelphia can finish anywhere between No. 5 and No. 8 depending on how the rest of the bracket shakes out.
  • Raptors at Heat. The Heat can finish anywhere between No. 5 and No. 8 depending on today's results.
  • Hawks at Pacers. Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Pacers can finish anywhere between No. 5 and No. 8 depending on today's results.
April 14, 2024, 5:25 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:25 pm EDT
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We are officially underway

Welcome to the final day of the 2023-24 NBA regular season, folks. As a reminder of today's stakes:

  • 15 of the 20 total seeds are in play.
  • The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference is not only undecided, but amazingly, none of the three teams in the running for it control their own destiny due to a complex series of tiebreakers that we covered here.
  • If you see some odd stat lines, remember, a number of players have contract incentives on the line on the season's final day.
  • While most of the NBA's awards races have mostly been decided, today is one last chance for candidates to impress the voters.

We'll have you covered until the final buzzer sounds. All 30 teams are playing, and when the dust settles, we'll know who is seeded where.

April 14, 2024, 5:17 PM
Apr. 14, 2024, 1:17 pm EDT
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