We are taking a daily dive into the convoluted Western Conference Playoff race.
For all the ins and outs of the playoff race check out yesterday’s Western Conference Playoff Picture
And if you need a refresher on how the NBA Playoff Seeding tiebreakers work find it here
All times and days in this article are USA time, not Australian time.
With a 112-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers the Utah Jazz are the fourth team to clinch a sport in the 2018 Western Conference Playoffs.
It is only fitting that they did it behind the exemplary play of their star rookie Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell scored 28 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and handed out 8 assists, while Jingling Joe Ingles chipped in 22 points of his own to go along with 10 rebounds. The Jazz are one of the most surprising and impressive teams of 2018. We all know the story, losing their All Star wing Gordon Hayward in free agency left this team in a worrying limbo. Many assumed the Jazz were lottery bound, whilst some held out hope that the Jazz would remain relevant on the back of a superb defense anchored by Rudy Gobert and one of the best coaches in the league, Quin Snyder.
But it was a draft day trade that landed them a future superstar in Donovan Mitchell that turned their fortunes around. Of course Gobert’s play has been outstanding as expected, he is a force on defense, and the better than expected play of Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles along with the revitalization of Jae Crowder certainly means Mitchell has plenty of support. However it is the rookie who has been the engine for the Jazz in 2018. This is a sneakily fun playoff team.
So what does this mean for the Western Conference Playoff race? Well not much really. The only meaningful change is that the Jazz are now in, however their seeding is still as up in the air as any western playoff hopeful. Should the Jazz lose their remaining two matches, at home against the Warriors and at the Blazers, the Jazz could finish as low as 8th. The upside, however, is that the Jazz are in a great position to snatch the 3rd seed from the Blazers.
The Jazz own the tiebreaker over the Blazers and If the Jazz win out they are assured the 3rd seed. The Jazz beating both the Warriors and then the Blazers on the final day of the regular season would mean that they finish with 49 wins. The Blazers would at best match that win total.
Oklahoma City @ MIami
Memphis @ Minnesota
Sacramento @ San Antonio
Portland @ Denver
New Orleans @ Los Angeles Clippers
Today’s games will go a long way in shaping the playoff picture in the west. The Thunder, Spurs and Pelicans will all be seeking that magical 47th win, and should they get it, will clinch their playoff berth.
This would leave only the Wolves and Nuggets to fight it out for the final playoff spot. This race is so tight that in the instance all three teams win, the successful team t can rise as high as fourth, that will require a lot of luck, but shows how fluid the seeding will remain until the final game of the regular season.
We could actually have our playoff field set tomorrow if the Spurs, Thunder and Pelicans win, the Nuggets lose and the Wolves win, the Nuggets will be eliminated. On the other hand, if the Nuggets and Wolves win, then Wednesday’s Nuggets @ Wolves affair will be a play in game (and the winner will not necessarily be resigned to the 8th seed).
Finally should any of the Pelicans, Spurs or Thunder lose then both the Nuggets and Wolves will stay alive no matter their results.
It is going to be a ripper of a day in the NBA.
Eastern Conference Spotlight\
The East is far less interesting but let’s have a look quickly at what is happening:
In the East the 76ers won their 14th game in a row to tie a franchise record for a winning streak, and reached 50 wins for the first time since Allen Iverson’s MVP season in 2001. If they can win out not only will they break their franchise win streak record they will secure the third seed. If they end up on the same record as the Cavs they will slide down to 4th as the Cavs own the tiebreaker.
The Cavs on the other hand lose the tiebreaker to the Pacers and two losses and a Pacers win would see them finish in 5th. I tend to doubt whether or not home court advantage would make a difference in a Pacers v Cavs first round match up. The Pacers cannot finish lower than 5th.
The seeding for the final 3 East Conference playoff positions is actually quite interesting. The Heat (43-37) hold the tiebreaker over both the Bucks (43-37) and the Wizards (42-38). The Bucks and Wizards tiebreaker would come down to conference record. The Bucks hold a 26-24 Eastern Conference record and the Wizards a 27-23. Since the Wizards are a game behind and both teams play two Eastern Conference foes, should a tiebreaker be needed the Wizards would win it.
One win for the Heat will ensure they do not fall below the 7th seed. The Wizards will need to win out and hope the Heat lose out and bucks lose at least one match up to secure the 6th seed. The Bucks need to win out and hope the Heat lose at least one match. However it is the 7th seed that is probably most coveted as you will face the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics as opposed to the Raptors, or streaking 76ers or worse yet, Lebron James and the Cavs. I don’t care what anyone says about the Cavs, there is no universe in which I want to play Lebron in the First Round.
Oklahoma City @ Miami
Cleveland @ New York
Orlando @ Milwaukee
As we discussed above Miami will face a Thunder team hungry to secure their playoff spot. A win here however, will ensure they avoid the 8th seed and the Toronto Raptors.
Cleveland need Philly to lose to jump up to the third seed but it all starts with beating a lifeless Knicks team.
The Bucks have the advantage of playing early and putting pressure on the Wizards. Beat the Magic and that dream 2-7 match up is very much in reach.
It will be very interesting to see if the Heat, Wizards or Bucks tank in their final match of the season in an attempt to game the playoff seedings. The East may not have the intrigue or drama of the west but hopefully we get some ethically questionable behavior from one of these three teams.
Feature Photo Credit: Utah Jazz Official Facebook