Three weeks out from the NBA’s regular-season finale on Saturday, April 10, the league has some heated playoff seeding races. Teams are jockeying for homecourt advantage, avoiding the play-in tournament, securing No. 1 seeds, and more.
With roughly ten to a dozen games remaining for each team, here’s a look at some of the top storylines to watch as the season comes to a close so you can plan your bets against the NBA Playoffs Odds.
Three Weeks Till the End of Regular Season: Who’s in, Who’s out, On the Hunt, and Clear upsets
The Phoenix Suns (58-14) have clinched a playoff spot and have a nine-game lead for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. Behind them is the Memphis Grizzlies (49-23), who have a game-and-a-half lead on the Golden State Warriors (47-24) for second. Utah (45-26) has a two-game lead on Dallas (43-28) for the final homecourt slot.
In the Eastern Conference, there are seven teams within seven games of one another battling for playoff seeding. The Miami Heat (47-24) have a three-game lead on the Milwaukee Bucks (44-27) for the conference’s top overall seed and homecourt advantage throughout.
While several teams are fighting for playoff positions, the rest may as well be fighting for draft pick odds. Three teams in the East are looking forward to the draft: Orlando (19-53), Detroit (19-52), and Indiana (25-47).
In the West, it is Houston (17-54), Oklahoma City (20-51), and Sacramento (25-48). Though the Pacers and Kings aren’t yet mathematically eliminated, they are longshots to make the play-in tournament.
In the hunt
But Portland appears to be tanking without star Damian Lillard. Additionally, Minnesota and Denver are tied at 42-30 for the sixth seed in the playoffs.
The Timberwolves have a 2-1 season series tiebreaker with one game to play. They would avoid the play-in with a win in the final game and force Denver to advance to make the eight-team field.
There is a little more certainty of who will make the postseason in the East. Atlanta (35-36) has a four and a half-game lead on Washington (30-40), which is without star Bradley Beal due to injury, and a five-game lead on a disappointing Knicks (30-41) team. Though both those teams are trending toward being lottery picks instead of playoff contenders.
What isn’t decided is seeding. The Bulls, Cavaliers, and Raptors are within one and a half games of one another in determining who gets the fifth through seventh seeds. Two teams will avoid the play-in tournament while the other won’t. Right now, Toronto (40-31) is low man on the totem pole.
Similarly, Brooklyn (37-34) has a one-game lead on Charlotte and a two-game lead on Atlanta to host the second play-in game. But with COVID-19 protocols, it may benefit the Nets to be the visitors so Kyrie Irving can play.
At full strength, the Nets are one of the best teams in the league, with Kevin Durant and Irving forming one of the best two-man games in the NBA. They’re hoping to add Ben Simmons to the mix in time for the playoffs, and even with playing half the games on the road, they have enough talent to win the play-in and upset any higher seed in a seven-game series.
The Bulls have gotten Alex Caruso back, are expecting Patrick Williams’ season debut, and hope to get Lonzo Ball back in time for the playoffs. That would give them some of the best depth in the league. They also have the second-best offense in terms of efficiency.
Cleveland has been one of the better teams out East for most of the season but, due to injuries, have slid in the playoff chase. With All-Star Darius Garland adding Caris LeVert and frontcourt depth with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, and Kevin Love, the Cavs can build continuity and pose matchup problems.
Out west, Dallas is surging at the right time, and with Luka Doncic and the addition of Spencer Dinwiddie, the Mavericks could take a series.
The Denver Nuggets may not avoid the play-in game, but Nikola Jokic may be the league’s back-to-back Most Valuable Player. He alone is a mismatch for any team, and Denver still has depth and strong guard play to pose a threat.
Lastly, can the Lakers ever be counted out with LeBron James? Playoff LeBron is a different beast with his refuse-to-lose play. Chemistry aside, if Anthony Davis can get healthy, not only will the Lakers have their big three, they will have the rim-protecting piece they need.
It may not be enough to be a title contender but to score a postseason upset? Don’t count them out.