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How the final five days of the season will shape the NBA playoffs

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76ers, Cavs bring all the drama in potential playoff preview (1:27)

Ben Simmons drops a triple-double, only to be outdone by LeBron James' 44-point triple-double, but Philly gets the victory as Cleveland's rally from 30 points down comes up short when LeBron misses a free throw late. (1:27)

Note: The Clippers were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday after the publication of this article.

Here we go, into the final five days of the season.

Using real plus-minus-driven team power ratings that adjust for player injuries, we simulated the final days of the season thousands of times to shed light on the playoff picture -- coming up with projected wins, most likely seeds and most likely playoff opponents for each NBA team.


Eastern Conference

Toronto Raptors | Projected wins: 59.1 | Most likely seed: No. 1 (100 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Wizards

Boston Celtics | Wins: 55.9 | Seed: No. 2 (100 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Wizards

The Raptors and Celtics are locked into the top two spots.

Toronto can still get home-court advantage versus every team but Houston by getting ahead of Golden State in the standings; the two teams are tied, and the Warriors hold the tiebreaker.

With Kyrie Irving lost for the season and Marcus Smart not expected to play in the first round, Boston is currently one of the weaker teams in our RPM power ratings, making a first-round upset a stronger possibility than usual for a No. 2 seed.

Remaining games

  • TOR: vs. ORL (4/8), @ DET (4/9), @ MIA (4/11)

  • BOS: vs. ATL (4/8), @ WAS (4/10), vs. BKN (4/11)


Philadelphia 76ers | Wins: 51.1 | Seed: No. 3 (55 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Pacers

Cleveland Cavaliers | Wins: 50.5 | Seed: No. 4 (53 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Pacers

The Sixers gained the edge in the red-hot race for No. 3 with their nail-biting 132-130 win over Cleveland on Friday, but their position is not safe.

LeBron James and the Cavs hold the tiebreaker (better conference record) and should be able to handle New York in their final two games, so Philadelphia -- winner of 13 straight -- probably needs three more wins to stay at No. 3. Philly's toughest remaining game is versus Milwaukee on the final night of the season (Wed., 8 p.m. ET on ESPN).

On paper, the No. 3 seed seems especially important this year, with the potential opportunity to face the injury-riddled Celtics in the conference semifinals rather than the healthy Raptors.

Remaining games

  • PHI: vs. DAL (4/8), @ ATL (4/10), vs. MIL (4/11)

  • CLE: @ NYK (4/9), vs. NYK (4/11)


Indiana Pacers | Wins: 48.2 | Seed: No. 5 (97 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Cavaliers

Miami Heat | Wins: 44.0 | Seed: No. 6 (70 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: 76ers

The Pacers are essentially locked into the fifth spot, as even with their own good play they haven't been able to keep up with the 76ers and Cavaliers. Most likely, they'll end up facing the Cavs in the first round. Indiana won three of the four regular-season meetings.

The Heat have moved up thanks to some head-scratching losses by the Wizards. While moving up sounds nice, they are now fairly likely to face the Sixers, who even without an injured Joel Embiid (whose return date is uncertain) have been on a tear.

Remaining games

  • IND: @ CHA (4/8), vs. CHA (4/10)

  • MIA: vs. OKC (4/9), vs. TOR (4/11)


Milwaukee Bucks | Wins: 43.8 | Seed: No. 8 (44 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Raptors

Washington Wizards | Wins: 43.3 | Seed: No. 8 (48 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Raptors

For quite a while, Milwaukee appeared to be on track for the No. 8 spot, but the tumbling Wizards have opened the door for the Bucks, who can grab the No. 7 spot by winning out.

Washington has lost 13 of 19, including dropping recent games to New York, Chicago and Atlanta. While one is tempted to wonder if the Wizards are playing for playoff positioning -- they have played the Raptors tough, winning two of four -- it's more likely that this is just a continuation of a season-long pattern of inconsistent play, especially against weaker teams.

Remaining games

  • MIL: @ NYK (4/7), vs. ORL (4/9), @ PHI (4/11)

  • WAS: vs. BOS (4/10), @ ORL (4/11)

Western Conference

Houston Rockets | Wins: 66.2 | Seed: No. 1 (100 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Pelicans

Golden State Warriors | Wins: 58.9 | Seed: No. 2 (100 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Thunder

The Rockets are rolling and will probably make quick work of any potential first-round opponent. The second round is where things get a little more interesting, as the Jazz, the team with the NBA's second-best point differential since Jan. 19, are a likely opponent.

Stephen Curry's availability for the first round remains in doubt, though Golden State might not need him that early. If the Warriors do face the Thunder in Round 1 -- the most likely matchup among a number of possibilities -- fans should get their popcorn ready for a testy series, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook facing off in the postseason for the first time.

Remaining games

  • HOU: vs. OKC (4/7), @ LAL (4/10), @ SAC (4/11)

  • GSW: vs. NOP (4/7), @ PHX (4/8), @ UTA (4/10)


Portland Trail Blazers | Wins: 49.2 | Seed: No. 3 (72 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Spurs

Portland likely will finish third, but not as likely as one would think when glancing at the standings. The Blazers have a brutal schedule remaining, including games at San Antonio and Denver, both fighting for playoff positioning.

The Blazers finish up by hosting the Jazz, their strongest competitor for the No. 3 seed. If the Jazz win that game (Wed., 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN), they will hold the tiebreaker.

Remaining games

  • POR: @ SAS (4/7), @ DEN (4/9), vs. UTA (4/11)


Utah Jazz | Wins: 47.8 | Seed: No. 4 (42 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Timberwolves

The Jazz have been one of the NBA's strongest teams since Rudy Gobert returned to the lineup. If they were in the East, Utah might actually be rated as the best team right now and the pick to win the conference title. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they're in the West.

That means they are likely staring at a second-round matchup against Houston or Golden State, if the first round goes according to plan.

Remaining games

  • UTA: @ LAL (4/8), vs. GSW (4/10), @ POR (4/11)


San Antonio Spurs | Wins: 46.9 | Seed: No. 6 (23 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Blazers

Minnesota Timberwolves | Wins: 46.4 | Seed: No. 6 (26 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Jazz

The Wolves and Spurs can move up or down -- or even miss the playoffs! -- but the most likely outcome for each is to finish either fifth or sixth. Exactly how that plays out -- and how the seedings above them play out -- is especially intriguing when we look at how our rating system views Portland and Utah.

For the Wolves, the most likely playoff opponent is the Jazz, third in our RPM-based power rankings. Meanwhile, the Spurs might face the Blazers in a series that appears to be a potential upset, given Portland's likely status as a relatively weak No. 3 seed.

Remaining games

  • SAS: vs. POR (4/7), vs. SAC (4/9), @ NOP (4/11)

  • MIN: vs. MEM (4/9), vs. DEN (4/11)


OKC Thunder | Wins: 46.6 | Seed: No. 6 (21 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Rockets

The Thunder have an extremely wide range of potential finishing spots, with the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage being in the mix, if unlikely. Much more likely is a finish somewhere in the No. 6-9 range, with each of those four spots coming in at about 20 percent likely. Yes, that means there is still about a 20 percent chance, according to our simulations, that the Thunder could miss the playoffs.

But with just one win in Houston (Sat., 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC) or Miami (Monday), the Thunder should put themselves outside the reach of the long arm of the lottery when factoring in a likely easy win versus Memphis on the final night of the season, which would put OKC at 47 wins. Either Minnesota or Denver, each of which holds the tiebreaker over OKC, will top out at 46 wins given they have a rematch of Thursday's thriller on Wednesday in Minnesota.

Remaining games

  • OKC: @ HOU (4/7), @ MIA (4/9), vs. MEM (4/11)


New Orleans Pelicans | Wins: 46.3 | Seed: No. 9 (29 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Rockets (if they make it)

Denver Nuggets | Wins | 45.6 | Seed: No. 9 (27 percent)

Most likely playoff opponent: Rockets (if they make it)

The schedule and the Pelicans' weak intraconference record are factors in their 30 percent chance of missing the playoffs. They recently lost to Houston, Portland, Cleveland and OKC, and they still have to face the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs.

The big beneficiary is Denver, now up to 57 percent likely to make the postseason after winning four straight. But the Nuggets are hardly shoo-ins, and their fate might well be decided on April 11 in Minnesota.

Remaining games

  • NOP: @ GSW (4/7), @ LAC (4/9), vs. SAS (4/11)

  • DEN: @ LAC (4/7), vs. POR (4/9), @ MIN (4/11)


LA Clippers | Wins: 43.6 | Seed: 10 (40 percent)

The Clippers need a small miracle -- their playoff chances are down to about 4 percent. They do have the opportunity to play two direct competitors for those coveted spots -- the Nuggets and Pelicans -- in their next two games.

Remaining games

  • LAC: vs. DEN (4/7), vs. NOP (4/9), vs. LAL (4/11)