We're entering the hot phase of the regular season, during which many teams in both conferences are fighting for playoff spots.
In the Eastern Conference, the top eight teams are locked up, but there is still home-court advantage and weaker first-round opponents to fight for. In the Western Conference, the current Nos. 3-8 seeds look relatively safe, unless the Nuggets can muster an unlikely comeback. Teams are battling to jump ahead of the Nos. 7 or 8 seeds, as that would mean playing the Warriors or Rockets in the first round.
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 come up with projected wins, most likely seeds and most likely playoff opponents for each NBA team.
Toronto Raptors | Projected wins: 59.3 | Most likely seed: No. 1 (98.2 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Bucks
The Raptors are the overwhelming favorites to get the No. 1 seed. You might think they would have little to fight for, but you'd be wrong. They're expected to have almost the same number of wins as the Warriors.
Given the Warriors' recent playoff dominance plus Boston's and Cleveland's current weaknesses, a Raptors-Warriors finals matchup seems comparatively likely, so grabbing that leaguewide No. 2 seed might prove valuable in the end.
Boston Celtics | Wins: 54.5 | Seed: No. 2 (97.6 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Heat
The Celtics have dropped far in our power rankings due to simultaneous injuries to Marcus Smart, Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. While some of these players are in the process of coming back, Smart will be absent until May. Also, we don't know whether Irving will be 100 percent after his knee surgery. All in all, they might be one of the weaker No. 2 seeds in recent history.
Cleveland Cavaliers | Wins: 49 | Seed: No. 3 (54.6 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Wizards
Philadelphia 76ers | Wins: 48.9 | Seed: No. 4 (44.5 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Pacers
The Cavaliers and 76ers are projected to be fighting over the No. 3 seed, with the 76ers being behind in the standings but having an easier remaining schedule. Mark your calendar for April 6, when these teams meet in Philadelphia; the 76ers need a win to even the season series. Why is the No. 3 seed so important? It means playing the injury-plagued Celtics in the second round instead of the presumably stronger Raptors.
Indiana Pacers | Wins: 46.8 | Seed: No. 5 (41.6 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: 76ers
Washington Wizards | Wins: 45.2 | Seed: No. 6 (33.8 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Cavaliers
Just as the 76ers and Cavaliers are locked in a battle for No. 3, the Wizards and Pacers are battling it out for No. 5. While there's a chance either team could still gain home-court advantage in the first round, it is less than 25 percent likely for each. Presumably, both teams would rather face the inexperienced 76ers than the Cavs, but given that the race for No. 3 is so hard to predict, trying to win or lose for specific seeding -- something we've sometimes seen happen in soccer's World Cup -- doesn't quite make sense yet.
Miami Heat | Wins: 44.2 | Seed: No. 7 (38.0 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks | Wins: 43.7 | Seed: No. 8 (61.0 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Raptors
After losing a crucial game in Indiana on Sunday, the Heat remain most likely to end up with the No. 7 seed, while the Bucks are firmly planted at No. 8. Bad news for the Bucks, however, as the No. 1 Raptors have a point differential that bests even that of the Warriors. The Heat, though, might have one of the best shots at a first-round upset, given Irving's uncertain status for the Celtics in the first round.
Houston Rockets | Wins: 66.0 | Seed: No. 1 (100 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Wolves (19.8 percent)
Golden State Warriors | Wins: 59.6 | Seed: No. 2 (100 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Wolves (19.6 percent)
It's a good time to be a Rockets fan. The Rockets are almost certain to have home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs, they have the best point differential in the league and their important players aren't suffering from major injuries. So it might be a good idea to shut down players with minor injuries and ensure it stays that way.
The Warriors, on the other hand, are on shakier ground than most of us would have predicted before the season. Not only are the Warriors giving up the No. 1 seed, they might also lose the leaguewide No. 2 seed to the Raptors. Their biggest problem, though, is Stephen Curry's left MCL sprain. If he's not fully healthy, this season could end a lot earlier than people anticipated.
Given the Western Conference's chaotic race at the bottom of the playoff standings, neither team can start preparing for a specific opponent just yet.
Portland Trail Blazers | Wins: 49.8 | Seed: No. 3 (69.6 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Jazz
Thanks to a hard-fought victory at the Thunder on Sunday, the Blazers are now more than 85 percent likely to have home court in the first round and 70 percent likely to have the No. 3 seed. The biggest competitor for that No. 3 seed are the Spurs, whom the Blazers play April 7 in San Antonio.
Interestingly, Portland's last game of the season is against the Utah Jazz, currently their most likely first-round opponent; the Blazers could potentially throw that game by resting starters to influence who they have to play. The next five teams listed have a chance of 10 percent or better of finishing in each of spots Nos. 4-8.
Also, because Portland is relatively firm here while the rest of the field is so bunched up, the Blazers show up as the most likely matchup for several teams.
OKC Thunder | Wins: 47.5 | Seed: No. 4 (21.1 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Trail Blazers
Utah Jazz | Wins: 47.3 | Seed: No. 5 (20.6 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Trail Blazers
Had the Thunder won Sunday against Portland, they'd have a much better chance at home-court advantage in the first round. As it stands now, they snag it in only about 25 percent of our simulations, similar to the Jazz's chances. The Thunder's next game -- Thursday at San Antonio -- is an important one. The Jazz got lucky since they played the injury-plagued Warriors on Sunday, recording an unlikely win that significantly boosted their odds of finishing higher.
San Antonio Spurs | Wins: 47.4 | Seed: No. 6 (18.4 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Blazers
The Spurs dug themselves out of a hole by winning six consecutive games -- with victories against direct playoff-seeding opponents, including the Jazz, Wolves and Pelicans -- before losing at Milwaukee on Sunday. Good news, viewers: With another four games against teams that are fighting for West playoff spots, the Spurs have one of the most exciting schedules remaining.
Minnesota Timberwolves | Wins: 46.4 | Seed: No. 8 (19.8 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans | Wins: 47.1 | Seed: No. 8 (17.9 percent)
Most likely playoff opponent: Rockets
The Wolves might have fewer projected wins than the Pelicans, but they own the tiebreaker, having won all four regular-season meetings. With the Rockets on fire and the Warriors battling injuries, both these teams would much rather finish the season in seventh place than eighth. The good news is that both teams have about a 70 percent chance of achieving that, and even the sixth spot is not out of reach (around 50 percent odds). The Pelicans have one of the more influential schedules remaining, with games against the Blazers, Cavs, Thunder, Clippers and Spurs.
Denver Nuggets | Wins | 44.9 | Seed: 9 (35.3 percent)
LA Clippers | Wins: 43.3 | Seed: 10 (68.5 percent)
The Nuggets' chances to make the playoffs took a giant hit when they unexpectedly lost to the Grizzlies, who had lost 19 in a row at that point. As it stands, Denver's best hope is for Minnesota to drop out of the playoffs. Denver can still beat the Wolves twice in their upcoming matchups on April 5 and 11. The Clippers' chances to make the playoffs are slim at only 7 percent, as they won't be playing a single team below .500 for the remainder of the season.