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Monday, March 4, 2024

NBA teams fighting for a playoff berth

Which teams will secure spots in the play-in tournament and subsequent playoffs, and which teams’ seasons will come to an early end?


By CAROLYN (CARI) FENN — sports@theaggie.org


With the NBA regular season coming to a close, very few teams have secured an official spot in the playoffs or play-in tournament. With so many teams having a one-game win-loss difference, the standings are extremely close.

With only three days left in the NBA season, there are still 10 teams whose placement in the postseason is up in the air. Only two of those teams are in the Eastern Conference, while the remaining eight are in the Western Conference. With so many spots still not secured it isn’t clear which teams will make it into the play-in tournament and ultimately the playoffs, and which teams’ seasons will end after the regular season.


Eastern Conference

With most teams already knowing their postseason fate, there are only two teams whose current standing could change: the Brooklyn Nets, who are currently the sixth seed, and the Miami Heat, who are currently the seventh seed. While these two teams are not battling to avoid elimination, they are fighting for a chance to avoid the play-in tournament and go straight to the playoffs. 

The Nets are currently ahead with 44 wins and 36 losses while the Heat has 42 wins and 37 losses, so the Nets will likely secure the playoff spot and the Heat will have to participate in the play-in tournament. However, the Nets have two games left and the Heat have three, so it is possible that the Heat and Nets could switch standings before the playoffs.


Western Conference

The most movement still to come before the postseason is in the Western Conference; with 10 teams’ spots still not secure. 

Most of the teams in the Western Conference are only one or two games apart from the team above or below them and every team has two or three games left in the regular season, so these one or two-game differences are why — even with only three days left in the regular season — very few teams know their official standing for the postseason. 


Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are currently the fifth seed in the Western Conference. They are tied with the sixth-seed Golden State Warriors at 42 wins and 38 losses and are only one game ahead of the seventh-seed Los Angeles Lakers and eighth-seed New Orleans Pelicans. Being so close to the three teams below their current standing, depending on how they do in their last two games, it is very possible that they can move from having a playoff spot to having to participate in the play-in tournament.

The Clippers’ last two games are against the Phoenix Suns and the Portland Trail Blazers. While it is very likely that the Clippers will beat the Trail Blazers — having beat them in four of their last five matchups — the game against the Suns is less predictable. The Suns are one of four teams that have secured a spot in the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Western Conference with 44 wins and 35 losses. In the last five matches between the Clippers and Suns, the Clippers have only won two games. 

Depending on their performance, they could either secure a ticket straight to the playoffs or have to partake in the play-in tournament to try to earn an official spot in the playoffs. 


Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are currently the sixth-seed team, just barely bypassing the play-in tournament for the playoffs. With two games remaining against the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers, their chances of avoiding the play-in tournament are very likely.

However, with only one win separating them from the seventh- and eighth-seed Lakers and Pelicans and a tie with the fifth-seed Clippers, their performance in these upcoming games could result in their movement in one of two ways. If they can secure wins in both of their upcoming games, they are likely to secure a spot in the playoffs. Otherwise, they will likely have to battle it out in the play-in tournament.


Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers will likely be one of two teams playing in the play-in tournament for a spot in the playoffs. While the Lakers could lose both of their upcoming games against the Jazz and the Suns and still make it into the play-in tournament, it looks like it will be difficult for them to earn a ticket straight into the playoffs. The only way the Lakers could fully bypass the play-in tournament is by winning both of their games and hoping either the Clippers or Warriors lose one of theirs. Even if they do have to partake in the play-in tournament, the Lakers are likely to get to the seventh-seed spot in the playoffs.


New Orleans Pelicans

With an identical record to the Lakers, the Pelicans are also likely to play in the play-in tournament and miss direct entry into the playoffs. Even if the Pelicans beat both the Timberwolves and Knicks, getting the chance to bypass the play-in tournament would come down to luck. 

While the Pelicans are going to make it into the play-in tournament, their ability to go further and make it into the playoffs is not likely. With star power forward Zion Williamson unlikely to return in time for the play-in tournament after straining his hamstring, the Pelicans’ chances of making it into the playoffs are slim.


Minnesota Timberwolves

The ninth-seed Timberwolves have a two-game lead over the tenth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder, so they are likely to stay in the play-in tournament and not have their season cut short after the regular season. Despite the Timberwolves having two remaining games against the Spurs and the Pelicans, they will have to participate in the play-in tournament, win or lose.


Oklahoma City Thunder

As the tenth-seed team, the Thunder is on the edge of participating in the play-in tournament. The Thunder has just a one-game lead over them and the Dallas Mavericks, so they need to win both their games against the Jazz and the Grizzlies if they want to make the play-in tournament.


Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz

As the eleventh and twelfth seeds, the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively, have uphill battles to face if they want to reach the play-in tournament. The Mavericks have a one-game difference between them and the Thunder, so they would have to not only beat both the Bulls and the Spurs in their upcoming games but also hope that the Thunder loses in one of their upcoming games, which is unlikely.

The Jazz has an even slimmer chance of making it into the play-in tournament. Being one of a few teams that have three games left to play, it would take a lot of luck to move up two seeds and make it into the play-in tournament. 

Because of all of the close records, it is still possible for there to be movement in the current standings. While the Eastern Conference teams’ placements are mostly secured, some last-minute movement will likely occur in the Western Conference in the upcoming days. Depending on the performances of all of the teams, it is very possible that some teams will drop and others will rise, causing last-minute shifts in the postseason lineup. 


Written by: Carolyn (Cari) Fenn — sports@theaggie.org