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Wemby rises over Denver, creates chaos for West’s top seed chase

In Sports
April 13, 2024

The Denver Nuggets had the No. 1 seed in the West in their hands after defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. Then Victor Wembanyama happened.

The NBA Rookie of the Year favorite led the last-place Spurs to a stunning 121-120 win over the defending champions Friday, posting 34 points on 12-of-27 shooting with 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. That included an otherworldly stretch of 17 points in three minutes, plus a pivotal block of Nikola Jokić in crunch time.

The winning basket was supplied by Devonte’ Graham, who muscled through Jamal Murray in transition to put the Spurs in the lead with 0.9 seconds left.

Had the Nuggets taken care of business against the 21-60 Spurs, they would have been sitting pretty for the first seed in the West. After beating the Timberwolves, Denver was one game up on both Minnesota and the Oklahoma City Thunder with two to play, both against non-playoff teams. All they had to do was win out.

Now, all three teams are tied at 56-25. Instead of only needing to defeat the 27-54 Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, the Nuggets need both the Thunder and Timberwolves to lose Sunday because they don’t hold any tiebreakers. The Thunder will play the Dallas Mavericks at home, while the Timberwolves face the Phoenix Suns at home.

Here’s how the tiebreakers all work out, via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez:

All three teams win or lose: 1. Thunder, 2. Timberwolves, 3. Nuggets

Thunder and Timberwolves win, Nuggets lose: 1. Timberwolves, 2. Thunder, 3. Nuggets

Thunder and Nuggets win, Timberwolves lose: 1. Thunder, 2. Nuggets, 3. Timberwolves

Timberwolves and Nuggets win, Thunder lose: 1. Timberwolves, 2. Nuggets, 3. Thunder

The Nuggets get the easiest opponent of that trio, but arguably the worst position.

Every other NBA team with playoff stakes on Sunday

The top of the Western Conference isn’t the only spot up for grabs heading into Sunday. Here’s every other team that has something to play for. You can see the full NBA standings here.

East No. 2 seed

The New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks are currently tied for second in the East at 49-32, with the Cleveland Cavaliers a game behind them. The Bucks get the No. 2 seed with a win over the Orlando Magic, the Knicks get it if they beat the Chicago Bulls and the Bucks lose, and the Cavaliers get it if they win and the Knicks and Bucks lose.

East No. 5 and 6 seed

The Magic, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are all tied for fifth at 46-35, with the Miami Heat looming in eighth place at 45-36. That leaves four teams fighting for two spots in the playoffs, rather than having to play in the play-in tournament.

If every team wins, it’s the Magic and Pacers in the playoffs.

West No. 6 seed

The New Orleans Pelicans hold the final auto-playoff spot at 49-32, but the Phoenix Suns are right behind them at 48-33 and hold the tiebreaker. The Suns will need to defeat the Timberwolves and the Pelicans to lose to the Lakers to jump out of the play-in tournament.

West No. 8 seed

The Lakers hold the second spot in the better play-in game at 46-35, with the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors tied for ninth at 45-36. A Lakers win over the Pelicans clinches the No. 8 seed, but the Kings and Warriors both have the head-to-head tiebreaker over them (the Kings have the tiebreaker over the Warriors). A three-way tie would give it to the Kings.

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