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Wild, wild West: Stakes are high on NBA’s tense final day

In Sports
April 13, 2024

Welcome to the regular-season finale, where 13 playoff seeds are still in the air, and the only first-round series we know for sure is the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers vs. the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

Most notably, the final guaranteed playoff berths in both conferences remain unsettled. Win, and the New Orleans Pelicans are in as the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed, facing any of three teams. Lose, and it’s chaos. In the East, the fifth and sixth seeds are open to four different teams under any number of scenarios. The booby prizes are berths in the double-elimination bracket of the play-in tournament.

(In the play-in, which begins on Tuesday, the seventh- and eighth-place teams play a single game. The winner is the No. 7 seed; the loser faces the winner of a game between the ninth- and 10th-place teams for the No. 8 seed. Got it? Good, because there is still some settling to do for six of those eight spots.)

The West’s top seed is also undecided. This marks the first time in NBA history that three teams are tied with a conference’s top record and each have a shot at the No. 1 seed on the regular season’s final day. The Oklahoma City Thunder hold the three-way tiebreaker and a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Denver Nuggets. The Minnesota Timberwolves own head-to-head tiebreakers against OKC and Denver.

Since the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in both conferences will wait on opponents to emerge from the play-in tournament, the 4-5 matchup in the Eastern Conference is the last major domino to fall on Sunday. The Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat could each land in one of those spots. Do not worry. We have sorted that out.

Now that we have dispensed with the basics, on to the finer details (and there are a lot of them) …


WESTERN CONFERENCE


1. Oklahoma City Thunder (56-25)

Clinched playoff berth

2. Minnesota Timberwolves (56-25)

Clinched playoff berth

  • Highest possible finish: No. 1 seed (clinched no lower than No. 3)

  • Own tiebreakers against: Nuggets, Thunder

3. Denver Nuggets (56-25)

Clinched playoff berth

4. Los Angeles Clippers (51-30)

Clinched No. 4 seed and first-round playoff series vs. No. 5 Dallas Mavericks

5. Dallas Mavericks (50-31)

Clinched No. 5 seed and first-round playoff series vs. No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers

6. New Orleans Pelicans (49-32)

7. Phoenix Suns (48-33)

8. Los Angeles Lakers (46-35)

9. Sacramento Kings (45-36)

  • Highest possible finish: No. 8 seed

  • Own tiebreakers against: Warriors, Lakers

10. Golden State Warriors (45-36)


PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns posts up against Mike Conley #10 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at Footprint Center on April 05, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Kevin Durant and the Suns need a win against the Wolves, plus a Pelicans loss, to avoid the play-in tournament. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Sunday’s games of consequence (all times Eastern)

Nuggets at Grizzlies (3:30 p.m.)

  • DEN clinches the No. 1 seed with a win and OKC and MIN losses

  • DEN clinches the No. 2 seed with a win and either a MIN or OKC loss

  • DEN clinches the No. 3 seed with a loss or MIN and OKC wins

Suns at Timberwolves (3:30 p.m.)

  • MIN clinches the No. 1 seed with a win and an OKC or DEN loss

  • MIN clinches the No. 2 seed with a win and OKC and DEN wins

  • MIN clinches the No. 3 seed with a loss and OKC and DEN wins

  • PHX clinches the No. 6 seed with a win and a NOP loss

  • PHX clinches the No. 7 seed with a loss or a NOP win

Lakers at Pelicans (3:30 p.m., ESPN)

  • NOP clinches the No. 6 seed with a win or a PHX loss

  • NOP clinches the No. 7 seed with a loss and a PHX win

  • LAL clinches the No. 8 seed with a win or SAC and GSW losses

  • LAL clinches the No. 9 seed with a loss and either a SAC or GSW win

  • LAL clinches the No. 10 seed with a loss and SAC and GSW wins

Mavericks at Thunder (3:30 p.m.)

  • OKC clinches the No. 1 seed with 1) a win and a DEN win, 2) a win and a MIN loss or 3) a loss and MIN and DEN losses

  • OKC clinches the No. 2 seed with 1) a loss and a MIN win or 2) a DEN loss and a MIN win

  • OKC clinches the No. 3 seed with a loss and a DEN win

Jazz at Warriors (3:30 p.m.)

  • GSW clinches the No. 8 seed with a win and LAL and SAC losses

  • GSW clinches the No. 9 seed with a win and either a LAL or a SAC loss

  • GSW clinches the No. 10 seed with a loss or LAL and SAC wins

Blazers at Kings (3:30 p.m.)

  • SAC clinches the No. 8 seed with a win and a LAL loss

  • SAC clinches the No. 9 seed with a win and a LAL win or a loss and a GSW loss

  • SAC clinches the No. 10 seed with a loss and a GSW win


EASTERN CONFERENCE


1. Boston Celtics (63-18)

Clinched No. 1 seed and first-round playoff series vs. No. 8 seed (determined by play-in tournament)

2. Milwaukee Bucks (49-32)

Clinched playoff berth

3. New York Knicks (49-32)

Clinched playoff berth

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-33)

Clinched playoff berth

5. Orlando Magic (46-35)

6. Indiana Pacers (46-35)

  • Highest possible finish: No. 5 seed (clinched no lower than No. 8)

  • Own tiebreakers against: 76ers, Heat

7. Philadelphia 76ers (46-35)

8. Miami Heat (45-36)

9. Chicago Bulls (39-42)

Clinched No. 9 seed and play-in tournament game vs. No. 10 Atlanta Hawks

10. Atlanta Hawks (36-45)

Clinched No. 10 seed and play-in tournament game vs. No. 9 Chicago Bulls


Sunday’s games of consequence (all times Eastern)

Hornets at Cavaliers (1 p.m.)

  • CLE clinches the No. 2 seed with a win and MIL and NYK losses

  • CLE clinches the No. 3 seed with a win and either a MIL or NYK loss

  • CLE clinches the No. 4 seed with a loss or a MIL win

Hawks at Pacers (1 p.m.)

  • IND clinches the No. 5 seed with a win and an ORL loss

  • IND clinches the No. 6 seed with a win and an ORL win

  • IND clinches the No. 7 seed with a loss and either a PHI or MIA win

  • IND clinches the No. 8 seed with a loss and MIL, PHI and MIA wins

Raptors at Heat (1 p.m.)

  • MIA clinches the No. 5 seed with a win and ORL, IND and PHI losses

  • MIA clinches the No. 6 seed with a win, an ORL loss and either a IND or PHI loss

  • MIA clinches the No. 7 seed with a win and 1) an ORL win or 2) an ORL loss and IND and PHI wins

  • MIA clinches the No. 8 seed with a loss or ORL and PHI wins

Bulls at Knicks (1 p.m., ESPN)

  • NYK clinches the No. 2 seed with a win and a MIL loss

  • NYK clinches the No. 3 seed with 1) a win and a MIL win or 2) a loss and MIL and CLE losses or a MIL win

  • NYK clinches the No. 4 seed with a loss and CLE and ORL wins

Bucks at Magic (1 p.m.)

  • MIL clinches the No. 2 seed with a win or NYK and CLE losses

  • MIL clinches the No. 3 seed with a loss and either a NYK or CLE loss

  • MIL clinches the No. 4 seed with a loss and NYK and CLE wins

  • ORL clinches the No. 5 seed with 1) a win and an IND win or a PHI loss or 2) MIA, IND and PHI losses

  • ORL clinches the No. 6 seed with a win, an IND loss and a PHI win

  • ORL clinches the No. 7 seed with a loss, a MIA win and an IND loss

  • ORL clinches the No. 8 seed with a loss and 1) MIA and IND wins or 2) a MIA win and a PHI loss

Nets at 76ers (1 p.m.)

  • PHI clinches the No. 5 seed with a win and an IND loss

  • PHI clinches the No. 6 seed with a win, an IND win and an ORL loss

  • PHI clinches the No. 7 seed with 1) a win and ORL, IND and MIA wins or 2) a loss and ORL, IND and MIA losses

  • PHI clinches the No. 8 seed with a loss and MIA and ORL wins

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