What’s at stake on the final day of the NBA regular season?
Plenty. In seven of the 14 games Wednesday night, at least one team will play for a playoff spot or try to improve its playoff seed, including two such games in which both teams have something to gain.
There are four main playoff outcomes to be determined: the No. 8 seed in the West; the No. 8 seed in the East; the Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6 seeds in the West; and the 3 seed in the East. Let’s break down each of these races and the games that could determine their outcomes with the help of ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI).
Race for 8th in the West
Games impacting race: Oklahoma City at Minnesota (Thunder 76 percent chance to win) and San Antonio at New Orleans (Pelicans 41 percent chance to win)
BPI projects that New Orleans has a 54 percent chance to make the playoffs. Because the Pelicans own the tiebreaker over the Thunder and the teams have the same record, the Pelicans would make the playoffs with a win (41 percent likely) or losses by both teams (13 percent likely).
Oklahoma City will make the playoffs with a win against Minnesota and a loss by New Orleans. The Pelicans have a much tougher matchup, so BPI projects there is still a 46 percent chance the Thunder grab the final playoff spot.
Race for 8th in the East
Games impacting race: Orlando at Brooklyn (Nets 68 percent chance to win) and Indiana at Memphis (Pacers 25 percent chance to win)
After wins by Boston and Indiana on Tuesday night, the race for eighth in the Eastern Conference comes down to Indiana and Brooklyn. The Pacers have a one-game lead over the Nets, so if they win (25 percent likely) they're in. With a loss, the Pacers open the door for the Nets, who own the tiebreaker.
There are four potential outcomes for the games involving Indiana and Brooklyn tonight. The only scenario in which the Pacers do not make the playoffs is if they lose and the Nets win. The likelihood of the Pacers making the playoffs, though, is about 50-50 because the matchups favor the Nets.
Race for 2, 3, 5, 6 seeds in the West
Games impacting race: Utah at Houston (Rockets 72 percent chance to win), San Antonio at New Orleans (Spurs 59 percent chance to win), Indiana at Memphis (Grizzlies 75 percent chance to win)
Three games Wednesday night impact the seeding in the Western Conference playoffs. Based on BPI’s projections, the Spurs are the most likely No. 2 seed (60 percent), followed by the Rockets (29 percent) and the Clippers (11 percent).
The Clippers have an 89 percent chance to lock in the No. 3 seed, where their most likely opponent would be the Grizzlies (57 percent likely to be the No. 6 seed). BPI would give the Clippers a 73 percent chance to win that matchup.
The Rockets are possibly the most interesting team. They have at least a 20 percent chance to be the No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 seed, depending on outcomes tonight. The Spurs also have at least a 20 percent chance to be the Nos. 2 and 6 seeds, but that might not matter as BPI favors them in any road series against any Western Conference opponent except the Warriors.
Race for 3 seed in the East
Games impacting race: Atlanta at Chicago (Bulls 59 percent chance to win), Charlotte at Toronto (Raptors 69 percent chance to win)
The Bulls have a one-game lead over the Raptors, but if the teams finish tied, the Raptors would get the No. 3 seed because they are division winners.
In the first round, there is an advantage to being the No. 3 seed and drawing the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors would have a 75 percent chance to beat the Bucks and a 61 percent chance to beat the fifth-seeded Wizards, according to BPI’s projections. Similarly, the Bulls would have an 81 percent chance of beating the Bucks and a 69 percent chance of beating the Wizards.
If the ultimate goal is to advance past the first round, however, the No. 4 seed has the advantage. The Raptors and Bulls both have a better chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals as the No. 4 seed than the No. 3 seed, based on BPI’s projections.