Teams battle for NBA playoff berths, seeds at end of season
With just two days left in the NBA's regular season, the playoffs virtually have already begun for a handful of teams.
Meanwhile, some of the league's elite are jockeying not only for top seeds, which decide matchups, but also for the right to host playoff games. Home-court advantage is determined solely by record, not by seeding or if teams win their divisions.
In the Western Conference, Anthony Davis and the resilient Pelicans are tantalizingly close to edging out injury-plagued Oklahoma City for the conference's eighth and final playoff position. It would be New Orleans' first postseason appearance since coach Monty Williams' first season in 2010-11, when he had Chris Paul and David West.
Since then, the Pelicans have completely overhauled their roster to build around Davis, their All-Star forward who was the first overall draft pick in 2012.
At 44-37 entering Tuesday, New Orleans already has its first winning record in four seasons.
"One of our goals this year was to have a winning record. A goal that's out there we all want it badly is to make the playoffs," Williams said recently. "So we have a chance to do both. I'd say we've come a long way."
In the East, Boston, under second-year coach Brad Stevens, was assured a playoff spot when Chicago beat Brooklyn. The Nets still have a chance to edge out Indiana and Miami for the eighth seed.
At the top of the standings, teams that qualified for the postseason weeks ago still have plenty at stake. San Antonio, Houston, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers all entered Monday within one game of each other as they battle for the second-best record in the West behind Golden State, which would guarantee one of them home-court advantage at least through the first two rounds.
Here's a look at some of the playoff possibilities to be sorted out by Wednesday.
PELICANS-THUNDER: Thanks in no small part to Davis' winning, fall-away 3 as time expired in Oklahoma City earlier this season, the Pelicans hold the tiebreaker after winning three of four games against the Thunder. With both winning Monday night they have identical records with one game left. So, the West's last spot will hinge on the results Wednesday of San Antonio at New Orleans and Oklahoma City at Minnesota with the Spurs possibly looking to lock up the second seed.
"It's a great San Antonio team. We know that we can beat them. We have done so in the past," Davis said on the Pelicans' Fox Sports New Orleans broadcast Monday night. "It's going to be a tough game and we're just excited knowing we control our own destiny."
BOSTON'S BACK: Boston, which missed the playoffs a season ago, currently holds the seventh seed. With Brooklyn's loss Monday, the worst the Celtics can finish is eighth, but only if they lose their last two games and Indiana wins its last two.
HEAT'S HOPE: At 36-45 after a victory Monday night over Orlando, Miami is still alive, but needs to win its last game, and needs Brooklyn to lose again and Indiana to lose its last two. Indiana hosts Washington on Tuesday night and visits Memphis on Wednesday. Brooklyn finishes at home against Orlando on Wednesday, when Miami closes at Philadelphia.
WEST'S BEST: Because division winners can be seeded no worse than fourth, that's where Portland (51-30) will end up. And though the Trail Blazers won the Northwest Division, they'll open the playoffs on the road. San Antonio, Houston and Memphis were all in contention for the Southwest Division crown. Those three teams, along with the Clippers, all will finish with better records than Portland. The Spurs and Rockets are 55-26, while the Clippers and Grizzlies were 54-26 entering Monday.
EAST'S ELITE: Toronto has clinched the Atlantic and will be the third-best division winner behind Atlanta and Cleveland, but could fall to the fourth seed behind Chicago. The Bulls moved Monday night to 49-32, a half-game ahead of the Raptors. Chicago also secured home-court advantage in the first round by ensuring it could not be caught by Washington.