Thursday, May 19, 2022

2022 NBA playoff picture: Celtics control own destiny to pass Heat, Bucks in a wild race for East’s No. 1 seed

Well, the Miami Heat blew another one, this time to the New York Knicks after leading by as many as 17 before another fourth-quarter collapse, and now the top of the Eastern Conference is a deadlock in the loss column between the Heat, Sixers and Bucks, with the Celtics only one back with fewer than 10 games left for all. 

On Friday, the Jazz and Mavericks both lost to remain tied in the loss column for the West’s No. 4 seed with one head-to-head matchup remaining on Sunday, 

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We’re going to be keeping close tabs on the playoff race with daily updates the rest of the way. Below is where things stand entering play on Saturday, March 26.

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times and is constantly updating to reflect changing circumstances to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix has clinched the No. 1 overall seed. 

2. Memphis Grizzlies 

The Grizzlies have opened up a three-game lead on No. 3 Golden State with one head-to-head matchup remaining. 

  • Projected seed: 2
  • Current first-round matchup: Timberwolves vs. Clippers play-in winner
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Grizzlies lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Memphis has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

3. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors fell to Atlanta on Saturday and are now three games back of No. 2 Memphis with one matchup remaining on March 28. Luckily, the No. 4 Jazz and No. 5 Mavericks both lost as well, so Golden State maintains a three-game lead in the loss column over both with eight games to play. The Warriors have one head-to-head matchup with Utah remaining on April 2. 

  • Projected seed: 3
  • Current first-round matchup: Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Warriors trail season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Warriors lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

4. Utah Jazz

Utah remains tied in the loss column with No. 5 Dallas, which it plays for the final time on Sunday. Utah basically has no shot to rise any higher than the No. 4 seed, and they lead the No. 6 Nuggets by an effective three games with eight to play. 

  • Projected seed: 4
  • Current first-round matchup: Mavericks

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Memphis has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Jazz trail season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Jazz lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Utah has clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks missed a chance to take over the No. 4 seed with Utah’s loss on Saturday by losing their own game to the Wolves. Dallas remains tied with the Jazz with their final head-to-head matchup set for Sunday. Dallas also effectively leads No. 6 Denver by three games with the tiebreaker secured. 

  • Projected seed: 5

  • Current first-round matchup: Jazz

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Dallas trails season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Dallas has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Timberwolves: Dallas leads season series 2-1 with one game to play

6. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets fell to Phoenix on Thursday and have seemingly fallen out of the race for a top-five seed, trailing the No. 4 Jazz and No. 5 Mavericks by an effective four games with eight to play. Now it’s about staying out of the play-in. Denver leads No. 7 Minnesota by one game with one head-to-head matchup remaining on April 1. 

  • Projected seed: 6

  • Current play-in matchup: Clippers

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Utah has clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Timberwolves: Denver trails season series 2-1 with one game to play

CURRENT PLAY-IN TEAMS

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves control their own destiny for a top-six seed, trailing the Nuggets by one game with one head-to-head remaining on April 1. If Minnesota wins that game, it would clinch the season tiebreaker over Denver. 

  • Projected seed: 7

  • Current play-in matchup: Clippers

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Timberwolves lead season series 2-1 with one game to play

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Clippers: L.A. has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

8. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are pretty firm to remain in the No. 8 spot, trailing the No. 7 Timberwolves by seven in the loss column and leading the No. 9 Pelicans by three games with seven to play. 

  • Projected seed: 8

  • Current play-in matchup: Timberwolves
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Pelicans: New Orleans has clinched with 3-0 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 10 Lakers: Clippers have clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

9. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are tied in the loss column with the Lakers with two head-to-head matchups remaining (March 27 and April 1), which will determine the tiebreaker. The Pelicans have a two-loss lead over the No. 11 Spurs with two head-to-head matchups left, the first one of which is Saturday evening. 

  • Projected seed: 9

  • Current play-in matchup: Lakers

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Lakers: Pelicans lead season series 1-0 with two matchups remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 12 Spurs: Pelicans trail season series 2-0 with two matchups remaining

10. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are tied with the Pelicans with two head-to-head matchups remaining, which will determine the tiebreaker. 

  • Projected seed: 10

  • Current play-in matchup: Pelicans

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Clippers: Clippers have clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Pelicans: Lakers trail season series 1-0 with two matchups remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 12 SpursSan Antonio currently owns via conference record (head-to-head tied 2-2, neither team leads division)

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

  • No. 11 San Antonio Spurs: Trailing No. 10 Lakers by two in the loss column with two matchups remaining. 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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1. Miami Heat

The Heat lost again on Friday, this time to the Knicks after leading by as many as 17, and they are now in a tie in the loss column with the No. 2 Sixers and No. 3 Bucks. The Heat also have just a one-game lead over the No. 4 Celtics with one head-to-head matchup remaining. Being that Boston has already sealed the tiebreaker, the Celtics actually control their own destiny to pass the Heat. 

  • Projected seed: 1

  • Current first-round matchup: TBD (play-in results)

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Milwaukee: Miami currently owns via conference record (season series 2-2, both teams leading division)
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Philadelphia: Miami currently owns via conference record (season series tied 2-2, both teams leading division)
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Boston: Celtics have clinched via 2-0 head-to-head advantage with one matchup left
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Chicago: Bucks lead season series 2-0 with two games remaining

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Philly defeated the Clippers on Friday and is now tied with the No. 1 Heat and No. 3 Bucks in the loss column. The Sixers still play the Bucks one more time (March 29), which will decide the tiebreaker. The Sixers hold a one-loss lead over No. 4 Boston (whoever finishes higher would also hold tiebreaker as the Atlantic Division winner as the season series tied 2-2). SportsLine projections have Philadelphia ending up as the No. 4 seed. 

  • Projected seed: 4

  • Current first-round matchup: Cavaliers

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 1 Miami: Miami currently owns via conference record (season series tied 2-2, both teams leading division)  

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Milwaukee: Season series tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Boston: Philly currently owns as Atlantic division leader (head-to-head tied 2-2)
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Chicago: Sixers have clinched via 4-0 head-to-head advantage

3. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are tied with the No. 1 Heat and No. 3 Sixers in the loss column; they have one matchup remaining vs. Philly on March 29. The Bucks have a one-game edge on the No. 4 Celtics with one matchup remaining, which could clinch the tiebreaker for Boston. 

  • Projected seed: 2

  • Current first-round matchup: Raptors vs. Nets play-in winner

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 1 Miami: Miami currently owns via conference record (season series 2-2, both teams leading division)

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Philadelphia: Season series tied 1-1 with one game remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Boston: Bucks trail season series 2-1 with one game remaining

4. Boston Celtics

The Celtics are just one loss back of the No. 1 Heat, No. 2 Sixers and No. 3 Bucks. Boston still has one matchup left with Miami and Milwaukee. The Celtics now have a three-loss lead over the No. 5 Bulls with one matchup remaining. The Celtics control their own destiny to pass both Miami and Milwaukee. SportsLine projections have the Celtics ultimately jumping both the Bucks and 76ers for the East’s No. 2 seed.

  • Projected seed: 2

  • Current first-round matchup: Bulls

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 1 Miami: Celtics have clinched via 2-0 head-to-head advantage with one matchup left
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Philadelphia: Philly currently owns as Atlantic division leader (head-to-head tied 2-2)
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Milwaukee: Celtics lead season series 2-1 with one game remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Chicago: Season series tied 1-1 with one game remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Cleveland: Celtics have clinched via 2-1 head-to-head advantage

5. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls lead the No. 6 Cavaliers by one game and they play each other Saturday night. The Bulls are an effective two games up on No. 7 Toronto as Chicago has secured the tiebreaker. 

  • Projected seed: 5

  • Current first-round matchup: Celtics

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Milwaukee: Bulls trail season series 2-0 with two games remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Philadelphia: Sixers have clinched via 4-0 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Boston: Season series tied 1-1 with one game remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Cleveland: Chicago leads series 2-1 with one matchup remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Toronto: Chicago has clinched tiebreaker via 3-1 head-to-head advantage

6. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are one game back of the No. 5 Bulls going into their Saturday night matchup. Cleveland’s more pressing concern is staying out of the play-in; the Cavs are tied with the No. 7 Raptors with eight games to play (Cavs own the tiebreaker). 

  • Projected seed: 6

  • Current first-round matchup: Sixers

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Boston: Celtics have clinched via 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Chicago: Bulls lead series 2-1 with one matchup remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Toronto: Cavs have clinched via 3-1 head-to-head advantage

CURRENT PLAY-IN TEAMS

7. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are tied with the Cavs for the No. 6 seed (Cleveland has secured tiebreaker). As it stands right now, Toronto would play No. 8 Brooklyn (which it leads by three in the loss column) in the first Eastern Conference play-in game. 

  • Projected seed: 7

  • Current play-in matchup: Nets

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Cleveland: Cavs have clinched via 3-0 head-to-head advantage with game remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Brooklyn: Raptors currently hold via division winning percentage (season series tied 2-2)

8. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are three losses back of the No. 7 Raptors with nine games to play. The Nets’ priority is staying in the first play-in game. They only lead No. 9 Charlotte by one game with one matchup remaining on Sunday, which will determine the tiebreaker. 

  • Projected seed: 8

  • Current play-in matchup: Raptors

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Toronto: Raptors currently hold via division winning percentage (season series tied 2-2)

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Charlotte: Season series tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 10 Atlanta: Nets have clinched via 2-0 head-to-head advantage with one game remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 11 Washington: Nets currently own via conference record (season series tied 2-2)

9. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have won six of their last seven games, and they control their own destiny to pass Brooklyn for No. 8. With nine games remaining, the Hornets trail the Nets by one game with one matchup remaining on Sunday, which will determine the tiebreaker. Charlotte leads No. 10 Atlanta by one game. 

  • Projected seed: 9

  • Current play-in matchup: Hawks

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Brooklyn: Season series tied 1-1 with one matchup remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 10 Atlanta: Hornets currently own via conference record

10. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta beat the Warriors on Friday but still trails the No. 9 Hornets by one game with eight to play. The Hawks trail the No. 8 Nets by two in the loss column (one matchup with Brooklyn remaining, though the Nets have already clinched the tiebreaker).

  • Projected seed: 10

  • Current play-in matchup: Hornets

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Brooklyn: Nets have clinched via 2-0 head-to-head advantage with one game remaining

  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Charlotte: Charlotte currently owns via conference win percentage

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

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