NBA Playoff Picture 2023: Latest standings, Lakers play-in predictions, more
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Seven teams still have three days to determine what the order of teams from fifth to 11th in the Western Conference will be.
The qualifying run will receive the most attention, as the Los Angeles Lakers try to hold on to the No. 7 seed.
The Lakers are still alive in the hunt for the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, but the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have favorable schedules to keep them ahead of the Lakers.
LeBron James and Co. must fend off the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves, who still have a ways to go ahead of the Lakers.
The final play-in position goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks. OKC is ahead by half a game after ending its three-game losing streak on Thursday. OKC’s win at Utah knocked the Utah Jazz out of the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference technically has a playing position up for grabs, but the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t worry about going from No. 6 to No. 7.
That leaves the Miami Heat, which beat the Philadelphia 76ers on the road Thursday, as the best playing team with the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls behind them.
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1. Milwaukee (58-22)
2. Boston (55-25)
3. Philadelphia (52-28)
4. Cleveland (51-30)
5. New York (47-33)
7. Miami (43-37)
8. Atlanta (41-39)
9. Toronto (40-40)
10. Chicago (38-42)
Miami’s road win at Philadelphia on Thursday may mean nothing in its pursuit of the No. 6 seed.
The Heat are one game away from the Nets. Brooklyn hosts the Orlando Magic on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Nets should beat the Magic, then there’s a chance the Sixers will rest all of their starters to ensure Brooklyn is the No. 6 seed and their first-round opponent.
Philadelphia went 1-2 against the Heat in the regular season, and it can ensure the Heat stay in 7th place by losing to the Nets on Sunday.
Miami should use its last two games against the Washington Wizards and Orlando to refine its rotation heading into the qualifying round.
Jimmy Butler and his teammates aren’t going to move up from seventh place, so they would need a win over the No. 8 seed to confirm a first-round game with the Boston Celtics.
Atlanta is Miami’s most likely opponent after the Hawks beat the Bulls in Chicago on Tuesday night.
The Hawks have to hope the Sixers choose to rest some of their starters on Friday, so they can stay ahead of the Raptors. Atlanta ends Sunday against the Celtics, who are already locked in the No. 2 seed.
Toronto plays the second of two road games at Boston on Friday, then hosts the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. Boston and Milwaukee should be in complete rest mode.
Chicago has no way out of the No. 10 seed, and it needs two road wins in the round of play to set up a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Bucks.
Prediction: 7. Miami, 8. Atlanta, 9. Toronto, 10. Chicago
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1. Denver (52-28)
2. Memphis (50-30)
3. Sacramento (48-32)
4. Phoenix (45-35)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (42-38)
6. Golden State (42-38)
7. Los Angeles Lakers (41-39)
8. New Orleans (41-39)
9. Minnesota (40-40)
10. Oklahoma City (39-42)
11. Dallas (38-42)
The Western Conference playoff math is simple.
The Clippers must go 1-1 and the Warriors must win to avoid the play-in round.
The Clippers can afford a loss in their last two games as they have a one-game lead over the Lakers and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Golden State doesn’t have that luxury, but it does have the advantage of facing the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trailblazers to close out the regular season. Sacramento has no reason to play their starters after securing the No. 3 seed. Portland has been playing reserves since last week.
Winning on the road has been tough for the Warriors all season, but they should handle those two road assignments and become the last of the Western playoff teams to earn 10 road wins.
The Lakers need to beat Phoenix and Utah to be the No. 7 seed at worst. The Suns arrive in Los Angeles after a game against Denver on Thursday. They might be inclined to rest or limit their star players’ minutes.
Utah’s elimination in the playoffs should give the Lakers a victory on Sunday.
Sunday will be important in the playoff race when it comes to the Pelicans and Wolves, who will face off in Minnesota.
New Orleans is expected to beat the shorthanded New York Knicks at home on Friday and Minnesota is expected to cross over against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. This will set up a win-win match for the No. 8 seed and a trip to Los Angeles.
The Pelicans and Wolves split their regular-season series, but the games took place in December and January, so they’re not true indicators of what Sunday’s game will look like.
New Orleans is 8-2 in its last 10 games, while Minnesota is 5-5 in the same stretch. Minnesota is just 21-19 at home. The Wolves are tied with the Lakers for the fewest home wins among the top 10 teams in the West. They lost to the Lakers and Portland in their last home stand.
Oklahoma City only needs to beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday to confirm they are the No. 10 seed and eliminate Dallas. Memphis is the No. 2 seed and he could rest his starters to focus on the playoffs.
Dallas must beat Chicago and San Antonio and lose OKC to Memphis to get into the playoffs.
Prediction: 7. Los Angeles Lakers, 8. New Orleans, 9. Minnesota, 10. Oklahoma City