The NBA’s very confusing playoff picture, as it currently stands

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Donovan Mitchell and Utah might get the #1 seed in the West. Maybe. Unless!
Donovan Mitchell and Utah might get the #1 seed in the West. Maybe. Unless!
Image: Getty Images

We know which 20 teams won’t be heading for summer vacation after the last day of the NBA regular season on Sunday, but that’s about all we know.

Only three teams enter their final game with their seeding locked in: the 76ers will be first in the East, the Celtics will be No. 7 and host a Play-In Tournament game, and the Spurs will be 10th in the West and need to win twice to make the main bracket.

Aside from that? It should be a wild day of figuring things out.

The biggest drama is whether the defending champion Lakers will avoid the Play-In and jump the Trail Blazers for the No. 6 seed in the West. Los Angeles faces the out-of-contention Pelicans at 9 p.m. Eastern, the same time that Portland squares off with the Nuggets, whose reward for beating the Blazers would be facing LeBron James and Co. if the Lakers do win in the Big Easy. If the Nuggets lose to Portland, Denver still might wind up No. 3, and face the Blazers in the playoffs, or, if the Clippers beat the woebegone Thunder, drop to No. 4 and a matchup with either Dallas, or, if the Mavericks lose in Minnesota, the Blazers, with division-winning Dallas dropping to No. 6.


Utah will be the No. 1 seed in the West unless the Jazz lose at Sacramento and the Suns beat the Spurs, in which case Phoenix would take the top spot. The easiest part of the West picture is that the winner of the Memphis-Golden State game gets the No. 8 seed and two chances to win their way into the playoffs, while the loser gets that matchup with San Antonio and would need to win twice to get in.

Over in the East, a Nets home loss to Cleveland followed by a Bucks win in Chicago would boost Milwaukee over Brooklyn for the No. 2 seed, otherwise it’ll be Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving at No. 2 and Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 3.

The Knicks grab the No. 4 seed if they win, or if they lose and both the Hawks and Heat lose. A Knicks win also would lock Southeast-winning Atlanta into the No. 5 spot and defending Eastern Conference champion Miami into No. 6. If the only Knicks and Heat lose, New York gets the No. 5, while if the Knicks are the only losers of the group, they’ll be No. 6.

Like in the West, the current No. 8 and 9 teams face each other, with Charlotte visiting Washington. But it’s not as simple in this situation, because the Hornets and Wizards are in a three-way tie with Indiana, which faces the Raptors in what we all have to hope is their last game in Tampa.


It’s still easy enough that the winner of Hornets-Wizards gets the No. 8 seed. The Pacers will finish ninth with a win and 10th with a loss.

Does all of that make sense? No? Great. Just watch the games, look at the standings when they’re all done, and for heaven’s sake, do not bet on the last day of the NBA regular season, because you’re just asking to lose that money.