NBA Playoff Race Update: Here Come the Chicago Bulls
Every Friday until the end of the season, we're dropping a new edition of this column to update the NBA playoff picture.
We'll explore each team's playoff probability (based on our algorithms), divide each conference into different tiers of playoff hopefulness, and then discuss any movement among the teams from week to week.
The tiers are as follows:
These are teams with a playoff probability of 99% or more. These teams would need to have the meltdown of the century to miss out on the playoffs.
These are the teams that have a decent to very good chance of making the playoffs, but still need to earn their spot and hold off other teams to get there.
Dead or Dying
These teams will need a miracle to make the playoffs or have already been eliminated.
The Cavaliers and Celtics swapped places this week, as did the Raptors and Wizards.
The Cavs are now in the driver's seat for first place after a 4-0 week put them a game and a half up on the Celtics. It also helps that Cleveland took the season series with a decisive victory against Boston on Wednesday night, so they look fairly locked into the top seed now, barring some kind of craziness.
The Raptors, meanwhile sit two games back of the Celtics for the Atlantic Division lead and second place, so Boston is starting to look like the prohibitive favorite for the two seed as well.
While first and second look pretty well decided, the Raptors and Wizards might be in a dead heat for third place right down to the final night of the season. The Raptors hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Wizards would have to win at least one more game than the Raptors over each team's final three games to move up.
The Hawks and Bucks both have very high playoff probabilities right now and probably belong in the "sure things" tier, but neither has punched a postseason ticket yet due to the fact that the fifth-place Hawks and ninth-place Heat are still only separated by a mere two games in the standings with three to four games remaining to be played each. Stranger things have happened, even if neither of them is likely to drop out entirely at this point.
The Bulls continue to peak at exactly the right time, seeing their playoff odds climb each and every time this column comes out. They hit a low of 30.7% three weeks ago, jumped to 42.9% the week before last, hit 62.6% last week, and now sit at a pretty commanding 90.4% this time around, despite the fact that they only have a half-game lead on the ninth-place Heat. What helps, of course, is that the Bulls hold the tiebreakers over both Indiana and Miami. Either way, they've gone 7-3 over their last 10 and could give a higher seed some trouble if they manage to make it, considering Jimmy Butler has the chance to be the best player in any given series.
The Heat, meanwhile, are cooling down considerably. They looked nearly unstoppable for a two-month period from mid-January to mid-March, but they are coming off a 1-2 week, have now lost five of their last nine, and have all four of their remaining games coming against three of the top teams in the conference in Toronto, Washington (twice), and Cleveland. Their playoff chances are far from a given now at 49.2%, after hitting a high of 77.4% just last week.
On the other hand, the Pacers have leapfrogged the Heat following a 2-2 week, seeing their odds of 57.8% last week climb ever so slightly to 66.8% this time.
Dead or Dying
(10) Charlotte Hornets (36-43, 0.5%)
(11) Detroit Pistons (35-43, 0.0%)
(12) New York Knicks (30-49, eliminated)
(13) Orlando Magic (28-51, eliminated)
(14) Philadelphia 76ers (28-51, eliminated)
(15) Brooklyn Nets (19-60, eliminated)
The Hornets and Pistons have not technically been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention just yet, but they would each need to win out and have basically each of the two to three teams ahead of them in the standings lose every single remaining game to get in. Since that's highly unlikely (to put it lightly), they officially move down a tier this week.
As for the bottom four, the Sixers moved down two spots in the standings after an 0-4 week. There is now a real possibility that they could get their pick and the Lakers' pick if it falls out of the top three, meaning they could realistically end up with two of the top four prospects in this upcoming draft. Do we still talk about trusting the process at this point, or did that leave with Sam Hinkie?
(1) Golden State Warriors (65-14, clinched)
(2) San Antonio Spurs (60-18, clinched)
(3) Houston Rockets (53-25, clinched)
(4) Utah Jazz (48-30, clinched)
(5) Los Angeles Clippers (48-31, clinched)
(6) Oklahoma City Thunder (45-33, clinched)
(7) Memphis Grizzlies (42-37, clinched)
As this is the last Friday of the regular season, this will be the last edition of this column. And with that, these seven teams have remained in the exact same order from volume one all the way through until the end.
The Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets are now locked into their respective seeds, while the Grizzlies have a very good chance to remain the seventh-place team, unless they lose every remaining game and Portland wins out.
The Thunder are likely the sixth-place team, as they sit 2.5 games back of the fifth-place Clippers, but they still have four to play and could climb. The Jazz and Clippers are only separated by half a game in the standings and could be battling for homecourt advantage in their first-round series until the very end of the regular season. If they finish with the same record, the Clippers hold the tiebreaker for having won the season series.
The Blazers and Nuggets both went 2-2 this week, so not much has changed in the standings since our last instalment. The Blazers still very well positioned to get the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, as they sit with a 1.5-game lead on the Nuggets and they hold the tiebreaker if the two finish with the exact same record. The Blazers aren't completely out of the woods yet, but the Nuggets will need some kind of miracle to overtake them at this point.
Dead or Dying
(10) New Orleans Pelicans (33-45, eliminated)
(11) Dallas Mavericks (32-46, eliminated)
(12) Sacramento Kings (31-47, eliminated)
(13) Minnesota Timberwolves (31-47, eliminated)
(14) Los Angeles Lakers (23-55, eliminated)
(15) Phoenix Suns (22-57, eliminated)
The Pelicans, Mavericks, Kings, and Timberwolves were all officially eliminated from playoff contention this week, joining the long-eliminated Lakers and Suns.
The Suns have now lost 13 in a row and their draft lottery odds are climbing as a result. They now hold the second-best odds in the Association of landing the top pick, and they still have a chance to catch Boston (via Brooklyn) if the continue to lose and the Nets manage to win out. Now that is how you tank, my friends.