NBA Playoff Race Update: Are the Blazers a Sure Thing?

Portland has had an unexpected season. Are they a lock to make the playoffs according to our algorithms?

Every Friday from now until the end of the season, we'll be 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:

Sure Things
These are teams with a playoff probability of 99% or more. These teams would have to have the meltdown of the century to miss out on the playoffs.

Bubble Teams
These are the teams that have a good 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.

Eastern Conference

Sure Things

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (48-19, 100.0%)
(2) Toronto Raptors (46-21, 100.0%)
(3) Atlanta Hawks (40-29, 99.3%)
(4) Boston Celtics (39-29, 99.7%)
(5) Miami Heat (39-29, 99.8%)
(6) Charlotte Hornets (39-29, 99.5%)

There are essentially two sub-tiers among these teams. Cleveland and Toronto are separated by only two games in the standings and will presumably battle it out for the 1 seed over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Atlanta is a full seven games behind Toronto, but only half a game separates them from Boston, Miami, and Charlotte, who are all in a three-way tie. Those four teams should flip around approximately a billion times between now and the end of the season.

Bubble Teams

(7) Indiana Pacers (36-32, 96.4%)
(8) Chicago Bulls (34-33, 33.5%)
(9) Detroit Pistons (34-34, 56.2%)
(10) Washington Wizards (33-35, 15.4%)

7-seeded Indiana and 9-seeded Detroit are only separated by two games in the standings, but our algorithms have a lot of confidence in the Pacers to hold onto one of the final two playoff spots. Meanwhile, it's likely to come down to Chicago or Detroit for that final spot, with Washington presenting a bit of a longshot, despite only sitting 1.5 games behind the 8 seed.

Dead or Dying

(11) Milwaukee Bucks (30-39, 0.0%)
(12) Orlando Magic (29-38, 0.2%)
(13) New York Knicks (28-41, 0.0%)
(14) Brooklyn Nets (19-49, eliminated)
(15) Philadelphia 76ers (9-59, eliminated)

Milwaukee and Orlando are five games behind the 8 seed, the Knicks are seven games behind, and both the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelpia 76ers have officially been eliminated from the race altogether. Orlando is the only team in this group that even holds the remotest chance of making the postseason, but that miniscule 0.2% shouldn't last much longer.

Western Conference

Sure Things

(1) Golden State Warriors (61-6, clinched)
(2) San Antonio Spurs (58-10, clinched)
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder (46-22, 100.0%)
(4) Los Angeles Clippers (43-24, 100.0%)
(5) Memphis Grizzlies (39-30, 99.6%)

Golden State and San Antonio clinched playoff spots what feels like months ago, while Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn't be far behind. Those four teams pretty much represent their own tier as the West's elite, and Memphis sticks out like a sore thumb alongside them in this group. The Grizzlies built too good of a record before injury armageddon struck to drop out of the playoffs entirely at this point (they have a pretty wide 5.5-game lead on the 9 seed), but they are currently fielding a team half-filled with 10-day contracts, so that 99.6% chance of making it doesn't even feel that safe.

Bubble Teams

(6) Portland Trail Blazers (35-34, 92.4%)
(7) Houston Rockets (34-34, 86.8%)
(8) Dallas Mavericks (34-34, 70.1%)
(9) Utah Jazz (33-35, 50.8%)

These four teams are only separated by 1.5 games in the standings, and a lot of shuffling around could happen between them from now to the end of the season. Portland seems to be on the brink of jumping up into the "sure things" tier at 92.4%, but they could easily be the 9 seed by the time we reconvene next week. This race for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference will likely be the most compelling one to watch down the stretch of the season.

Dead or Dying

(10) Denver Nuggets (28-41, 0.1%)
(11) Sacramento Kings (26-41, 0.1%)
(12) New Orleans Pelicans (25-42, 0.0%)
(13) Minnesota Timberwolves (22-46, 0.0%)
(14) Phoenix Suns (18-50, eliminated)
(15) Los Angeles Lakers (14-54, eliminated)

Denver is currently 6.5 games behind the 8-seeded Mavericks, while Sacramento trails by 7.5. Both teams should see that narrow 0.1% chance of making the postseason vanish in the next week or so. The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers have already each been eliminated from the playoffs and Minnesota's clock is ticking.