NBA playoff scenarios entering Monday's games
By Tim Reynolds | The Associated Press
(AP) — A look at the NBA playoff picture, with three days remaining in the regular season:
Utah clinched its playoff spot with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and will finish with the No. 3 seed if it wins its final two games.
That means now it’s down to five teams – Oklahoma City, San Antonio, New Orleans, Minnesota and Denver – vying for the final four Western Conference spots.
And the only seeds that are locked up remain at the top, No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Golden State.
The Jazz haven’t played a Game 1 of any series at home since the West semifinals in 2007, and haven’t played Game 1 of the first round at home since 2001. And after losing Gordon Hayward last summer, plus starting this year 19-28, this postseason berth represents nothing but an amazing job by Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
Plenty of clarity in the West race should come on Monday. Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New Orleans can all clinch spots with victories, and Minnesota can also secure its first postseason spot since 2004 with a win and some help.
Philadelphia will open the playoffs at home for the first time since 2003, after clinching no worse than the No. 4 seed with its win over Dallas. The 76ers – now winners of 14 consecutive games – will finish No. 3 in the East if they close with wins over Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Indiana remained in the mix for a top-four seed as well with its win over Charlotte.
To reach No. 4, the Pacers will need to win their finale against Charlotte, and need Cleveland to lose both of its remaining games against New York. Otherwise, Indiana will be the No. 5 seed.
No. 1 seed Toronto beat Orlando in a game where the Raptors departed with some injury concerns – Lucas Nogueira strained a hamstring, and Fred Van Vleet left with what the team said was relatively minor back tightness. But the Raptors remained ahead of Golden State in the race for the NBA’s second-best record (and potentially home-court in the NBA Finals if Houston falls).
– Toronto at Detroit (7 ET, NBA League Pass): The Raptors held DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas out Sunday, and more resting of regulars is likely.
– Oklahoma City at Miami (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass): There will be playoff intensity. Thunder trying to clinch their spot with a win, Heat trying to hold No. 6.
– Cleveland at New York (7:30 ET, NBA TV): Cavaliers finish No. 3 with two wins over New York and a 76ers loss; LeBron James is 19-8 all-time at MSG.
– Orlando at Milwaukee (8 ET, NBA League Pass): Bucks may get to No. 6 in the East with a win and some help. Wednesday in Philly will be big for both teams.
– Memphis at Minnesota (8 ET, NBA League Pass): Timberwolves can clinch a postseason berth with a win, a San Antonio win and a Portland win over Denver.
– Sacramento at San Antonio (8:30 ET, NBA League Pass): Spurs clinch their 21st consecutive playoff spot with a victory, or a Memphis win, or a Portland win.
– Portland at Denver (9 ET, NBA League Pass): Nuggets need at least one win in their final two games to have a chance, and the home finale might loom vital.
– New Orleans at L.A. Clippers (10:30 ET, ESPN): Doc Rivers says the eliminated Clippers will play it straight, knowing Pelicans clinch spot with a win.
– Chicago at Brooklyn (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass): No playoff implications.
First-round matchups if the season ended Sunday:
East: 1-Toronto vs. 8-Washington, 2-Boston vs. 7-Milwaukee, 3-Philadelphia vs. 6-Miami, 4-Cleveland vs. 5-Indiana.
West: 1-Houston vs. 8-Minnesota, 2-Golden State vs. 7-Oklahoma City, 3-Portland vs. 6-San Antonio, 4-Utah vs. 5-New Orleans.