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What We Learned: Monday's impact on playoff picture

NBA.com Staff

Had some games gone differently on Monday, we’d know more about the NBA playoffs that are scheduled to start this weekend.

Instead, we’re left with just as many questions as we started with when the night’s nine-game slate began. Only two seeds in the East (Toronto third, Washington fourth) are locked up heading into the final 48 hours of the regular season.

With that in mind, here’s where we stand:

Miami’s dramatic overtime victory over Cleveland was the big reason why the playoff picture remains muddled. The Heat are still on the outside looking in, but they are not out. They could be depending on the final night of the season. They could also finish as high as seventh if the Bulls and Pacers lose their respective finales. In short, Miami needs to win its last game (against an already-locked-in Wizards team) and have either Indiana or Chicago lose.

As for the Cavaliers, they now trail Boston by one game for the top seed in the East. They would need to win their final game and have Boston lose its own (against Milwaukee) to recapture top billing — and its accompanying homecourt advantage — on that side of the bracket. There is a catch: LeBron James is reportedly sitting out Cleveland’s finale against Toronto.

The Pacers took care of business against the lottery-bound Sixers and strengthened their own playoff chances in the process. They could still find themselves out of the top eight, but it’s a long shot. They would have to lose their finale AND see Chicago and Miami win to miss the postseason. Their most optimistic outlook? Finishing sixth if the Bucks beat Boston, and the Hawks lose to both Charlotte and Indiana this week.

The Bulls were similarly business-like on Monday, beating Orlando by a whopping 47 points. They already have 41 losses, however, which opens up a couple roads out of the playoffs entirely. Here’s the gist: if they win, they’re in. If they win AND Indiana loses, Chicago climbs to seventh.

Milwaukee’s 89-79 win over the Hornets has the Bucks sniffing the fifth seed, but only if A) they win their finale at Boston and B) Atlanta loses BOTH of their last two games. If anything else happens, Milwaukee will be locked into sixth.

The Clippers and Jazz remain in a deadlock for the fourth seed (and home court in the first round) with identical 50-31 records and one game remaining. Los Angeles, however, holds the tiebreaker. Utah needs to win its last contest (against the Spurs) and hope L.A. drops its final meeting with Sacramento.

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