The NBA playoff picture is like one of those Magic Eye posters – stare at it long enough and eventually the hidden three-dimensional image will become clear.
The San Antonio Spurs victory over Phoenix on Friday clinched them the number one seed with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Houston Rockets will be the fourth seed, Portland fifth and Golden State will round out the middle at the sixth spot.
The rest is up for grabs.
Oklahoma City is the favorite for the second seed, and can secure the spot by beating the Detroit Pistons. Otherwise, they would need the Los Angeles Clippers to lose at Portland. According to Basketball-Reference’s win probabilities, the Thunder have a win expectancy of 84 percent, making them the favorite to secure the second seed in the Western Conference.
There is plenty at stake during tonight’s Dallas/Memphis matchup. The winner will be the seventh seed while the loser will have to square off against top-seeded San Antonio in the first round. Neither club has mustered a win against the Spurs this season. The Grizzlies have won four straight and have a 58 percent chance at extending it to five.
The Eastern Conference will feature the Indiana Pacers (1) squaring off against the Atlanta Hawks (8) in the first round, but the Miami Heat (2) is still waiting for its opponent, which we know cannot be the Raptors.
The Raptors, who are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, can lock up the third seed with a victory at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The Knicks are sputtering, missing the playoffs after three straight appearances. However, don’t count them out as a spoiler – the Knicks have won six of their last eight, including five victories against current playoff teams. The Raptors have a 52 percent chance at a victory and, subsequently, the number three seed.
The Chicago Bulls are tied with Toronto for third in the Eastern Conference, and can steal the third spot from Toronto if the Raptors lose and Chicago beats the Charlotte Bobcats. Chicago is hot – they have won eight of their last nine but have a just a 46 percent win expectancy versus Charlotte.
The Nets have the East’s second-best record (34-16) in 2014, but could fall to the sixth seed if they lose in Cleveland and the Washington Wizards beat the Boston Celtics. The Nets losing to the lottery-bound Cavaliers is not as far-fetched as you might think (51 percent chance according to Basketball-Reference) despite Cleveland dropping 10 of the last 13 contests with the Nets.
That leaves the Wizards, who are seeing their first postseason action since losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. Randy Wittman’s club is one game ahead of the Bobcats for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and one game behind the Nets for the fifth spot. A win by Brooklyn over Cleveland (49 percent) would prevent Washington from acquiring the fifth seed but a win by Washington (55 percent chance) would guarantee a finish no worse than sixth. But if Washington loses and Chicago loses to Charlotte (22 percent chance), the Wizards will fall to seventh place and face the Miami Heat in the first round.