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Playoff picture starts to come into focus (Heat may not like it)

Apr 7, 2011, 2:03 AM EDT

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat Getty Images

Not everything is clear to me. Like how Rebecca Black has a career, for one. Or how Criminal Minds has been on television for so long.

But the NBA playoff picture? That started to come into focus Wednesday and the Spurs like what they see. Miami, not so much.

So here is a quick run down, by conference.

Eastern Conference

Chicago remains on top at 57-20, with a magic number of 3 heading into a big Thursday night game against Boston. Bulls win that and the Magic number becomes just 1, lose and they can still clinch the top seed by winning three of their last four (at Cleveland, at Orlando, at New York and New Jersey). So basically, nobody is catching them. Sorry Celtics.

The good news is Boston has a more firm hold on the two seed after the Heat were upset by Milwaukee Wednesday. The Heat loss drops them to the three seed at 54-24, just half a game back of the Celtics — but Boston owns the tiebreaker (regardless of what happens when the two play Sunday). So for practical purposes, the Heat are 1.5 games out of the two seed because they have to pass Boston. Miami needs a Bulls win Thursday, then Miami has to beat Boston Sunday, or they will finish the season the three seed.

Which may mean a date with the Knicks. New York beat Philadelphia Wednesday, moving them back into the six seed spot, half a game up on the Sixers. Which seemed impossible two weeks ago, but they have found an offensive grove and have won five straight. If the Knicks beat the Nets Friday they also clinch the tiebreaker (conference record) over the Sixers. (New York and Philly split their season series.)

Also, Indiana is now officially in the playoffs as the eight seed after a thumping of Washington Wednesday, Charlotte and Milwaukee cannot make up the ground. So start printing those Pacers/Bulls first round playoff tickets. For all four games in that series.

Western Conference

The Spurs win over the Kings combined with the Lakers second loss in a row — this time to the Warriors — means the Spurs are officially the top seed. Nobody can catch them. So look for the Spurs key players to get a lot of rest.

The Lakers loss also was a chance for the Mavericks to make up some ground on Los Angeles as the two seed, but the Mavs have lost four in a row after another one Wednesday. L.A. and Dallas — two fan bases starting to worry about which version of their team they will see in the playoffs. Dallas fans should worry a little (and Lakers, too) — the Thunder are now just one game back of the Mavericks for the three seed. Dallas has the tiebreaker, so it’s really two games, but if Dallas keeps losing the Thunder could pass them (the Lakers would rather face Dallas than Oklahoma City in the second round).

New Orleans, Portland and Memphis remained tightly bunched but unmoved out of the six, seven and eight spots out West — but now Houston has no real shot of catching them. The Rockets had to beat the Hornets Wednesday, were up 17 early and gave it all back and then some. Mathematically the Rockets are alive, but they are 3.5 games back of Memphis, so the Grizzlies can stop worrying who is behind them and focus on the teams ahead of them.

  1. florida727 - Apr 7, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    Kurt, what about the overall 1 seed for home court in the finals? If the playoffs go as chalk, and the Spurs and Bulls meet in the final, who has home court? I think the Spurs have one less loss, but if they end up tied in that column, don’t the Bulls own the tie-breaker? They split their two games during the season (each winning at home), there’s a chance they’d have identical conference records, but the Bulls are something like 14-1 in their division, which the Spurs can’t match.

    Reason I ask… that stupid 2-3-2 Finals format so lopsidedly favors the home court advantage team statistically, it’s actually a somewhat important factor. Thanks, Kurt.

    • thestudiokida - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      Agree about the 2-3-2 format. It’s very very rare than the lower-seeded team wins THREE in a row in the NBA Finals that it makes it tough for them to win the series. It has only happened twice that the home team has won all three of those games and they were both recent (Miami, Detroit) but it’s still an unbalanced and difficult way to organize the finals.

  2. herkulease - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Assuming they end up with the same records. the same rules used to apply playoff seeding for tied teams is used to decide who has home court advantage.

    the division record doesn’t count as they are not in the same division.

    they will likely be a difference in their winning percentage against playoff teams in own conference, if somehow that is tied its winning percentage against the other conference playoff teams.

  3. hnirobert3 - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    If I’m not mistaken, they’ll use their individual conference records, who has the better one, to determine home court advantage. That, or records vs. other playoff teams. I’m sure there’s 12 tiebreakers in the event there’s a tie between the two #1 seeds.

  4. oumoonunit - Apr 7, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    Don’t the Thunder have the tiebreaker with the Mavs since they won their division? I think that goes first.

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