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NBA playoff seedings primer: What is at stake in every game Sunday

Corey Robinson asks PBT's Kurt Helin about his picks for the All-NBA First Team, which leads Helin to explain why the guard discussion is so difficult this year.

With one day left in the NBA season — one game left for every team — we know just three things for sure: Philadelphia is the No. 1 seed in the East, Boston is the No. 7 seed in that same conference, and San Antonio is the No 10 seed in the West.

That’s it. That’s the only NBA playoff seedings that are settled. We know the 10 teams in each conference that will make the play-in or playoffs, but who will face whom in the first round is still very much up in the air.

Here is what is at stake when it comes to NBA playoff seedings Sunday (we did not list every game, for example, the Philadelphia vs. Orlando game outcome doesn’t matter).


Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

The Knicks control their own destiny: Win and they secure the four seed in the East and will get to host a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks and Hawks are tied at 41-30, but the Knicks have the tiebreaker. Miami is one game behind both of them. If the Knicks lose, they could fall to fifth if Atlanta wins and all the way to sixth if Miami also wins (the Heat and Knicks would be tied in this scenario, but Miami has the tiebreaker). The game is meaningless to the Celtics, who are locked in as the seven seed.

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors, 1 p.m.

If Indiana wins it will be the ninth seed in the East and will host the loser of the Washington/Charlotte game in a win-or-go-home play-in game on Tuesday. If the Pacers lose they will be the 10 seed (because both the Wizards and Hornets have tiebreakers over them) and will have to travel to that play-in game. Toronto has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards, 1 p.m.

One of the biggest games of the day: The winner clinches the eighth seed in the East and will travel to Boston for a play-in game on Tuesday. The Charlotte/Washington winner only has to win one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs. The loser likely falls to the 10 seed (behind the Pacers, if they win as expected) and will need to win two play-in games on the road to advance to the postseason.

Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m.

Whether Atlanta has anything to play for will depend upon how the Knicks do earlier in the day: If New York loses to Boston, then the Hawks can climb up to the four seed and host a first-round playoff series with a win. If the Knicks win (and lock up the four seed), then the Hawks are locked in as the five seed and the game is meaningless. Because the Knicks play hours earlier, the Hawks will know if they need to win before taking the court. Houston has long been eliminated from the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets, 7 p.m.

The Nets sit as the two seed, one game ahead of Milwaukee, but the Bucks have the tiebreaker. That means the Nets have to win to secure the two seed, and with it home court in the second round of the playoffs (where they likely meet Milwaukee). Cleveland has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons, 8 p.m.

After their loss to the Bucks on Saturday, the Heat are the sixth seed in the East (and likely destined to play those Bucks again in the first round of the playoffs). Miami will know before it takes the floor if it has anything to play for on Sunday: If New York loses earlier in the day, then a Miami win would see them climb a spot to the fifth seed and send New York down to sixth (Atlanta also would have to beat the tanking Rockets for that scenario to work out). Detroit has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls 8 p.m.

Milwaukee sits third in the Eastern conference, but just a game back of Brooklyn and the Bucks own the tiebreaker. If the Bucks win and the Nets fall to Cleveland, Milwaukee would get the two seed and host a potential second-round playoff series against Brooklyn. Chicago was previously eliminated from playoff contention.


Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs, 2 p.m.

The Suns still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the West and NBA, but they need to win this game and hope the Jazz stumble against the shorthanded Kings later in the day. Not likely, the Suns probably end up the two seed, but it gives them something to play for. San Antonio is locked in as the 10 seed in the West and will be on the road for the first play-in game Wednesday.

Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Maybe the most important and straightforward game of the day: The teams go in tied at 38-33, the winner gets the eighth seed and the loser falls to ninth. The winner will have to win just one-of-two play-in games to advance to the playoffs and will travel to face the No. 7 seed (Lakers or Blazers) on Wednesday to start the play-in games. The loser will host the Spurs on Wednesday in the 9/10 play-in game and, if they win, have to win on the road against the loser of the 7/8 game to advance to the playoffs. Lose and it is a much tougher road.

Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans, 9 p.m. (NBATV)

The Lakers come into Sunday tied with the Trail Blazers for the 6/7 seeds at 41-31, but Portland has the tiebreaker. For the Lakers to get the No. 6 spot, they need to win this game, then hope Portland loses to Denver. For the Lakers, getting the No. 6 seed means avoiding the play-in tournament and getting five or six days off. A Los Angeles loss or a Portland win means the Lakers will host a play-in game on Wednesday.

Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers, 9 p.m.

One of the few games of the day where both teams have something on the line. For Portland, win and it is the sixth seed in the West and avoids the play-in game (the Blazers are tied with the Lakers but own the tiebreaker). If the Blazers lose and the Lakers win, the Lakers get the No. 6 seed and Portland will host a play-in game on Wednesday.

For Denver, win and it is the three seed in the West… except it may prefer the four seed and to be on the other side of the bracket from the Lakers (whether they finish 6 or 7). The Nuggets and Clippers are tied at 47-24 (the Nuggets have the tiebreaker), so a Nuggets loss and a Clippers win and the Nuggets fall to the four seed. Either way, Denver hosts a first-round playoff series.

Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9 p.m.

Los Angeles sat Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in a loss to Toronto Friday that dropped them to the No. 4 seed — and that may be where the Clippers want to be. The fourth seed has the Clippers on the other side of the bracket from the Lakers and sets up a potential second-round showdown with the Jazz, a team the Clippers think they match up well against. If the Clippers lose, they are the No. 4 seed. If the Clippers beat the Thunder and the Nuggets lose, the Clippers climb to the No. 3 seed. Either way, the Clippers host a first-round playoff series. The Thunder have long been eliminated from the playoffs.

Utah Jazz at Sacramento Kings, 9 p.m.

Utah’s magic number to lock up the top seed in the West is one — either a Jazz win or a Suns loss does it (Utah is one game ahead of second-seeded Phoenix, but the Suns have the tiebreaker). Phoenix plays earlier in the day, Utah will know the outcome of that game before taking the court and if it needs to win this one to keep the top seed, or if this game is meaningless.