Three things to know: Heat, Hawks, Knicks all win, keeping East tight
The NBA regular season is down to its final three days, and with that this is our final Three Things to Know of the season — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Heat, Hawks, Knicks all win, keeping East tight
The battle for 4/5/6 in the East looks will not be decided until Sunday, the final day of the regular season.
Atlanta, Miami, and New York all remain in a virtual tie for the 4/5/6 seeds in the East after all three won on Thursday. All three teams are tied in the loss column at 31.
Atlanta remains the No. 4 seed on Friday morning, half a game ahead of the other two, because it has played one more game (and with that has one more win). The Hawks had little trouble knocking off the reeling Magic on Thursday night, 116-93, and that puts them in the driver’s seat for the No. 4 seed as long as they can beat the tanking Houston Rockets on Sunday. Atlanta will win the Southeast Division, and if there is a three-way tie between the Hawks/Heat/Knicks then being the division winner becomes the first tiebreaker and Atlanta gets the four seed.
Yes, the NBA still has divisions and winning them can still matter. Why the league has them and why they matter for anything ever is the better question. The NBA does love trying to pretend it’s the MLB sometimes and cling to tradition for the sake of tradition.
The Heat put on the Miami Vice uniforms one last time — they are reportedly retiring that look — and got a big win over Philadelphia, 105-94, in a game that wasn’t that close. Miami has been red hot of late with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo looking more like the bubble versions of themselves, and the Heat sent a message to the Sixers in what could be a second-round playoff preview. Miami has the tiebreaker over the Knicks, so they remain the No. 5 seed for now. However, Miami closes with a road back-to-back of Milwaukee and Detroit and may need to win both to keep a top-five spot.
Philadelphia still appears to be a lock for the No. 1 seed despite the loss. The 76ers have a one-game lead over the Nets for the top spot, but because Philly also has the tiebreaker, it’s essentially a two-game lead with two to play. Philadelphia’s magic number for the top seed is one, and it closes the season with two games against reeling Orlando.
New York held on to beat a feisty Spurs team 102-98 Thursday, but if the Knicks are going to climb out of the No. 6 spot — and a likely meeting with Milwaukee in the first round — they are going to need some help. First, the Knicks would need to close out the season with wins in a back-to-back against the Hornets and Celtics — not easy, Charlotte still has something to play for, while Boston does not (keep reading to item three on this list). Then, Boston needs to hope Miami stumbles in one of its final games. New York does have the tiebreaker over Atlanta in a two-way tie between the teams, so if the Knicks win out and the Heat stumble, the Knicks can jump up to the four seed. However, New York does not control its own destiny.
From the other half of that Knicks win: Because Sacramento lost on Thursday, San Antonio is officially locked in as the No. 10 seed in the West and will be on the road to start the play-in tournament next week.
The middle of the East is going to come down to games on Sunday.
2) Devin Booker free throws keep Lakers’ dreams alive
Norman Powell got caught reaching with the game on the line Thursday, and Devin Booker’s subsequent free throws got Phoenix a win over Portland that changed the course of the West playoffs.
The Trail Blazers’ magic number to keep a top-six seed and avoid the play-in games is one, but the loss to the Suns keeps the Lakers’ dreams of climbing out of the play-in alive. Portland controls its own fate: Beat Denver on Sunday and it goes straight to the playoffs, no stopping at “go” in the play-in. However, if the Nuggets top the Blazers and the Lakers can win out against a soft schedule — Pacers and Pelicans, with LeBron James expected to return — then the Lakers get the No. 6 seed. Portland still has work to do.
With the win, Phoenix stays just one game back of Utah for the best record in the NBA — and the Suns have the tiebreaker. Still, the Suns need help.
The Suns close the season with a back-to-back against the Spurs, while the Jazz face Oklahoma City and Sacramento. If Utah wins out, it gets the No. 1 seed. If Utah stumbles and Phoenix wins out, then the Suns jump to No. 1 — which matters a lot if the Lakers end up the seven seed (as is the most likely outcome). In what is the most likely playoff scenario in the West, Utah as the top seed would have both Los Angeles teams on the other side of the bracket.
3) The play-in tournament is officially coming to Boston
They are not going to hang a banner for this in the Garden, but a little bit of history is coming to Boston.
Because Charlotte and Indiana both lost on Thursday, Boston is locked in as the No. 7 seed in the East. The Celtics will host the first play-in game in the East (outside the bubble) next Tuesday against either the Pacers or Hornets — those teams are tied heading into the final days of the season, but Charlotte has the tiebreaker. Washington is looming one game back as the No. 10 seed, but it would need a lot of help to climb out of that spot.
This is not exactly the season Boston was dreaming of, and it will head into that game without Jaylen Brown, who had wrist surgery on Thursday.