UPDATE #3: (May 16, 9 p.m.) Dallas lost, Portland won and Los Angeles won, which meant there was a three-way tie at fifth in the West, which prompted Dallas’ tiebreaker as a division winner. So, Dallas is No. 5, Portland No. 6 and Los Angeles is No. 7, meaning the Lakers are headed to the Play-In Tournament.
UPDATE #2: (May 13, 10:20 p.m.) While Dallas and LA had off, Portland couldn’t quite get past Phoenix. The Blazers can still avoid the play-in tournament if they just beat Denver on Sunday, but if they lose it gets a little complicated.
UPDATE #1: (May 12, 9:30 p.m.) Portland beats Utah, Dallas beats New Orleans. Portland still controls their own destiny for the No. 5 seed.
ORIGINAL: (May 11, 1 p.m.) By now, you should have heard about the NBA’s upcoming Play-In Tournament. However, if you haven’t been fully paying attention to how it works, you’ve come to the right place.
This post will be updated periodically (after each Trail Blazers game) before the tournament starts on May 18.
When we posted this article, Tuesday, May 11 at 1 p.m., there were still three games left for Portland and four remaining for Dallas and the Lakers — aka the teams immediately surrounding the Blazers.
Before we get to the Portland, Dallas and Los Angeles angles, let’s talk about what this tournament is exactly.
The NBA has discussed the idea of a tournament for years. Couple that with the success of the play-in game between Portland and Memphis in the bubble last year, and the NBA said let’s do it for real now.
So, the Play-In Tournament (May 18-21) gives teams in the No. 9 and 10 seeds a chance to sneak in the playoffs while simultaneously upsetting the teams that sit at No. 7 and 8.
Now, to clarify, this is not just a Western Conference thing. The Eastern Conference will also have a Play-In Tournament. I’m sure I didn’t need to explain that, but just in case now I’m covered.
Here’s the easiest way I can explain the tournament’s setup:
Let’s use the teams currently in the No. 7-10 seeds in the Western Conference to explain it.
No. 7 – Los Angeles Lakers; No. 8 – Golden State Warriors; No. 9 – Memphis Grizzlies; No. 10 – San Antonio Spurs.
After the NBA regular season ends on Sunday (May 16), the Play-In games will be set for May 18. To explaining this simply, let’s just assume none of the teams change seeds.
So, there will be two games with immediate implications. No. 7 will play No. 8 — the winner earns the No. 7 seed, while the loser is still alive. Let’s say the Warriors (8) beat Los Angeles (7). So, the Warriors would become the West’s No. 7 seed.
Then, No. 9 and No. 10 will play each other. The winner stays alive, the loser’s season is over. So, we’ll say Memphis beats San Antonio, ending the Spurs season.
Next, a game between the winner of 9/10 and the loser of 7/8. The winner of THAT game becomes the No. 8 seed, the loser is out.
So, in our scenario, the Lakers would face Memphis. We’ll say the Lakers win, earn the No. 8 seed and eliminate the Grizzlies.
Confused? Here’s how the NBA is breaking it down in a photo:
If you’re still confused, I’m sorry I can’t help you. Moving on!
We’ll be updating how things stand as the games go by, and we’ll do that at the top of this post. For now though, it’s here.
Portland has three games remaining: Wed. at Utah, Thurs. at Phoenix and Sunday at home vs. Denver. In case you missed it, Wednesday and Thursday’s games will be nationally televised, while the Denver game still doesn’t even have a start time.
Of the three teams we’re focused on (Dallas, LA and Portland), the Trail Blazers have the hardest remaining schedule. Portland faces three of the top four teams out West: Utah (1), Phoenix (2) and Denver (4). Portland’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 142-63 (.692 win percentage).
The Blazers have not defeated any of their remaining opponents so far this season, 0-6. However, to be fair, they were never as healthy as they are now in those six games. Not an excuse, just saying.
Portland sits 0.5 games behind the Mavs for No. 5 and 1.5 games ahead of the Lakers for No. 6.
A key point of information, the Blazers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Dallas and Los Angeles. So, if Portland is tied with either team (or both of them) they’ll have the better seed thanks to the their 2-1 record against both teams.
Dallas has four games remaining (as of May 11): Tues. at Memphis, Wed. home vs. New Orleans, Fri. home vs. Toronto, Sun. at Minnesota.
The Mavs have the easiest remaining schedule of the teams we’re highlighting. Dallas’ only opponent over .500 is Memphis. The combined record for the Mavericks opponents is 114-159 (.417).
Dallas is 5-2 against their remaining foes. Their losses came against New Orleans — when neither Luka Dončić nor Kristaps Porziņģis played — and Toronto, which is just a head scratcher.
Los Angeles also has four games remaining (as of May 11): Tues. home vs. New York, Wed. home vs. Houston, Sat. at Indiana, Sun. at New Orleans.
Of note, the Lakers are without LeBron James again on Tuesday against the Knicks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Los Angeles is in the middle for opponents combined record, but it’s only slightly “worse” than Dallas; LA’s opponents: 117-159 (.427).
The Lakers are 4-2 against the teams in front of them. The losses came when the Lakers didn’t have either Anthony Davis or James against New York and New Orleans. So, it’s hard to know what to expect when James comes back — reportedly on Wednesday against Houston.
Six days and two games in the standings separate these three teams from the end of the regular season. You better buckle up.
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