NBA playoff picture, standings, projections, magic numbers, tiebreakers: Suns first to clinch top-six seed

The Phoenix Suns took down the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, and with their victory became the first team to clinch a playoff spot (top-six seed) this season. Reminder, the Nos. 7-10 seeds in each conference have to play their way into the postseason field. 

The play-in format is as follows: No. 7 vs. No. 8, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed and the loser playing the winner of the 9-10 matchup for the No. 8 seed. 

We’re going to be keeping close tabs on the playoff race the rest of the way. With daily updates, we’ll track current matchups, magic numbers, projected seeds, remaining schedules and tiebreaker scenarios. 

Below is where things stand entering play on Thursday, March 10. 

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times and is constantly updating to reflect changing circumstances to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix locked up a top-six seed with its win over the Heat on Wednesday. With a nine-loss lead over both No. 2 Memphis and No. 3 Golden State, the No. 1 seed in the West is a virtual lock, as is the No. 1 overall seed with a 10-loss lead over the Heat, who lead the East. 

  • Projected seed: 1
  • Magic number to clinch No. 1 seed: 8
  • Current first-round matchup: TBD (play-in results)
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 GrizzliesSeason series 1-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Golden State leads season series 2-1 with one to play

FIGHT FOR NO. 2 SEED

2. Memphis Grizzlies 

Memphis is tied in the loss column with No. 3 Golden State, but holds the No. 2 seed by virtue of having one more win to date. If it comes down to a tiebreaker, the Grizzlies currently lead the head-to-head season series 2-1 with one matchup remaining on March 28. But this race is far from over. 

Memphis holds a two-loss lead over the No. 4 Jazz and a four-loss lead over the No. 5 Mavericks. Memphis’ lead over No. 6 Denver is effectively five games as Memphis has already clinched the tiebreaker. The Grizzlies have clinched at least a play-in spot and can’t end up any lower than the No. 8 seed. 

  • Projected seed: 2
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 9
  • Current first-round matchup: Wolves vs. Clippers play-in winner
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Grizzlies lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Memphis has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

3. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are tied in the loss column with No. 2 Memphis with one head-to-head matchup remaining. Golden State leads No. 4 Utah by two games in the loss column. The Warriors have clinched a spot in at least the play-in and can finish no worse than the No. 9 seed. 

  • Projected seed: 3
  • Magic number to clinch playoff spot: 10
  • Current first-round matchup: Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Warriors trail season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Warriors lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

CURRENT PLAYOFF TEAMS

4. Utah Jazz

Utah has won eight of its last 11 and trails No. 2 Memphis by just two games in the loss column. On the flip side, the Jazz hold just a two-game lead over No. 5 Dallas and No. 6 Denver with one head-to-head matchup remaining against each. 

  • Projected seed: 4
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Current first-round matchup: Mavericks
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Memphis has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Jazz trail season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Jazz lead season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Utah has clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

5. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks lost by 30 to the Knicks on Wednesday to fall into a tie in the loss column with the No. 6 Nuggets. Lucky for the Mavs, they’ve already sealed the tiebreaker vs. Denver. Still, our SportsLine projections have Dallas ultimately falling behind Denver and ending up in the No. 6 seed. 

  • Projected seed: 6
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 1
  • Current first-round matchup: Jazz
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 2 Grizzlies: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 3 Warriors: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Dallas trails season series 2-1 with one to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Dallas has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage

6. Denver Nuggets

Denver is tied with the Mavericks in the loss column for the No. 5 seed, and our SportsLine projections see them ultimately jumping Dallas. The Nuggets feel pretty safe at the moment to stay above a play-in series with a three-game lead over the No. 7 Timberwolves, although Minnesota does currently control the tiebreaker with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage with one game to play on April 1. Denver still has a shot at a top-four seed. It trails Utah by two games in the loss column, but the Jazz own the tiebreaker. 

  • Projected seed: 5
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 2
  • Current first-round matchup: Warriors
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Jazz: Utah has clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 5 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 2-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Timberwolves: Denver trails season series 2-1 with one game to play

CURRENT PLAY-IN TEAMS

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves blistered OKC on Wednesday and still have an outside shot to catch No. 6 Denver, which they trail by three in the loss column with one head-to-head matchup remaining. But in all likelihood they’ll have to play their way into the field. The good news is they look pretty safe to end up as the No. 7 seed with a four-loss lead over the No. 8 Clippers, which means they’ll get two cracks at a play-in victory to secure a playoff spot. 

  • Projected seed: 7
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 4
  • Current play-in matchup: Clippers
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 6 Nuggets: Timberwolves lead season series 2-1 with one game to play
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Clippers: L.A. has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

8. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are pretty firm in the No. 8 spot, trailing the No. 7 Wolves by four in the loss column and leading the No. 9 Lakers by four (that lead over the Lakers is effectively five with the Clippers having clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker). 

  • Projected seed: 8
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 7
  • Current play-in matchup: Timberwolves
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 7 Timberwolves: Clippers have clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Lakers: Clippers have clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage

9. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers took an embarrassing overtime defeat at the hands of the Rockets on Wednesday. Fortunately for them, the Pelicans also lost so the Lakers still hold a two-game lead for the No. 9 seed. The Lakers are pretty safe to at least make the play-in. They have a three-loss lead over the No. 11 Blazers, who are actively tanking, and a four-loss lead over the No. 12 Spurs

  • Projected seed: 9
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 13
  • Current play-in matchup: Pelicans
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 8 Clippers: Clippers have clinched with 4-0 head-to-head advantage
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 10 Pelicans: Lakers trail season series 1-0 with two matchups remaining

10. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans trail the No. 9 Lakers by two in the loss column and lead the No. 12 Spurs by two. New Orleans still has two games left against the Spurs. Again, the Blazers are at No. 11, but the assumption is they’re in tank mode and will fall out of the race. 

  • Projected seed: 10
  • Magic number to clinch play-in spot: 14
  • Current play-in matchup: Lakers
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 9 Lakers: Pelicans lead season series 1-0 with two matchups remaining
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 12 Spurs: Pelicans trail season series 2-0 with two matchups remaining

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

  • No. 11 Portland Trail Blazers: One loss back of No. 10 New Orleans, but assumed to be tanking
  • No. 12 San Antonio Spurs: Control own destiny to catch No. 10 New Orleans, which it trails by two with two games remaining. Win those two, and San Antonio would also win the tiebreaker with a 4-0 head-to-head advantage. 

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