What's still at stake on the final day of the 2017-18 NBA season

Yahoo Sports
As Nikola Jokic (left) and Karl-Anthony Towns go, so go the postseason hopes of the Nuggets and Wolves. (Getty)
As Nikola Jokic (left) and Karl-Anthony Towns go, so go the postseason hopes of the Nuggets and Wolves. (Getty)

Wednesday marks the final day of the 2017-18 NBA regular season … and 177 days after the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers got us started, there’s still some business left to be sorted out before we can move into the playoffs. Like, for example, 13 of the 16 playoff seeds, and all eight postseason matchups.

We’ve got 12 games on tap for the year’s final wild Wednesday. Eight of them will have a bearing on seeding, including one winner-take-all matchup — the 8 p.m. ET tilt between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets that will lock in the final contestant in the 2018 postseason field.

[NBA Playoffs Bracket Challenge: $1M for the perfect bracket]

Here’s where the still-alive teams in each conference stand, and what’s at stake in the games of consequence, as we head into the last day of the season:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(capital letters = seed clinched)

1. TORONTO RAPTORS (59-22)
2. BOSTON CELTICS (54-27)
3. Philadelphia 76ers (51-30)
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-31)
5. INDIANA PACERS (48-34)
6. Milwaukee Bucks (44-37)
7. Miami Heat (43-38)
8. Washington Wizards (43-38)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. HOUSTON ROCKETS (65-16)
2. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (58-24)
3. Utah Jazz (48-33)
4. Portland Trail Blazers (48-33)
5. New Orleans Pelicans (47-34)
6. San Antonio Spurs (47-34)
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-34)
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (46-35)
9. Denver Nuggets (46-35)

As you probably noticed given how many teams have similar records, there are still kind of a lot of outcomes on the board, especially in the West:


With that in mind, here’s what’s on the line in each of Wednesday’s games:

Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET), Detroit Pistons at Chicago Bulls (8 p.m. ET), Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET) and Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings (10:30 p.m. ET): Nothing, save for hoped-for health for the teams who’ll still be playing come Saturday and some slightly juiced Tankathon odds for those who won’t. (And who’ll likely still have their first-round picks after the lottery. Sorry, Nets, Pistons and Lakers.)

New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET): If Cleveland wins and the 76ers lose their season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavs will take the East’s No. 3 spot. If Cleveland loses, or if Philly wins, the Sixers lock in the third seed, while the Cavs finish fourth. Whichever team lands at No. 4 will face the Pacers in Round 1.

Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat (8 p.m. ET): If the Heat win, they can’t finish any lower than seventh. If they lose, they can’t finish any higher than seventh. If they beat the Raptors and the Sixers beat the Bucks, they move up to No. 6; if they lose and the Wizards beat the Magic, they fall to No. 8, meaning a date with these same Raptors in Round 1.

Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET): If the Wizards beat Orlando, the Sixers beat the Bucks and the Raptors beat the Heat, John Wall and company finish sixth and will open the postseason in Philly (since the 76ers win would lock up the third seed).

A Washington win combined with either Toronto beating Miami and Milwaukee beating Philadelphia or Miami beating Toronto and Philadelphia beating Milwaukee gives the Wizards the seventh seed, and a date with the wounded Boston Celtics, whom they drilled on Tuesday.

If the Wiz lose, or if both Milwaukee and Miami win, they’re eighth, and headed to Toronto.

For what it’s worth, it would be in the Magic’s best interests to lose this game. A win puts them at 25-57, the NBA’s fifth-worst record, which would net them 8.8 percent odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick in June’s 2018 NBA draft lottery. A loss, however, would put them at 24-58, moving Orlando into a three-way tie with the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks for the league’s third-worst record and resulting in a boosted chance of landing a top-three pick. (The Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies have already secured the worst and second-worst record in the NBA, respectively. Shouts to them.)

Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers (8 p.m. ET): If the Bucks beat the Sixers, they grab the No. 6 spot. They can get it if they lose, too, so long as both the Wizards and Heat also go down on Wednesday. If they lose in Philly, and either Washington or Miami lose, the Bucks finish seventh, and play the Celtics. If they lose and both the Wizards and Heat win, the Bucks slide down to eighth, and head back to Canada for a rematch of last year’s first-round series.

Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves (8 p.m. ET): In general, this is the evening’s easiest game to track: the winner makes the playoffs, and the loser doesn’t. The nitty-gritty’s a bit more complex, naturally.

If Denver wins, it can either finish sixth or seventh, because one of San Antonio or New Orleans will also finish with 35 losses. The Nuggets hold tiebreakers over both of them (a 2-1 head-to-head edge over the Pels, a better collective record than the Spurs against the rest of the West’s playoff teams), so the loser of that game would drop to eighth … unless the Thunder somehow lose to the Grizzlies, which would drop them to 35 losses. Denver also holds a 3-1 head-to-head tiebreaker over them, meaning OKC would fall to eight, the Spurs/Pelicans loser would land seventh, and the Nuggets would move all the way up to sixth.

The Nuggets, then, would be guaranteed to face either Golden State, locked into No. 2, or one of Portland or Utah, who’ll play for No. 3 on Wednesday.

If Minnesota wins, they can finish either sixth, seventh or eighth. Our friends at the Minneapolis Star Tribune break down the Wolves’ path.

San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans (8 p.m. ET): Depending on the outcomes of three other games — two tipping off at the same time as theirs, and Jazz-Blazers later in the evening — the Spurs could wind up finishing anywhere between No. 4, which would mean home-court advantage in Round 1, and eighth place, which would mean starting the playoffs in Houston, and the Pelicans can range from No. 5 to No. 8.

This is exceedingly complicated, and you’re not going to believe this, but spreadsheets — color-coded or no — do not make it appreciably easier:



Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder (8 p.m. ET): Beating the tanking Grizz will ensure that the Thunder finish no lower than sixth. Losing puts them in danger of finishing eighth. Winning, and getting some help, could land them all the way up at fourth.

Oh, and Russell Westbrook needs to pull down 16 rebounds to average a triple-double for the second straight season. Look out below, opponents and teammates alike!

Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers (10:30 p.m. ET): The winner will take the No. 3 spot in the West. The lowest the loser can drop is fifth.

Whew. If your head hurts, you’re not alone. By night’s end, though, it’ll all make sense … and we’ll know who’s playing who, where, and when come Saturday and Sunday, when 16 teams begin the journey they’ve been waiting six months to start.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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