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Spurs, Pelicans, Thunder all in; 1 spot left in West race

April 11, 2018

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone reacts to a call during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, April 9, 2018, in Denver. Denver beat Portland 88-82. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

A look at the NBA playoff picture, with two days remaining in the regular season and now only one berth left to be decided:

THE SCENARIOS

The NBA says there are 56 possible seeding scenarios still in play going into the final two days of the regular season.

All but one of the 16 playoff spots has been clinched, with the Minnesota-Denver game on Wednesday deciding the final berth in the postseason. But going into Tuesday, the next-to-last day of the regular season, only five of the 16 seeds have been wrapped up.

If Portland beats Utah, the Blazers finish No. 3 in the Western Conference. The Jazz could also reach No. 3, but could fall as far as No. 7 depending on the outcome of other games. And here’s how confusing some of the tiebreakers are: Even the NBA needed to correct itself after originally saying the Portland-Utah winner would finish No. 3, no matter what.

San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans could all be anywhere from fourth through eighth in the West. Minnesota would finish anywhere from fifth through eighth if it tops Denver, and the Nuggets — if they beat the Timberwolves — will be fifth, sixth or seventh.

Houston is No. 1 in the West, followed by Golden State at No. 2. The clinched East seeds are No. 1 Toronto, No. 2 Boston and No. 5 Indiana.

Philadelphia and Cleveland will be No. 3 and No. 4 in the East, in some order. Going into Tuesday, Milwaukee, Miami and Washington all could finish either sixth, seventh or eighth in the East.

WEST UPDATE

The playoffs start Wednesday.

Officially, that’s not true. But the Denver at Minnesota game on Wednesday night may as well be considered a play-in game: Winner moves on, loser goes home.

Monday started with four spots available out West, and ended with only one still unclaimed. New Orleans, San Antonio and Oklahoma City all won to clinch their playoff berths — the Spurs doing so for the 21st consecutive year, tying Portland for the second-longest run in NBA history and moving one shy of tying Philadelphia’s league record (which started when the 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals).

The funny part about Monday’s triple-clinchings is that nothing changed in the standings. The order of the top eight remains the same, going into the next-to-last day of the regular season.

It won’t stay that way. Get ready for craziness. Oklahoma City can remain No. 7 in the West, but only if it loses to Memphis (and a lot of other things happen).

All we really know is this: Wednesday night will be great fun.

EAST UPDATE

Cleveland won the Central Division and locked Indiana into the No. 5 seed with a win at New York.

Milwaukee is now up to No. 6 in the East, flip-flopping spots with now-No. 7 Miami. The Bucks beat Orlando, while the Heat could get nothing going and got routed in the fourth quarter on the way to losing to the Thunder.

The Bucks wrap up No. 6 with a win at Philadelphia on Wednesday night. But the 76ers will go into the final day with a chance at the No. 3 spot, regardless of whether they win in Atlanta on Tuesday.

TUESDAY’S GAMES

— Charlotte at Indiana: No playoff impact, Pacers will be the No. 5 seed.

— Philadelphia at Atlanta: Philadelphia can be No. 3 seed by winning last two, and stretching its winning streak to 16.

— Boston at Washington: A potential first-round matchup if Wizards finish seventh. Washington can also be No. 6 or No. 8.

— Golden State at Utah: Jazz still could get to the No. 3 seed. Warriors could be first NBA team with 30 road wins in three straight seasons.

— Phoenix at Dallas: No playoff impact, Suns have clinched NBA’s worst record.

— Houston at L.A. Lakers: No playoff impact, Lakers aiming for winning home record.

CURRENT BRACKET

First-round matchups if the season ended Monday ...

East: 1-Toronto vs. 8-Washington, 2-Boston vs. 7-Miami, 3-Philadelphia vs. 6-Milwaukee, 4-Cleveland vs. 5-Indiana.

West: 1-Houston vs. 8-Minnesota, 2-Golden State vs. 7-Oklahoma City, 3-Portland vs. 6-San Antonio, 4-Utah vs. 5-New Orleans.

NOTE OF THE DAY

Neither Denver nor Minnesota has ever missed the playoffs in a 46-win season. One will this year.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We know we can beat anybody when we’re playing our best.” — Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, after the Thunder clinched their spot.

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