Welcome to “10th Place Matters” week. It is sort of like getting
a participation trophy in fourth-grade athletics, but better
because this is an occupation.
The NBA regular season wraps up next Sunday, and for the first
time in history we can say 10th place carries some importance for
something other than ping-pong ball arithmetic. The bigger (and
arguably better?) NBA Playoffs include a play-in tournament this
season, which makes the New Orleans Pelicans just the slightest bit
relevant, along with the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings.
New Orleans and Chicago sit in 11th place in their respective
conferences, and that is where they will finish unless we see one
of the craziest weeks in league history. Sacramento is No. 12 but
is 2.5 games behind San Antonio.
The Pelicans remained in contention Sunday night with a victory
against the Charlotte Hornets, as veteran James Johnson played the
role of de facto Zion Williamson, and Chicago maintained its
relevancy by defeating the Detroit Pistons, 108-96, to pull within
2.5 games of the Indiana Pacers.
Chicago has already won the season series against the Pacers and
thus would have the tiebreaker if the teams finish tied for 10th,
but Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic’s team pretty much needs to have
a perfect week against the Brooklyn Nets (twice), the Toronto
Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Chicago also needs Indiana to have a bad week, and the Pacers
play five times in the next seven days, beginning tonight against
Cleveland. Indiana also will face the Philadelphia 76ers, Los
Angeles Lakers, Bucks and Raptors.
You never say never in the NBA, but the Pels, Kings and Bulls
have only the slimmest of chances to extend their respective
seasons. New Orleans is trying to do it without Williamson, after
he sustained a broken finger; Pels EVP David Griffin said it was
“egregious and horrific” and “violence” perpetrated by opposing big
men who have learned to be physical with Williamson because they
were getting away from it. At least that was Griffin’s story, and
he was fined $50,000 on Mother’s Day
by the NBA for expressing it.
The Kings are still alive after defeating the Oklahoma City
Thunder by 28 last night, and their week ahead includes a rematch
against OKC, a back-to-back road set in Memphis and their finale
against the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Sacramento would lose tiebreakers
with both the Spurs and Pelicans, so their chances are the slimmest
of the slim.
"Whatever happens around the league happens. In four games, if
we're in a play-in game, we're in," Kings forward Maurice Harkless
For those confused by the play-in tournament, BasketballNews.com did an explainer
article detailing its structure and how the final four seeds
will be determined.
But here’s how it works: There will be two No. 7 vs. No. 8
games, and those two winners (one from each conference) get the No.
7 seeds. As a practical matter, that means that if an 8 defeats a
7, the No. 8 team becomes the No. 7 seed and could end up having a
worse record than the eventual No. 8 seed.
There also will be two No. 9 vs. No. 10 games, one in each
conference, with the losers eliminated and the winners moving on to
play the losers of the respective 7/8 games. The winners of those
final two games get the No. 8 seeds.
And in the meantime, LeBron James, James Harden and a bunch of
others get a plenty of extra rest and recovery time. If they return
with as much gusto that Anthony Davis has shown lately for the
Lakers, we can all erase our collective memories of the Lakers
being oh so pedestrian this season.
There are other seeding battles to be determined this week.
Philadelphia appears to be locked into the No. 1 seed in the East
with a three-game lead over Brooklyn and possession of the
tiebreaker. The Nets have a half-game lead over the third-place
Bucks -- winners of five in a row -- but Milwaukee also owns a
tiebreaker over Brooklyn. If the Bucks go 5-0 this week against the
Spurs, Magic, Pacers, Heat and Bulls, they will get the No. 2 seed
no matter what Brooklyn does.
New York has a one-game lead over Atlanta and Miami for the No.
4 seed, and the Knicks would win a tiebreaker with the Hawks, but
lose one with Miami. The Heat would lose a tiebreaker with the
Hawks. Miami has a two-game lead on seventh-place Boston, but the
teams face off again Tuesday night -- the Heat fended off a late
rally and won Sunday -- with the victor gaining the tiebreaker
Three-way tiebreaker scenarios between the Knicks, Heat and
Hawks are dependent on the outcome of Tuesday’s Miami-Atlanta
Eighth-place Charlotte has a one-game lead over Washington and a
1.5 game lead over Indiana; the Hornets would win tiebreakers over
the Wizards and Pacers. Washington holds the tiebreaker over
In the West, Phoenix and Utah continue to battle for the No.1
seed, but the Suns’ losses to the Hawks and Lakers last week have
put them two games behind the Jazz, who have won five in a
Only one game separates the third place LA Clippers and
fourth-place Denver. The Nuggets hold the tiebreaker, but will be
playing four road games this week. If they go 4-0 and the Clippers
(also playing four road games) lose to either the Raptors, Hornets,
Rockets or Thunder, Denver will get the No. 3 seed.
Dallas begins the week in fifth place with a one-game lead over
the Portland Trail Blazers, who hold their own one-game lead over
the seventh-place Lakers. The Mavs would lose a tiebreaker to the
Blazers, but Dallas has an easy schedule this week while Portland
must play Utah, Phoenix and Denver.
Should the Lakers be able to match the Blazers, they still lose
the tiebreaker against Portland. Los Angeles finishes with games
against the Knicks, Rockets, Pacers and Pelicans, so a 4-0 week by
the Lakers and a 2-2 week by the Blazers would move the Lakers out
of the play-in tournament.
If Dallas, Portland and the Lakers finish with the same record,
the Mavs win the three-way tiebreaker by virtue of having won the
Golden State has a half-game lead over Memphis for eighth place,
and the Warriors and Grizzlies will play on the final day of the
season with the winner getting the tiebreaker edge. Memphis will
play five games this week to Golden State’s four, but the Grizzlies
have the easier schedule. The No. 8 spot in the play-in tournament
could be up for grabs.
San Antonio has lost six of seven and is limping to the finish
line with a tough week ahead; according to Tankathon, it is the
hardest schedule remaining in the NBA. The Spurs are playing
Milwaukee at home, then traveling to New York for a back-to-back
against the Knicks and Nets, then facing the Suns twice next
weekend. The tiebreaker edge over Sacramento is a nice thing for
Gregg Popovich to have in his back pocket, but an 0-5 week would
open the door for the Pelicans and the Kings.
If San Antonio, New Orleans and Sacramento finish in a three-way
tie, the Spurs win the tiebreaker by virtue of their 4-2 record
against the teams they would be tied with. The Kings are 2-4
against the Spurs and Pelicans, and NOLA is 3-3 vs. Sacramento and
“I think we're a better team than what the record shows,” San
Antonio’s Dejounte Murray said.
We shall find out in the week ahead, and the participation
trophy for the 10 teams that miss out will be rendered in ping-pong
balls, as usual.