The Latest Look at Playoff Seeding

Now that the Blazers have officially clinched a playoff spot it's time for an update on where they're likely to end up.  I know we just ran down the system framework last week but standings and possibilities change on a near-nightly basis.  Keeping track amidst the chaos is important.

Last time we looked at all of the things that could happen.  Technically speaking anything could still happen, short of the Blazers falling out of the playoffs.  This time we're going to take a different approach and look at what's likely to happen.

Let's look at the Blazers first.  They currently sit 5th in the West.

Portland Trail Blazers

Record:  48-28

Games Remaining:  @Memphis, @San Antonio, L*kers, @Clippers, Oklahoma City, Denver

Portland faces three tough games and three winnable ones.  Barring a collapse 3-3 would be the minimum record.  It's not impossible to imagine the Blazers going 5-1 so we'll use that as the outer limit.  That gives a range of 51-53 wins.

We're going to take a Blazer-centric view here and run down the 2-7 teams in order, comparing them to Portland's projected totals.  We'll look at potential tiebreakers.  Remember the tie-breaker decision tree runs like this:

1.  Did either team win their division?

2.  Head-to-Head Record

3.  Record Against Division IF the two teams are in the same division

4.  Record Against Conference

Denver Nuggets

Record:  52-26

Games Remaining:  Oklahoma City, @L*kers, Sacramento, @Portland

Denver is gone, folks.  They've won 7 straight and 9 of their last 10.  They're not going to win all of their remaining games.  In fact I doubt they'll win in L.A. or Portland.  But even picking up the two easy games at home puts them at 54 wins.  The Blazers would have to win every remaining game just to tie.  The head-to-head record between the two teams would be tied but the Nuggets would still own the division record by a hair and the conference record by a mile.  In other words, the Blazers will almost certainly have to pass Denver, not tie them, to come out ahead.  Only a complete upheaval could make that happen. 

Denver's magic number vis-a-vis the Blazers is 2.  Any combination of Denver wins or Portland losses that adds up to 2 clinches their supremacy over us.

San Antonio Spurs

Record:  49-27

Games Remaining:  @Oklahoma City, Portland, Utah, @Sacramento, @Golden State, New Orleans

The Spurs are in an interesting position.  They have three easier games on the road and three tougher games at home.  Even if you shuffle them and figure a 3-3 result that puts them at 52 wins.  That's in Portland's range but a lot of things have to go right to entertain the thought of passing them.

The game against Portland is the critical one for our purposes.  If San Antonio wins they tie the season series.  They own the conference record by a mile and might yet win their division so Portland would have to pass them in order to finish ahead.  Absent a collapse by the Spurs the Blazers would need to have at most 1 loss to make that plausible.  That would be a tall order.  The Blazers' best chance (maybe the only one) is to take the tiebreaker via a victory Wednesday night.  Then they have to keep playing well and hope the Spurs end up losing one more than they do.

Houston Rockets

Record:  49-28

Games Remaining:  Orlando, @Sacramento, @Golden State, New Orleans, @Dallas

The good news is that the Blazers are only ½ game behind the Rockets right now.  The bad news is the Rockets won the tiebreaker by virtue of their victory Sunday night.  Houston would have to lose 3 games to make the Blazers' chances decent.  Orlando is a possibility.  At Dallas maybe?  3 losses seems like a stretch here though.  If they only lose 2 then Portland is forced to win 53 to pass them, necessitating that 5-1 record again.

New Orleans Hornets

Record:  47-29

Games Remaining:  @Miami, Phoenix, @Dallas, Dallas, @Houston, @San Antonio

Now we get to stop asking whether the Blazers can catch people and ask whether anyone can catch the Blazers.  Though they're only a game behind, New Orleans has a tough schedule remaining.  All of their opponents are over .500.  All of them but Phoenix are playoff-bound.  4 of their 6 games are on the road.  They don't win both Dallas games and they don't beat both Houston and San Antonio on the road so their maximum reasonable target would appear to be 51 wins.  That's at the bottom of Portland's range.  If the teams did end up tied at 51 wins the Hornets would own the tiebreaker by virtue of conference record, but that's not likely.  This is another situation where we could know in a couple of days if there's any chance of them passing us.  The odds aren't good.

Utah Jazz

Record:  47-30

Games Remaining:  @Dallas, @San Antonio, Golden State, Clippers, @L*kers

The Jazz have a tough schedule as well, with three difficult road games, two of those brutal.  You might figure 1 win in there, being generous.  That would put them at 50-32 overall, underneath Portland's reasonable range.  If Portland went cold or Utah got hot the tiebreaker here is still up in the air.  If the Blazers win against OKC and Denver in their final two games then they own the tiebreaker by virtue of division wins.  If they split those games or lose both then Utah owns it because of either division or conference wins.  It's still possible that Utah could overtake us but the odds aren't good here either.

Dallas Mavericks

Record:  46-31

Games Remaining:  Utah, New Orleans, @New Orleans, Minnesota, Houston

The Mavs have 4 home games remaining out of 5 total but they're running out of room to mount a charge.  Four of those games are reasonably tough.  A 4-1 record would be quite generous and that still only gets them to 50 wins.  They'd need serious help from the Blazers even to tie.  If they do tie Portland they'd own the tiebreaker because they swept us in the regular season.

Long story short, it looks like Portland is narrowed in on the 5th seed in the West.  It would take some serious streaking to dislodge them from either direction but it's more likely they'd rise than fall.   The best chance for any move being made is the Blazers beating San Antonio on Wednesday.

We don't know exactly who the 4th seed would be yet though.  Assuming each team wins the games it should win and loses the ones it should lose, leaving some wiggle room for close matchups, the ranges look like this:

  • Denver 54-55 wins
  • San Antonio 53-54 wins
  • Houston  52-53 wins
  • Portland  51-53 wins
  • New Orleans 49-50 wins
  • Utah  49 wins
  • Dallas  49-50 wins

The Rockets own the tiebreaker with the Nuggets if they win the division over San Antonio.  They will not if they don't (assuming Denver wins the Northwest Division).  The Rockets-Spurs tiebreaker is too close to call at this point.  The Nuggets own the tiebreaker over the Spurs no matter what (again, assuming Denver wins the division).

Naturally it's dangerous to assume anything.  At least one or two of these teams will probably go on a streak either direction in the next week.

Right now it looks like the opponent will probably be the Rockets but it could be the Spurs.  Anything else would be a surprise.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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