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Playoff Seeding Update: Danny Crawford's Crew Blows Call, Costs Kings and Possibly Blazers

The big news in the standings race tonight was that San Antonio nearly lost to a surprisingly fiery team in Sacramento.  Without Tim Duncan the Spurs had a hard time matching the Kings' intensity.  Sacramento led most of the game but San Antonio caught up at the end.  With the scored tied at 92 the Spurs had what looked to be the final possession.  Tony Parker dribbled the clock down and got it to Michael Finley on the right wing for a three.  Finley's shot went in but it was clearly released after the 24-second clock had expired, perhaps by a half second or so.  None of the officiating crew made the call and the bucket stood.  By rule the play was not reviewable despite a Kings' timeout immediately following giving ample opportunity to do so.  Instead of having the ball with the game tied and 3 seconds or so to work with Sacramento was down 3 with 1.3 seconds left.  The tying shot fell far short and the Spurs walked away with a win.

Of course there's no telling if the Kings would have made that final shot had the game been tied so we can't say definitively that the error cost them the game, but it still should not have been made.

The upshot of this is that the Spurs are now tied with the Rockets and Blazers instead of potentially being down a game.

In other news the Hornets beat the Mavericks today.  The standings now look like this:

  • 2.  Denver 53-27 (Sacramento, @Portland)
  • 3.  San Antonio 52-28 (@Golden State, New Orleans)
  • 4.  Houston 52-28  (New Orleans, @Dallas)
  • 5.  Portland 52-28 (Oklahoma City, Denver)
  • 6.  New Orleans 49-31  (@Houston, @San Antonio)
  • 7.  Dallas 48-32 (Minnesota, Houston)
  • 8.  Utah  47-33 (Clippers, @L*kers)

Note that at this point the Blazers' demotion to 5th place is a technicality, though it may not remain so.

As we explained earlier in the week, the resolution of a three-way tie falls out like this:

If the Spurs win the division:  San Antonio, Houston, Portland

If the Rockets win the division:  Houston, Portland, San Antonio

The Rockets and Spurs have tied head-to-head this year.  The next tiebreaker between them is division record.  San Antonio has played one more game against the division so far than has Houston.  The Spurs stand at 9-6, the Rockets 8-6.  That's why San Antonio is 3rd right now and Portland 5th.   Since both teams have 6 losses, however, the Spurs aren't really ahead until Houston loses another divsion game.  If they both finish with 6 division losses Houston would actually win the resultant tie because of a later tiebreaker.  So the Spurs are actually behind Houston until Houston loses, no matter what the standings say right now.

The main thing for the Blazers to concentrate on right now is winning out.  As long as the Blazers do that there's no way in which they can finish behind the Spurs.  In order to match Portland's record and invoke a tiebreaker both Houston and San Antonio would have to win out as well.  If that happens Houston would take the division, leaving Portland and San Antonio to duke it out in a tiebreaker...a fight which Portland wins by virtue of its head-to-head success against the Spurs.

The Potential Four-Way Tie

Many of you have been wondering what happens if there is a four-way tie between Denver, Houston, San Antonio, and Portland for the 2-5 spots.  There are a couple of different possibilities.  We're only going to deal with the most likely one tonight, which is everybody winning out except for Denver's one loss in Portland.  The other involves everybody else losing one while Denver loses two, which is not only unlikely, the potential outcome changes depending on which games Houston and San Antonio would lose.  We're not going to deal with that until it happens.

Here is my understanding of what happens if all four teams tie with a 54-28 record.  Keep in mind that this situation is unprecedented and the league doesn't do a very good job of sharing its policies, so there's always a chance for error.  But I'm pretty confident on this.

In a four-way tie the rules for multi-team tiebreakers are invoked.  These are:

  • 1.  Division winners finish on top.
  • 2.  Best head-to-head record among the teams involved.
  • 3.  Highest winning percentage in division IF the teams are in the same division.
  • 4.  Highest winning percentage in the conference.
  • 5.  Highest winning percentage against conference playoff teams.
  • 6.  Highest point differential.

Keep in mind that the top-most difference ends the process.  If the tie is broken at Step 2 then Step 6 is never invoked.

Here's another key concept:  Division winners are determined before any other tiebreaking criteria are applied. 

And yet one more:  If a multi-team tie gets reduced to a two-team tie at any point because of these criteria, the two-team tiebreakers are invoked instead.

This is important, because after the division winners are determined it's no longer a true four-team race, but rather two races of two teams:  division winners versus each other, non-division winners versus each other. 

The criteria for resolving a tie between two potential division winners fall under the two-team rules.  They are:

  • 1.  Division Winner
  • 2.  Head-to-Head record.
  • 3.  Higher winning percentage in division (if in same division)
  • 4.  Higher winning percentage in conference
  • 5.  Higher winning percentage against playoff teams in conference.
  • Etc. (won't be invoked)

Thus in the event of a four-way tie Portland and Denver would go head-to-head under these criteria to determine the Northwest Division winner, Houston and San Antonio the Southwest.

Portland vs. Denver

Obviously the division winner criterion wouldn't apply, as that's what we're determining.  In the case of a 54-win tie Portland would have beaten Denver in the final game of the season and thus the two teams would be tied head-to-head.  Denver, however, would have finished 12-4 versus the Northwest Division while the Blazers would have finished 11-5.  (Drat that first Thunder loss!)  Therefore Denver would win the division by virtue of taking the 3rd tiebreaker.

Houston vs. San Antonio

The Spurs and Rockets would finish with identical records head-to-head, against the division, and against the conference.  However Houston would have finished with a 15-12 record against Western Playoff teams while San Antonio ended up with a paltry 12-13.  Therefore Houston would win the division by virtue of taking the 5th tiebreaker.

Next the two division winners go head-to-head while the non-division winners do the same. 

Denver vs. Houston

The two teams are both division winners, so the first tiebreaker is a wash.  Houston owns a 3-1 regular season advantage over Denver, so Houston would win this tiebreaker and the 2nd seed in the West while Denver got the 3rd.

Portland vs. San Antonio

The first tiebreaker is a wash here as well.  Portland owns a 3-1 regular season advantage over San Antonio, so Portland would win the second tiebreaker and claim the 4th seed, San Antonio the 5th.

Final Seeding Results of a Four-Way Tie at 54 Wins: 

  • 2.  Houston
  • 3.  Denver
  • 4.  Portland
  • 5.  San Antonio

Again the take-away point for the Blazers is to win their remaining games.  As long as they do that they cannot lose homecourt advantage in the first round.  The bad call against Sacramento won't matter.  Nothing any other team does can make their position worse.  Right now the Blazers control their own destiny, at least as far as getting a top four seed.

--Dave (