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April 14th Seeding Report

OK, so here's the grand seeding news following Monday night's games.  We can now pin down the exact possibilities remaining.  Drum roll please...

Everybody won tonight.

That means the standings look like this:

  • 2.  Denver  54-27 (@Portland)
  • 3.  San Antonio 53-28 (New Orleans)
  • 4.  Houston 53-28  (@Dallas)
  • 5.  Portland  53-28  (Denver)
  • 6.  New Orleans  49-32  (@San Antonio)
  • 7.  Dallas  49-32  (Houston)
  • 8.  Utah  48-33  (@L*kers)

The biggest development here from Portland's standpoint is that the Nuggets have now clinched the Northwest Division.  The best Portland can do is tie Denver with a victory on Wednesday.  Even though that would leave the teams tied head-to-head Denver would own the tiebreaker due to a 1-game advantage in division record. 

Because of this Portland can no longer get the 2nd seed in the West.  They could finish in the top four mix but they would always lose out to Los Angeles and Denver.  Portland is now locked into one of three seeds:  3rd, 4th, or 5th.

Here's how it shakes out.  As always...disclaimer...this is to the best of my knowledge and ability.  I can explain to you exactly why this works and exactly how we got here, but divining the rules and procedures is a strenuous matter even for people who should know better than I.  I am 99.999% certain this is correct, but we're not going to know for sure if there are any curveballs until Wednesday.

If Portland Wins Wednesday Night

If the Blazers win Wednesday night they cannot finish lower than 4th in the West.  Portland would finish with a 54-28 record.  One of three things would happen with Houston and San Antonio.

1.  Both Houston and San Antonio would win, which would invoke a four-way tie as Denver, San Antonio, Houston, and Portland would all finish the year at 54-28.  The results of such a tie are explained in detail near the bottom of the post here.  The order of finish would be

  • 2.  Houston (54-28)*
  • 3.  Denver (54-28)*
  • 4.  Portland (54-28)
  • 5.  San Antonio (54-28)

(*denotes Division Winner)

2.  One or the other of them would lose.  In that case the team that lost would be one game behind the Blazers, Nuggets, and the team that won.  The losing team would fall out of the top four, earning the 5th seed in the West.

Houston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against Denver by virtue of a 3-1 season series.  Denver owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against San Antonio because they went 2-1 versus the Spurs.  Thus...

A.  If San Antonio loses but Houston wins the seeding would go:

  • 2.  Houston  (54-28)*
  • 3.  Denver  (54-28)*
  • 4.  Portland  (54-28)
  • 5.  San Antonio  (53-29)

B.  If Houston loses but San Antonio wins the seeding would go:

  • 2.  Denver  (54-28)*
  • 3.  San Antonio  (54-28)*
  • 4.  Portland (54-28)
  • 5.  Houston  (53-28)

Keep in mind in the second scenario that even though Portland owns the head-to-head against San Antonio division winners win ties with non-division-winners.  Therefore San Antonio would get the higher seed.

3.  Both Houston and San Antonio could lose.  In this case Houston would again claim the Southwest Division as explained above.  Now, however, the seeding would look like this:

  • 2.  Denver (54-28)*
  • 3.  Portland  (54-28)
  • 4.  Houston (53-29)*
  • 5.  San Antonio (53-29)

This latter scenario will cause some confusion among people because of the division winner thing.  There are two, separate issues which involve division winners.  One is the tiebreaker rules, which say a division winner comes out ahead in ties.  The other is the seeding rules, which say that the top four seeds in a conference shall consist of the three division winners plus the team with the best record among non-division-winners.  Those four teams will be seeded by record, regardless of division-winner status.

In Scenario 3 above Houston would make the top four seeds because it is a division winner.  But once there the Rockets would be seeded by record.  Since their record is worse than Portland, Denver, and L.A. they'd end up fourth.

In Scenario 2B above San Antonio and Denver both make it into the top four with L.A. by virtue of their division wins.  Portland also makes it as the non-division-winning team with the best record.  However in this case Portland and San Antonio are tied in record.  That tie is broken by the tiebreaker.  The first tiebreaker rule is that division winners prevail over non-division-winners.  Therefore San Antonio gets the nod.

Not confusing the effect of the division win in Scenarios 2B and 3 is important.

If Portland Loses Wednesday Night

This is where things get more hairy.

First of all, if the Blazers lose to the Nuggets then Denver will have sole possession of the 2nd seed.  Houston and San Antonio would finish at least a game behind them no matter what.  So we can take Denver out of the equation here and just deal with the Rockets, Spurs, and Blazers.

We'll run our scenarios again.

1.  If Houston and San Antonio both win then Houston would take the Southwest Division and the standings would look like this:

  • 2.  Denver (55-27)*
  • 3.  Houston (54-28)*
  • 4.  San Antonio (54-28)
  • 5.  Portland (53-29)

2A.  If San Antonio loses but Houston wins then Houston would win their division.  San Antonio and Portland would finish with identical records and neither would be a division winner.  Portland wins that battle by virtue of the 3-1 head-to-head edge versus the Spurs in the regular season.  Thus:

  • 2.  Denver (55-27)*
  • 3.  Houston (54-28)*
  • 4.  Portland (53-29)
  • 5.  San Antonio (53-29)

2B.  If Houston loses but San Antonio wins then San Antonio would claim the division.  Portland and Houston would go head-to-head with a tie record and Houston would come out ahead by virtue of their 2-1 regular-season mark against the Blazers.  Thus:

  • 2.  Denver (55-27)*
  • 3.  San Antonio (54-28)*
  • 4.  Houston  (53-29)
  • 5.  Portland (53-29)

3.  If both Houston and San Antonio lose alongside the Blazers then Houston would win the division over San Antonio for reasons explained above.  Portland would also win the tiebreaker with the Spurs.

  • 2.  Denver (55-27)*
  • 3.  Houston (53-29)*
  • 4.  Portland (53-29)
  • 5.  San Antonio (53-29)

The Cliffs Notes Version

If you just want to keep it simple, here's the shorthand.

IF PORTLAND WINS they get the 4th seed UNLESS both Houston and San Antonio lose, in which case it's the 3rd seed.


--The 5th seed if San Antonio wins.

--The 4th seed if San Antonio loses.


The best thing to root for would be a Blazer win, of course, but after that root for New Orleans to win on the road against San Antonio.  If you can get that, then be greedy and root for Houston to lose also.

Potential Opponents

In each case where Portland wins the 4th or 5th seed you can already see their matchup listed, as 4 matches up against 5 in the playoffs.  In every scenario but one listed above the opponent is Houston or San Antonio.  However there is that one scenario where both Houston and San Antonio lose their final games while Portland wins against Denver, leaving the Blazers in the 3rd seed.  Who could be the opponent in the 6-slot in that scenario?

Looking at the current standings you see New Orleans and Dallas tied in the 6-7 spots with 49-32 records.  However if you look at the opponents of those two teams in their final games...gasp!  They are none other than our old friends Houston and San Antonio.  In order to make our Blazers-in-3rd-seed scenario work both Houston and San Antonio must lose.  That would leave the Hornets and Mavericks with identical 50-32 records.  Neither would be division winners.  The Hornets hold a 3-1 season series edge over the Mavericks.  So in that scenario Portland's opponent would be the New Orleans Hornets.

The Spurs, Rockets, and Hornets are the only possible opponents left for the Blazers.

Mere mortals can feel free to stop reading at this point, as you now know everything you need to know about Wednesday's games and the potential outcomes.  Those who are truly gluttons for punishment can click past the jump.  I'm going to add an appendix of common mistakes I've seen when determining seeding, leading to all of the confusion and wrong information you're seeing.

--Dave (

Common Mistakes We're Seeing

1.  Forgetting that Tiebreakers only Break Ties

With all of the talk about the tiebreakers it's easy to forget they're not all-powerful.  If I finish with 54 wins and you finish with 53 I beat you even if you have the season series between us 3-1 and every other tiebreaker in the book.

2.  Mixing up the Use of Division Winner Status in Seeding and in Tiebreakers

We covered this one above.  There are two separate ways winning the division becomes important.

First, winning the division breaks all ties in your favor unless that tie is with another division winner.

Second, division winners are guaranteed to be somewhere in the top four seeds in their conference.  The top seeds are the three division winners plus the non-division-winner with the best record.  But those four seeds are seeded by record, regardless of who won the division.

The exception to this is if the records say a division winner and a non-division winner are tied for one of those top four seeds.  Then a tiebreaker is invoked and the division winner prevails in that tiebreaker.  But that's ONLY if the teams are tied!

Using the example above, the 54-win team is going to be seeded higher than the 53-win team even if the 53-win team was a division winner UNLESS the 54-win team didn't make it into the top four seeds in the first place because another non-division winner won more.  (That "UNLESS" can't happen this year, so don't worry about it.)

3.  Trying to Invoke Criteria Farther Down the Tiebreaker List After the Tie Has Already Been Broken

Once a tie has been broken by one of the tiebreaker rules, the process is done.  The team that won the tiebreaker is no longer considered tied.  Criteria #1 on both the two-team and multi-team tiebreaker lists is Division Winner.  Therefore all division winners are automatically removed from ties with non-division winners regardless of head-to-head record or anything else.

4.  Not Knowing When to Invoke Multi-Team versus Two-Team Tiebreaker Rules

I bolded this one because it's the most obscure.  Even I had to think for a couple hours before I understood it.

Here's the first part of the multi-team list:

  • 1.  Division Winners
  • 2.  Best Head-to-Head Among All Teams Tied
  • 3.  Highest Winning Percentage in Division (if teams are in the same division)
  • 4.  Highest Winning Percentage in Conference
  • Etc.

Here's top of the two-team list:

  • 1.  Division Winners
  • 2.  Best Head-to-Head
  • 3.  Highest Winning Percentage in Division (if teams are in the same division)
  • 4.  Highest Winning Percentage in Conference

If three or more teams are tied, you instinctively go to the multi-team list.  But before you can do that, the rules say Division Winners must be determined. 

This could be done using the multi-team list if all three or more teams tied are in the same division.  If Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio all tied at the top of their division then you'd use the multi-team tiebreaking list to determine a division winner between the three.

However if, as could happen this year, you have a multi-team tie where a division crown is undecided but not all of the teams involved belong in that undecided division, you have to break down the tie into its component parts and resolve the division winner question first, before anything else.  Therefore if San Antonio, Houston, and Portland tie and the Southwest Division lead is involved, you put Portland aside for a moment and resolve the tie between Houston and San Antonio for the division.  And THAT resolution happens under two-team rules, not multi-team.  Only once the division crown is established do you plug Portland back in and switch back to the multi-team rules.

In the event of a four-way tie between Denver, San Antonio, Houston, and Portland with division crowns at stake you'd do the same thing.  Set the four-way aside and run the numbers for the two sets of division rivals to determine a division winner in each race.  Once you've determined that, put them back together and run the four-way.

But wait, there's more.  A team is removed from the multi-team tie situation when a tiebreaker is resolved.  And the rules state that at the moment enough teams are removed to whittle the remaining tied teams down to two, you switch to the two-team tie rules.

For example, in the case of that three-way tie between Portland, Houston, and San Antonio you'd resolve the division winner question first, as we said.  Let's say it was Houston.  So now you take the three teams to the multi-team chart.  Tiebreaker #1 is division winner.  Houston is a division winner.  Portland and San Antonio are not.  Therefore Houston's part of the tie is resolved.  They finish ahead of both others.  They are now considered out of the tie and their part in this whole process is done.  Now you are down to just two teams in question.  Therefore it's not a multi-team tie anymore.  So you abandon all other multi-team criteria and switch to the two-team rules.  Neither of the remaining two teams are division winners.  Portland owns the second tiebreaker under the two-team rules...head-to-head record.  Therefore Portland wins the tie over San Antonio and you have your final order:  Houston, Portland, San Antonio.

This is also how we resolved the ultra-tricky four-way tie scenario.  It breaks down to two division races:  Portland vs. Denver, Houston vs. San Antonio.  Once the divisions are determined you mush them all back together and run the multi-team rules.  Two of them are division winners, so they are considered out of the tie with the other two.  You run the two, two-team ties using the two-team rules.

The important thing to remember here is that the league doesn't want a team finishing above another team on a technicality.  When a tie is down to just two teams they want direct head-to-head record to determine it, if applicable, not head-to-head involving third parties who aren't really a part of the tie anymore.

5.  Making Mistakes Counting Up Stats and Records

I've done this too.  It's easy to do.  It also messes things up something fierce.