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The Blazers' Magic Number Is Down To One

As the season winds down, the Portland Trail Blazers are one win or Jazz loss away from a postseason guarantee.

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight or a Utah Jazz loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday.

The exact details are complicated, but in all scenarios in which the Blazers finish the season tied with the Jazz, the Blazers will make the playoffs. This includes three-way, four-way, or five-way ties with other teams. Thus, if Utah reaches 40 losses or Portland reaches 43 wins, the Blazers are guaranteed a playoff berth.

Beyond that, the standings are still jumbled. The Blazers currently sit in sixth place, holding a two-game lead over the Mavericks, a 2.5-game lead over the Jazz, and a three-game lead over the ninth-place Rockets. The Grizzlies beat the Bulls tonight to remain in fifth place, holding a slim 0.5 game lead over the Blazers.

Following are the standings, remaining games between these five teams, and tiebreaker scenarios:

(Click here for direct link to Google Docs spreadsheet.)

The tiebreakers are key to Portland's seeding hopes. For example, while Portland is technically only two games ahead of Utah in the loss column, the Blazers own the tiebreaker. In order for the Jazz to outright surpass the Blazers, they need to gain three games.

Full playoff tie-breaking procedures can be found here. The most important statistic is head-to-head record. If the two teams finish tied, they will be positioned by the second tiebreaker - conference record.

Head-to-Head: Portland owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against Utah and has lost the tiebreaker with Dallas. The Blazers split the head-to-head games against Memphis and Houston, so if Portland ends the season with the same record as either of those teams, the tie will be broken by conference record. For Houston and Portland to tie, the Rockets would need to win more conference games than the Blazers, thus Houston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. For Memphis and Portland to tie, the Blazers would need to win more conference games than the Grizzlies, thus Portland holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Note: A popular question is "why does Houston hold the tiebreaker? Portland has a better conference record!". It's a good question, because the answer is very counter-intuitive. Here's the hook: Portland is far enough ahead of Houston that the Rockets would need to go on a serious run to tie them. And both teams play nearly all in-conference games for the rest of the season. In ANY scenario where the Rockets win enough games, and the Blazers lose enough games, for the two teams to finish tied, it would also "tip the scales" on that conference record. So, while the Blazers technically own the tiebreaker when looking at the standings right now, in a vacuum, Houston actually owns the tiebreaker in all scenarios where the two teams finish tied.

Three-Way-Ties: All three-way ties are broken by winning percentage in games between the tied teams. Portland owns the three-way tie against Memphis and Utah, and against Houston and Utah. The Blazers have lost the three-way tie with Dallas and Memphis as well as with Dallas and Houston.

If Portland, Houston, and Memphis finish the season with identical records, the tie will be broken by their winning percentage against conference opponents. Houston would win that tiebreaker.

Portland's status with Dallas and Utah is still to be determined; if Dallas beats Utah in their April 11th game, they own the tiebreaker, but if Utah wins then Portland will own the tiebreaker.