With their win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, the Portland Trail Blazers reduced their playoff magic number to ...it’s complicated.
But wait, you’re probably saying, the Blazers hold the tiebreaker over the Nuggets! So if those teams combine for four Blazer wins and Nugget losses, they’ll finish with an identical record and the Blazers will be in the playoffs by virtue of the tiebreaker. That means the magic number is four!
That scenario, however, ignores the pesky New Orleans Pelicans. There are scenarios in which the Blazers and Nuggets combine for four wins and losses, respectively, but finish in a three-way tie with New Orleans, and the Pelicans win the round-robin tiebreaker.
Scenario 1: New Orleans wins out and finishes with a 39-43 record. The Blazers win one game and finish with a 39-43 record. The Nuggets lose three games and finishes 39-43.
Scenario 2: New Orleans finishes 5-1 and the one loss is not against Portland. That gives them 38 wins. The Blazers lose every game and finish 38-44. The Nuggets lose four games, at least once to the Pelicans. They also finish 38-44.
In both of these scenarios, the Blazers satisfy the magic number of four, but end in a three-team tie with the Nuggets and Pelicans.
The cumulative head-to-head record of the three teams would break that tie. The Pelicans would then make the playoffs by virtue of having at least a tie in the season series with Denver, and a series victory against Portland. So the Blazers would be out despite hitting the magic four.
Of course, the Blazers can easily solve this by winning two games and eliminating the Pelicans from playoff contention entirely. If they do that, THEN they only need two more wins/Denver losses to lock up the No. 8 seed.
TL;DR: The Blazers’ playoff magic number is up in the air because they’re in a three-team race for one playoff spot.