NBA playoff and lottery projections: What’s at stake in big games

What’s at stake for the NBA playoff race and draft lottery on the final day of the NBA regular season?

Two teams are competing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and it will go down to the wire. Only one playoff matchup is set in either conference, with plenty of movement still possible.

The tank race has heated up, especially with traded and protected picks still very much up in the air.

Here are the games to follow and what they mean.

More: Power Rankings | Top 100 prospects | Traded picks Insider


East playoff race

Games to watch

• Magic at Hornets | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN)
• Pistons at Knicks | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Heat at Nets | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday

The Detroit Pistons (40-41) and Charlotte Hornets (39-42) are battling for the 16th playoff spot, and the Hornets own the tiebreaker. If the Pistons win or the Hornets lose, Detroit is in. Charlotte needs a win and a Detroit loss to grab the spot.

After the Pistons’ win on Tuesday, the Miami Heat are officially out of the playoffs.

East playoff seeding

  • Seeds Nos. 1-5 are wrapped up, guaranteeing Celtics-Pacers in Round 1.

  • If the Nets win, they’ll earn the No. 6 seed and a matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers (No. 3). The Nets can also earn No. 6 with a loss if the Hornets make the playoffs over the Pistons. If the Nets lose and the Pistons make the playoffs, Brooklyn will be the No. 7 seed, facing the Toronto Raptors (No. 2).

  • The Magic will clinch No. 6 if the Nets lose and the Pistons make the playoffs.

  • The Milwaukee Bucks (No. 1) are likely to face whichever team gets the final playoff spot between Detroit and Charlotte. However, if Brooklyn, Charlotte and Detroit all win, then the Pistons will get No. 7, and the Magic will fall to No. 8.


West playoff race

The eight Western Conference playoff teams have been locked in for weeks, but the seeding will go down to the wire.

Games with the most at stake

• Mavericks at Spurs | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Thunder at Bucks | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Jazz at Clippers | 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN)
• Timberwolves at Nuggets | 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Kings at Blazers | 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

  • The Golden State Warriors have secured the No. 1 seed.

  • The Denver Nuggets will clinch the No. 2 seed with a win, and the Houston Rockets will get No. 2 if the Nuggets lose, dropping Denver to No. 3.

  • Houston will be the No. 3 seed if Denver wins and the Portland Trail Blazers lose, but a Denver win combined with a Portland win will drop Houston to No. 4, with the Blazers clinching No. 3.

  • The Utah Jazz have secured the No. 5 seed.

  • The Oklahoma City Thunder will clinch the No. 6 seed with a win or a Spurs loss. The Thunder will drop to No. 7 with a loss combined with wins by the Spurs and Jazz. An OKC loss combined with wins by the Spurs and Clippers will drop the Thunder to No. 8.

  • The San Antonio Spurs will clinch No. 6 with a win and an OKC loss. A Spurs win plus an OKC win will drop San Antonio to No. 7, and so will a loss combined with a Jazz win. A San Antonio loss plus a Clippers win will drop the Spurs to No. 8.

  • The LA Clippers will finish No. 8 unless they win and at least one of the Spurs or Thunder lose, in which case LA will move up to No. 7.


Draft odds at stake

The tweaked lottery system hasn’t eradicated the tank race down the stretch. There are precious ping-pong ball combinations up for grabs that will affect traded picks and odds to get one of the coveted top three selections (bringing a chance to select Zion Williamson, Ja Morant or RJ Barrett).

Go here for a full breakdown of how the new lottery works.

Games to watch and what they mean

• Warriors at Grizzlies | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Mavericks at Spurs | 8 p.m. ET Wednesday
• Timberwolves at Nuggets | 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

  • The New York Knicks have secured the worst record. The Knicks will have the same 14 percent odds of landing the No. 1 pick as the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, but New York is guaranteed to stay in the top five.

  • The Suns and Cavaliers finish the season tied for the second-worst record. The NBA will break all draft ties with a random drawing Friday. The tied teams will receive the average of the total number of combinations for those tied positions, with the winner of the draw getting any extra combinations if there’s an odd number to split.

  • The Suns and Cavs will have the same odds for the actual lottery draw, but Friday’s random drawing determines the order in which the teams pick if they don’t get selected in the top four. Hypothetically, if the Suns win the random drawing and neither team wins a top-four lottery selection, then the Suns will pick No. 5, and the Cavs will pick No. 6. (Unless the Knicks also don’t land in the top four. In that scenario, the Suns get No. 6, and the Cavs get No. 7.)

  • The Chicago Bulls (No. 4) and Atlanta Hawks (No. 5) are locked into their slots.

  • The Washington Wizards (32-50), Memphis Grizzlies (32-49), New Orleans Pelicans (33-49) and Dallas Mavericks (33-48) are bunched up at Nos. 6-9. This is especially important because Dallas and Memphis each have a chance to lose their protected picks without some lottery luck, and they both have a game left.

  • The Mavericks will send their pick to the Hawks if it’s outside the top five, and the Grizzlies will send their pick to the Celtics if it’s outside the top eight. The Mavs’ pick remains top-five-protected next year if not conveyed; the Grizzlies’ pick drops to top-six-protected in 2020. There are rumblings that Memphis — in the middle of a rebuild — prefers to give up a first-rounder this season before the protections drop further.

  • If any team grabs the No. 6 spot outright, that comes with a 9.0 percent chance for No. 1 and a 37 percent chance for top-five. Falling to No. 9 outright means a 4.5 percent chance for No. 1 and a 20 percent chance for top-five.

  • The Los Angeles Lakers can improve their odds with a Timberwolves win, which would create a tie.

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