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NBA seedings come down to the wire

By Kevin Costa

Section: Sports

April 13, 2018

There was a lot at stake for NBA teams looking to compete in the playoffs as they went into the final day of the regular season this past Wednesday. Despite fan anticipation, though, none of the eight playoff matchups were secured.

The Western Conference game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets had serious playoff implications. The winner would punch their ticket to the playoffs by claiming the eight seed and the loser would be eliminated. This was the first time since 1997 that the final day of the regular season had a similar winner-takes-all game.

The Nuggets went into the matchup in Minnesota on a six-game winning streak, and on Monday, edged out the Trail Blazers by 88-82 to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Nuggets looked poised to clinch the final playoff spot. Nikola Jokic, in the last two games, had put up a triple-double. Paul Millsap looked more in sync upon returning to the line-up in April after a wrist injury back in November. Gary Harris had returned on Monday from a knee sprain prior to Wednesday’s contest. However, the Timberwolves were able to stave off the Nuggets. Despite the fact that Jimmy Butler had just recently returned following a six-week long recovery from meniscus surgery and Coach Tom Thibodeau dealt with a depleted roster, the Timberwolves pulled off a thrilling overtime win. This is the first time in 14 years that the Timberwolves had made the playoffs.

The Jazz had a shot at securing the three seed after blowing out the Warriors by 40 points on Tuesday. However, the Jazz needed a win on Wednesday against the Trail Blazers, who were also vying for the three seed. In a winner-takes-all matchup similar to that of Nuggets and Timberwolves, the Trail Blazers won handily, snapping a five game-losing streak. Unlike the Denver/Minnesota game, both teams were guaranteed a playoff spot. But after the loss and a Thunder victory over Grizzlies, the Jazz dropped to the five seed.

Beyond the Jazz/Trail Blazers match-up, the Western Conference seeds below the one and two were still undecided coming into Wednesday. In short, the seeding order for seven teams (New Orleans, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, Utah and Portland) would be determined by the results of Wednesday’s games.

The Thunder/Grizzlies matchup presented a number of possible scenarios. A Thunder loss would knock the team down to the eight seed and the winner of the Nuggets and Timberwolves game would jump to the sixth seed. A Thunder win would secure the team either the fourth seed or the sixth seed, depending on the result between the Trail Blazers and Jazz. A Trail Blazer win would place Oklahoma in the former spot, while a Jazz win would place Oklahoma in the latter. But as expected, the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 137-123 and with Portland’s victory, secured the fourth seed.

In the Eastern Conference, the final day of the season presented less of a frenzy in terms of playoff positioning. However, the first-round match-ups were still unclear, and the Bucks, which faced the 76ers on Wednesday, faced a unique position. A victory for the Bucks would secure the team with the sixth seed. However, the Cavaliers would claim the third seed with a win over the Knicks, resulting in a Bucks/Cavaliers first-round match-up. This set-up would work in Milwaukee’s disfavor considering how much of a threat Lebron is to an inconsistent team like the Bucks. On the other hand, a loss for the Bucks would potentially drop Milwaukee to the seventh seed and secure the team a first-round match-up against a Kyrie-less Celtics. This is exactly how Wednesday’s events unfolded. The Bucks lost to the 76ers, a team that has now strung 16 consecutive wins.

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