NBA Seeding Races Go Down to Wire

An earthquake in New Jersey. A total solar eclipse.

But now the excitement really begins.

Although all 10 eliminated teams (and therefore, 10 of the 14 "lottery teams") have already been determined, and the Celtics have long since run away with not only the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but home-court advantage for as far as they go in the upcoming playoffs, there is still a great deal yet to be decided in the NBA regular season's final week.

In the Western Conference, all of the top three seeds will almost certainly come from the Northwest Division, where it will come down to the Timberwolves and Nuggets, both 54-24, and the Thunder, one game back at 53-25.

The Nuggets lose any tiebreaker to either the T-Wolves and/or the Thunder due to head-to-head or division record, while Minnesota can guarantee the tiebreaker edge over OKC with a win at Denver on Wednesday.

The Thunder have the toughest schedule of the trio, having to play their last four games against opponents with a combined winning percentage of .510, compared with Minnesota's .482 and Denver's .413.

And for the second year in a row, all five teams from the Pacific Division will have finished with winning records. Maybe if the NBA had teams in the same division play each other more often — e.g., only three meetings between all teams in the same conference but not in the same division, and each team playing two of their four division rivals six times and the other two five times (and also switching to a division-based playoff format) — this wouldn't keep on happening?

Other than Boston, the East is far more wide open — thanks mainly to Milwaukee's sudden slump: losers of six of their last seven, the Bucks now lead the Knicks and Magic by only one game in the battle for the 2 seed.

But it is further down the standings where things become a lot more interesting: all but left for dead when the month began, the Sixers have reeled off five straight wins to move into the 7 seed, and also within a game of Indiana for the all-important 6 seed. Their last three games are all at home, against teams with a combined winning percentage of .382. And considering the fact that Orlando finishes up with four games against opponents who are a combined .562, including at Philadelphia on Friday night, the Knicks ending the year with four games vs. opponents who are .534, and even Indiana (.455) and Miami (.429) having tougher closing schedules than the Sixers, it is very possible, perhaps even likely, that Philly will get the 6 seed if they win out.

The one thing that might keep the Sixers from getting where they want to go is the tiebreakers: they are assured of losing the tiebreaker to the Knicks, against whom they went 1-3, and the Pacers, versus whom they were 1-2 (each NBA team plays all four of their division rivals four times, and six of the 10 teams in the other two divisions within the same conference four times, and the other four three times).

The Magic/Sixers game could go a long way toward deciding both of their fates — with whether Joel Embiid, without whom Philadelphia is 15-27 this season (compared to 29-8 when he does play), is in or out proving to be the deciding factor (Embiid is "questionable" for tonight's game against the misfiring Pistons).

With a healthy Embiid and a favorable seeding, the Sixers could notch their first "Final Four" appearance since 2001, due in large part to the NBA's grossly unfair playoff system, which does not re-seed teams the way the NFL does.

Then they will no longer be the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA.

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