Entering the final week of seeding games in the NBA restart, teams have only a few more opportunities to improve their place in the standings.
There are still four teams pushing for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, and it’s now guaranteed that there will be a play-in series. There won’t be a play-in series in the East, but seeding and matchups are still up for grabs.
To help get your ready for this stretch run, our NBA experts highlight the eight most important games that will decide the playoff picture this week in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Note: The West play-in series will feature the conference’s No. 8 and No. 9 seeds on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC). If the No. 8 seed wins, that team will advance to Round 1 to face the Los Angeles Lakers. If the No. 9 seed wins, there will be another game on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the winner of that matchup will get the final playoff spot.
Monday: 8 p.m. ET
Friday: Details TBD
Two matchups between Indiana and Miami this week will go a long way toward determining whether they play each other again during the first round of the playoffs. With the 76ers’ loss Sunday, both teams are a game up on the Sixers and also own head-to-head tiebreakers. The Pacers and Heat won’t want to fall to sixth, which would instead mean a matchup with the Boston Celtics.
Jimmy Butler has no doubt had this rematch in mind since an altercation with T.J. Warren in January that led to the ejection of Warren, the bubble’s leading scorer at 34.8 points per game. — Kevin Pelton
Every game is of paramount importance to Portland, as the Trail Blazers try to emerge from a pack of teams scrapping for the West’s final playoff bid.
The Mavs are all but locked into the West’s seventh seed, so the outcome of this game won’t matter as much to them. However, Dallas does want to build momentum off of Saturday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will have fresh legs after resting Monday against the Utah Jazz. — Tim MacMahon
Details: 4:30 p.m. ET
The darlings of the bubble, the Suns have started off 5-0 in Florida to draw within a game of Portland for the No. 9 spot in the West and can nearly taste the franchise’s first postseason experience since 2010. Catching Portland would earn Phoenix a spot in the play-in series and the opportunity for a first-round series against the Lakers.
Their opponent in Philadelphia was faring well in the restart before losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury, and he’s unlikely to return following surgery. Things got worse on Sunday when Joel Embiid left an eventual loss to Portland after hurting his ankle. Embiid’s status for this game remains unknown. — Dave McMenamin
Wednesday: Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This game won’t mean much for the Raptors, already the No. 2 seed in the East, but it could have major seeding implications for the 76ers as they try to move up into the 4/5 matchup.
Then there is the pure basketball importance, as Philadelphia needs every moment it can get on the court together as a team to figure out how to proceed without Simmons. — Tim Bontemps
Thursday: Brooklyn Nets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland’s margin of error is small, and with a play-in berth potentially at stake, it will expect to win a game like this where it enters as a clear favorite.
It’s a lock there will be a play-in game for the 8-seed in the West, but despite their positive bubble start, right now the Blazers are far from a sure thing to participate in it. — Royce Young
Thursday: Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
The hottest team in basketball — as of Sunday — matching up with Luka Doncic would appear to be one of the best games in the bubble, but a lot of dominoes may fall between now and then that could alter this game’s appearance. Devin Booker and the Suns have to keep winning and likely will need this game to vault themselves into the play-in fray.
All signs point to the Mavs being locked into the seventh seed, thus giving coach Rick Carlisle the opportunity to rest Doncic before the playoffs begin if he so desires. In short, this game has a chance to mean everything to the Suns and nothing to the Mavs. — Nick Friedell
Friday: Houston Rockets vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Initially, this game had the makings of a big showdown with seed-positioning ramifications on the line. But for the Sixers, health is far more important now. Perhaps they can still play their way into the 4/5 matchup and avoid a first-round meeting with Boston, but Embiid’s health is the priority.
The Rockets could have more at stake. They’re trying to stave off Oklahoma City and Utah — both potential first-round opponents — for the fourth seed but could have a shot at No. 3 depending on how Denver does this week. — Ohm Youngmisuk