All the scenarios, all the magic numbers, all the scoreboard watching — it’s all going to be settled and easy to understand by close of business on Thursday night.
But here’s where it’s at before we get there:
Portland Trail Blazers: win and they’re in (as the 8-seed).
Memphis Grizzlies: win and they’re in (as the No. 8 seed if Portland loses, and the 9-seed if Portland wins).
That’s the simple way to understand it, and the way the four teams are approaching it.
But if teams start losing, it starts getting a little complicated. If Portland loses, they can still hold the 8-seed if the other three teams lose. They can hold the 9-seed with a loss and any two of the other three teams lose.
If Memphis loses, they need San Antonio and Phoenix to lose to hold onto the 9-seed. The Suns are out if they lose but can finish eighth with a win and losses by Portland and Memphis, or Phoenix can finish at No. 9 with a win and a loss by one of the two.
The Spurs need the most help. They’re the 8-seed with a win and losses by the other three teams. They’re the No. 9 seed with a win and losses by any two of the other three. They’re out — for the first time in 22 years — if they lose.
Regardless, it’s going to be a frantic day of games for the four teams, trying to fight the urge to glance at a scoreboard. The Grizzlies face the top team in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks but caught a huge break with Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s one-game suspension. But then again, the Bucks are probably going full rest mode anyway.
The Spurs take on the Utah Jazz, who are now locked into their opening-round series against the Denver Nuggets. The Blazers get the Brooklyn Nets, who are locked as the East’s 7-seed. And the Suns, the undefeated bubble monsters, take on the Dallas Mavericks, who already clinched the 7-seed.
The Grizzlies and Suns tip off simultaneously, the Spurs tip-off as they’re both wrapping up, and the Blazers have the advantage of knowing exactly what’s in front of them as they close the day. Which means possible pressure. Which means … Dame Time.
— Royce Young
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Wednesday and Thursday, and everything you need to know. Check back for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Thursday’s must-see games
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET
Memphis can guarantee itself a shot in the play-in tournament with a victory against the Bucks, locking up at least the No. 9 seed. A win and a loss by Portland later in the night gets the Grizzlies to the eighth spot, giving them the upper hand in the play-in.
The good news for Memphis is it probably won’t have to face a full-strength Bucks’ squad. Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the game while serving a one-game suspension for his head-butt ejection from Tuesday’s game. Milwaukee could opt to rest more starters heading into the playoffs with the top seed in the East already locked up. — Andrew Lopez
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns | 4 p.m. ET
Like the Grizzlies, the Suns might also benefit from a team that is looking toward the playoffs rather than going all out in the final seeding game. With Tuesday’s loss to Portland, Dallas is locked in to the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The Mavericks could look to rest Luka Doncic (who is averaging 32 points, 11.3 assists, 11 rebounds in six bubble games) and Kristaps Porzingis (30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in six games), which could open things up for Phoenix.
Even though the Suns are looking to get to 8-0, a trip to the playoffs isn’t guaranteed. They need one of Memphis or Portland to lose, combined with a win of their own. It would be Phoenix’s first eight-game winning streak since 2010, which is also the last time the Suns made the playoffs. — Lopez
San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz | 6:30 p.m. ET
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked what he would have said if a month ago someone told him San Antonio had a chance to go 6-2 in the bubble and make the playoffs. “I would have had them drug tested,” Popovich deadpanned. Popovich noted that when a team doesn’t have championship aspirations,it has to look toward development. Luckily for the Spurs, that has turned into a possible playoff berth. Because of percentage points, though, the Spurs need more help than others. Utah, however, could be playing for matchups in the playoffs. Currently No. 6, the Jazz have a chance to move up a spot if things bounce their way with other games. — Lopez
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets | 9 p.m. ET
What will Damian Lillard do next? 51 points? 61 points? More? Who knows. Lillard is averaging a bubble-best 37 points while also putting up an average of 9.3 assists in 41.4 minutes. CJ McCollum is the only other player in Florida averaging 40 minutes per game as Portland has leaned on its one-two combo to keep the Blazers in playoff contention. Brooklyn is locked in as the No. 7 seed and Jacque Vaughn — coaching for a chance to continue on as the Nets’ head coach next season — has his team 5-2 overall with three straight wins. — Lopez
Updated West play-in standings
8. Portland Trail Blazers | 34-39 (.466) | —
T-9. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
T-9. Phoenix Suns | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 32-38 (.457) | 0.5 GB
Friday’s Must-See Games
For both of these teams, the goal will be to get into the playoffs healthy. Denver, which has dealt with injuries throughout the bubble, will likely be exceedingly cautious in this game as it waits on the return of wings Gary Harris and Will Barton.
The same should go for the defending champions, who sat rotation players OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka on Wednesday and have been judicious with minutes over the past few days. Head coach Nick Nurse will likely give most of the Raptors’ regulars the day off. — Tim Bontemps
These two teams met on Monday, and the Heat cruised to a comfortable win. With this now set as a first-round playoff series, expect both teams to rest their key players in preparation for their showdown starting early next week. — Bontemps
While Chris Paul will be going up against his old team, it’s hard to see him playing much. Same goes for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. What all of that will mean is Reggie Jackson will get a revenge game against his old team — which likely means big numbers from him (if anyone is actually playing DFS on the final day of seeding games). — Bontemps
The focus for these two teams won’t be what happens on the court, but instead what the health of two of their biggest stars is off of it. Joel Embiid left Wednesday’s game against Toronto because of a wrist injury, while Russell Westbrook sat out Houston’s loss to Indiana because of a strained quad. — Bontemps
Analysis and intel
Other awards include Comeback Player of the Bubble, Sixth Man of the Bubble and Best Coach
The playoff picture is beginning to take shape as the final week of seeding games continues.
Phoenix is 7-0, and Portland keeps winning. Here are the latest projections for the four-team race.