A total of 12 games will be played across the league early on Thursday morning, as the regular season comes to a close and the excitement of postseason basketball takes center stage. Of the 12 games, only five will not affect the playoff seeds as it is now. The outcome of six out of the remaining seven games will influence the positions of the teams one way or the other, and the last is likely a preview of one of the first-round matchups.
Final games of the regular season count for a lot
The game with the biggest stake is the Target Center showdown involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets (live on Kwesé Sports 1 from 02:00 CAT). It’s a straight shootout between the two teams, as the winner automatically gets the only playoffs place left: last spot in the Western Conference. Both teams have an identical 46-35 record, which means that whoever wins improves to 47-35, while the loser drops to 46-36, and out of the postseason.
The other game with a significant impact is the Louisiana face-off between the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans currently hold the fifth seed, and the Spurs are right behind them in sixth place. But the loser will drop from sixth into seventh place.
This is because the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies will have an impact on the loser. Should the Thunder defeat the Grizzlies with the odds greatly in their favor in front of their fans – having won the three meetings so far this season – they will improve to 48-34. As it stands, Pelicans, Spurs and Thunder all have similar 47-34 records. That is why a win for the Thunder will definitely take them off the seventh seed to be replaced with the loser of the Pelicans vs Spurs game.
The last game with significance in the West, is the battle for the third seed between the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers. The Jazz currently hold that third seed, but will be the guests of the Blazers at Moda Center. The challenge for the Blazers, though, is that they have lost four straight, while Utah are on a six-game roll. Still, if the Blazers get the win, they will reclaim third seed from the Jazz.
In the Eastern Conference, where there is less seeding tension, a couple of games may still impact the standings. The New York Knicks vs Cleveland Cavaliers matchup virtually guarantees a win for the Cavs, which will give the perennial Eastern Conference winners a chance to move up into third seed.
However, for that to happen, the playoffs-preview game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers (live on Kwesé Free Sports from 02:00 CAT) going down at Target Center will have to end in a loss for the red-hot Sixers, who have won 15 straight. So, for the Sixers to lock down the third seed, they need to defeat the Bucks.
Eastern Conference top seed the Toronto Raptors visit Miami Heat for a game that may have some significance for the home team, who have the chance to improve to sixth. Should the Heat, who have played two close games against the Raptors, defeat the Eastern top seed, and Milwaukee lose at Philadelphia, the Heat will have a similar 44-38 record as the Bucks. However, the Heat hold a regular-season 3-0 record over the Bucks, and will inherit the sixth seed.
Three teams have posted surprising results this season: the Philadelphia 76ers, who won just 28 games last season, but have broken the franchise record for wins and surpassed 50 wins just a year later; the Utah Jazz who lost their best player, Gordon Hayward, but still bounced back to record 48 wins and sit pretty with the third seed; and the Indiana Pacers, who traded away their only All-Star in a season they won 42 games, but have racked up 48 wins.