Following a loss to the Denver Nuggets last night, the San Antonio Spurs are the 8th seed in the Western Conference. If the season ended today, that would set up the Spurs for a first round match-up against the Golden State Warriors.
The Spurs have faced the Warriors in each of their last two playoff appearances, winning one game over both series. But are the Spurs stuck in eighth? And how can the top of the West shift before the end of the season?
The Warriors are pretty much guaranteed for the top spot in the West. While they are only 1.5 games ahead of the Nuggets, only one of their remaining 5 games come against teams who will be in the playoffs. They also hold the tie-breaker over the Nuggets, meaning that the Nuggets would have to a better record overall.
In that sense, the Warriors pretty much have a 2.5 game advantage on the 1st seed. Their remaining games are against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Even though the Nuggets have a 1.5 game lead on the 2nd seed over the Houston Rockets, they already lost the tie-breaker against them, meaning that if the two teams have the same record at the end of the season, the Rockets would be the higher seed.
The Nuggets will face off against a playoff team in 3 of their final 4 games, playing a home and away against the Portland Trail Blazers, then facing off against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. Their final game is against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Denver.
Only one of the Rockets’ remaining three games is against a playoff team. They play the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns at home before they play the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road. If the Rockets win out and the Nuggets lose two games, the Rockets will be the second seed.
The Spurs can’t be the 5th seed or higher. If they win each of their remaining games and the Jazz lose each of their remaining games the two teams would tie, but the Spurs would still have the lower seed due to the Jazz winning the season tie-breaker over the Spurs.
The Spurs can be the 6th seed if they win out and the Clippers win only 1 of their remaining 3 games. The teams would have the same record and the Spurs would win the tie-breaker on conference record, according to ESPN.com’s standing information.
This is a plausible scenario. The Spurs remaining three games are against the Washington Wizards on the road, the Cavaliers on the road, and the Dallas Mavericks at home. The Clippers remaining three games are against the Lakers, the Warriors on the road, and the Utah Jazz at home.
If the Warriors and Jazz aren’t resting players in those games, a 1-2 record to finish the season wouldn’t be surprising.
For the Spurs to get the 6th seed, they would need the Thunder to lose a game as well. If the Thunder win against each of their final four opponents, the Detroit Pistons at home, the Timberwolves on the road, the Rockets at home, and the Bucks on the road, they will finish the season with a better record than the Spurs.
If the Spurs and the Thunder tie in record, the Spurs would be the higher seed as they hold a better record than the Thunder. This makes the 7th seed possible for the Spurs, especially if they win each of their remaining games.
What would happen, though, if the Spurs won each of their remaining games, the Thunder went 3-1 in their last four games, and the Clippers had a 1-2 record over their final three games?
Each of the three teams would have a 48-34 record. According to NBA.com, the first tie-breaker for a multiple team tie would be winning percentage against the other teams with the same record.
The Clippers’ record against the Spurs and the Thunder is 4-4 for a winning percentage of .500. The Thunder’s record against the Spurs and Clippers is 3-4 for a winning percentage of .429. The Spurs’ record against the Thunder and Clippers is 4-3 for a winning percentage of .571. So in the case of a three-team tie, the Spurs would receive the highest seeding of the three teams.
Each of the Spurs final three games are against teams that aren’t in the playoffs. The Spurs have an opportunity to receive better seeding if they win out, but dropping even one of their remaining games would make the Warriors the most likely first-round opponent.