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Tramel: Thunder looks likely for fifth or sixth in the West

The NBA playoff races, both to make and to seed the postseason, are hitting the homestretch. Five days left, counting Monday.

Let’s look at each race. First, the seeding. The Lakers have clinched the No. 1 seed, and Dallas seems certain to stay at No. 7, since the Mavericks are two games behind sixth-seed Utah. Dallas’ magic number is one to be eliminated from the sixth seed – any combination of Jazz wins or Mav losses.

So here are the West standings, with remaining schedule:

Clippers 47-23: Nuggets, Thunder.

Nuggets 46-24: Lakers, Clippers, Raptors.

Rockets 44-25: Spurs, Pacers, 76ers.

Thunder 43-26: Suns, Heat, Clippers.

Jazz 43-27: Mavericks, Spurs.

Denver will play one more game than will the Clippers, so no tie-breakers are involved. So if the Clippers beat the Nuggets on Wednesday, Los Angeles is the No. 2 seed. But if Denver wins that game, the No. 2 seed would be determined by three other games: Clippers-OKC, Denver Lakers, Denver-Toronto.

The Nuggets are 1-1/2 games ahead of the Rockets and will play one more game total than Houston. If Denver goes 2-1 in its final three games, the Rockets can’t catch the Nuggets. If Denver goes 1-2, Houston can catch the Nuggets by going 3-0.

The Thunder is 2-1/2 games behind Denver and can get the No. 3 seed only by winning its final three games while the Nuggets lose all three games. The Thunder is one game behind Houston for the No. 4 seed and wins the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Each team has three games left, so if OKC can finish a game ahead of the Rockets over those three games, the Thunder would be seeded ahead of Houston. The Thunder is a half game ahead of Utah but owns the tiebreaker over the Jazz. Each team plays 72 games, so OKC’s magic number to finish ahead of Utah is two – any combination of Thunder wins or Jazz losses.

The Orlando format calls for the No. 9 seed and No. 8 seed to square off in a play-in series – if the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed in the standings. The No. 9 seed would have to win twice to advance, while the No. 8 seed would have to win just once.

Here are the standings and schedule:

Grizzlies 33-38: Celtics, Bucks.

Blazers 33-39: Mavericks, Nets.

Spurs 31-38: Rockets, Jazz.

Suns 31-39: Thunder, 76ers, Mavericks.

Portland will finish with 74 games, the Grizzlies and Suns 73 each, and the Spurs 71. So if San Antonio finishes even with Memphis or Phoenix in games back, the Spurs would be behind in winning percentage.

So the only relevant tiebreaker is Memphis-Phoenix – which the Grizzlies would win, since they have a 3-1 season lead on the Suns.

So Memphis’ magic number to secure the No. 9 seed is one. Beat the Celtics or the Bucks, and the Grizzlies are in the play-in.

Portland’s magic number to secure the No. 9 seed is two – beat both Dallas and Brooklyn, and the Blazers are in.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›