There are only six days left of basketball, and the standings are as close as ever.
The 2022–23 NBA regular season is down to its final week, and there are still many issues to be resolved. The Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans could theoretically still finish in eight different spots in the final standings because the Western Conference is still so competitive. The Timberwolves, Warriors, and Clippers are not far behind at number seven. In either conference, not a single team has locked up a particular seed.
In other words, during the course of the next six days, there will be plenty of basketball games that are still meaningful. What games do you need to watch then? The top ten games of the season’s final week are listed below.
10. Celtics at 76ers, April 4
This matchup probably won’t impact much in the standings. The top eight teams in the Eastern Conference are separated by at least two games as of this writing, so unless something unexpected occurs, Boston and Philadelphia will be the Nos. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the East. This game is significant for two more reasons, though.
First of all, Joel Embiid’s MVP campaign will likely have one final opportunity to shine here, and after missing last week’s matchup with co-favorite Nikola Jokic, he’ll need all the big wins he can get. Second, and more significantly, Boston has long been Embiid’s bane. The 76ers have dropped all three of their head-to-head games against the Celtics this season, and Embiid has suffered two postseason defeats to Boston. Philly would likely wish to send a message before that series, as these clubs are headed for a second-round brawl.
9. Blazers at Grizzlies, April 4
This game is likely to be a walkover despite Portland’s historic victory over Minnesota on Sunday. The Grizzlies should defeat the Rockets with ease, and if they do, they will clinch at least the No. 2 slot in the Western Conference. Assuming Denver wins against Houston, they would be guaranteed the No. 2 seed regardless of what happens. With a victory in any of their final four contests or a Suns defeat in any of Phoenix’s final four contests, Sacramento would also also clinch No. 3 at that point.
Setting the top three is important, but what it would entail for the teams in the bracket below Memphis and Sacramento is what counts most in this situation. There are still games left for the Grizzlies against the Pelicans and the Thunder. The Mavericks and Warriors continue to oppose the Kings (and their Tuesday game, which runs concurrently with Grizzlies-Blazers, is against the Pelicans). If they choose to rest players toward the end of the season, both of these clubs have a good possibility of affecting the rest of the Western Conference playoff field. That becomes much more likely if Memphis triumphs on Tuesday.
8. Kings at Mavericks, April 5
The Mavericks should most likely win this game. The Kings are playing back-to-back games. Located in Dallas. Even if Sacramento had something to play for, it might not. But how many recent Mavericks losses did we anticipate them to win? After two consecutive losses against the Hornets, you are no longer given the benefit of the doubt. There are even whispers that Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving may be suspended for the final three games because Dallas is in such a terrible situation at the moment. Dallas can still enter the play-in round, but the Mavericks will need assistance. Until they take care of themselves, none of that will matter.
7. Nuggets at Suns, April 6
This is a game of comparison. Phoenix will receive the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, while Denver will receive the top seed. Nikola Jokic’s participation is even uncertain. Denver rested their three top players for the matchup between these two clubs on Friday. But two years ago, the Suns eliminated the Nuggets in the postseason. Phoenix is unbeaten with Kevin Durant in the starting lineup, but all six of those victories, save from that one over Denver’s B-team, have come against teams who are currently below.500. These two teams are favorites in the Western Conference. They both probably need some practice against quality opposition. This game might not have any significance. But if there’s even a remote possibility that they’ll consider it, it has to be on this list.
6. Pelicans at Timberwolves, April 9
Now that we’ve gotten down to business. Given that Minnesota trails No. 8 New Orleans by two losses, the Timberwolves are unlikely to advance above the No. 9 seed. However, their following two contests are against the winnable Nets and Spurs, and they finish the season at home against the New Orleans Pelicans. Given the Pelicans’ incredibly tough schedule ahead of them, it’s conceivable that New Orleans will drop one or two games prior to this clash. The victor of that game also receives the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the other. If so, the victor of this game has a good chance of playing in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 clash, while the loser will need to win two play-in games in order to even qualify for the playoffs.
5. Thunder at Warriors, April 4
The Thunder will automatically qualify for the play-in if they win all three of their remaining games. Because to their tiebreaker advantage against Dallas, even if they win two games, they wouldn’t be eliminated without a three-way tie. The Thunder’s schedule includes two games that they should be able to win: a trip to Utah to play the weakened Jazz and a Sunday home game against the Grizzlies, where Memphis will almost definitely rest its players. Those victories ought to be sufficient to advance the Thunder to the play-in round, but the Thunder aren’t any better than the Mavericks at losing games they could have won. Last week, they suffered losses to the injured Pacers and Hornets. Not only would a victory over the Warriors help them stay in the top 10, it would also show that they have competition in mind for when they do.
4. Warriors at Kings, April 7
Given the likelihood that Sacramento will have secured its seed by Friday, ranking this game among the top four may sound unusual, but keep in mind that the Kings may want to somewhat manipulate the bracket to ensure the right opponent. Because of Sacramento’s youth and defense, the No. 6 seed is now the most desirable spot in the whole Western Conference, but if the Kings have a particular opponent in mind, they may at least use this game as a chance to tip the scales in their favor.
Although Draymond Green indicated that his selection was based on travel, it is likely that the Kings won’t take the Warriors’ desire to play Sacramento in the first round of the playoffs lying down. They have the opportunity to say to teams attempting to get up to No. 6: challenge us at your peril. We have a championship contest when you factor in the likelihood that Andrew Wiggins will take the court again.
3. Suns at Lakers, April 7
Do you recall the previous occasion when LeBron James and Kevin Durant played together on a basketball court? I’ll drop a hint: it never occurred when Durant was donning a Brooklyn Nets jersey. On Christmas Eve of last year, James and Durant squared off while James was still playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and Durant was still a member of the Golden State Warriors. They haven’t played each other since due to various injuries on both sides.
The situation gets even stranger from here: that run might end on April 7… but a playoff series might start just eight days later. There is a good likelihood that the Lakers and Suns will play each other in the first round, especially if the Lakers win this game. We’ll get into the specifics a little later. The Suns might even sit their finest players if they want to play the Lakers in their first-round clash. Whatever happens, there will be significant stakes in this game. Better still if it’s a Durant vs. James matchup.
2. Clippers at Suns, April 9
Hey, speaking of the Suns rigging the bracket against teams from Los Angeles, Phoenix plays the Clippers to end the regular season. If the Suns want to set up that meeting, they can do it by resting guys and giving the Clippers a victory. Those Clippers are just as likely to play the Suns in the first round. Importantly, if they meet in the first round, we’d add at least four extra games to their combined record. Durant and Westbrook have only met 12 times in their careers. Don’t be surprised if Phoenix folds for this one because the Suns probably regard the Clippers as their favored first-round opponent with Paul George injured.
1. Lakers at Clippers, April 5
For this one, no one is taking it easy. If the Lakers defeat the Jazz as predicted on Tuesday, they will enter their matchup against the Clippers deadlocked at 41-38. The No. 5 seed’s future will be in their hands if they win. The loser may effortlessly advance to the play-in round. Without exaggeration, this is by far the most significant matchup between the Lakers and Clippers that has ever taken place.
And that’s before we take into account Westbrook’s matchup against his former team. Since trading for Westbrook in February, the Lakers have appeared to be title contenders. Soon after, the Clippers signed him, and the results have been uneven. Westbrook would dearly love to permanently remove the Lakers from the top six. By dropping the Clippers to No. 7, the Lakers would want to demonstrate that he was the one who had been holding them back all along. This week’s games include those with psychological stakes, ones with real-world implications, and ones with historical significance. Only the Lakers vs. Clippers matchup meets all three criteria.