The Brooklyn Nets took down the Philadelphia 76ers last night in resounding fashion, improving their record to 45-32 and further cementing the possibility that they’ll end the season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Here’s a brief look at all of the possibilities for the Nets heading into the playoffs:
The Brooklyn Nets will end up with the third seed if: They win all of their remaining games and the Indiana Pacers lose all of their remaining games. The Nets, at 45-32, would have to beat the Boston Celtics, Pacers, and Toronto Raptors all on the road, then the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons at home, to finish the season 50-32 (which, incidentally, would be their first 50-win season since 2001-02, Jason Kidd’s first year as a New Jersey Net).
But that’s not enough. The Pacers, currently at 49-29, would have to lose each of their final four games to finish the season with a worse record than the Nets. The Pacers have clinched the Central Division, and division leaders automatically win any tiebreakers against non-division leaders. So even if the Pacers went 1-3, tying the hypothetically-undefeated Nets at 50-32, they would retain the third seed.
The Pacers’ final four games are against the Nets, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers, so it certainly is possible — though, as we saw last night, a tanking Philadelphia 76ers team won’t have much of a chance against a Pacers team that’d be fighting for the third seed in the playoffs.
If the Brooklyn Nets end up the third seed, they’ll play… Most likely the Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls. The Hawks currently hold the sixth seed at 42-36, but they’re only a half-game behind the Bulls, who are one up in the loss column at 42-35. A darkhorse candidate should either of those teams fall apart is the 40-37 Boston Celtics.
Overall chance for the 3rd seed: Very, very low. Almost impossible that the Nets win outright & Pacers lose.
The Brooklyn Nets will end up with the fourth seed if… Things play out as expected. This is by far the most likely scenario for Brooklyn — as detailed above, things would have to go perfectly for them to get the third seed, and they’re currently three games ahead of the fifth-seeded Chicago Bulls with five games remaining.
If the Brooklyn Nets end up the fourth seed, they’ll play… Again, most likely the Bulls or Hawks, with the Celtics a darkhorse. With five games remaining, the Celtics would have to upset the Miami Heat and Pacers to have a legitimate shot, while the Bulls & Hawks would both have to falter. The Bulls hold the tiebreaker over both the Hawks and the Celtics, meaning that should the teams end up with identical records, the Bulls would get the higher seeding. The Celtics hold a tiebreaker over the Hawks.
Overall chances: Strong. The Nets will most likely be the fourth seed heading into the playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets will end up the fifth seed if… The Chicago Bulls win at least three more games than the Nets do — i.e. the Bulls go 5-0 while the Nets go 2-3, or 4-1 while the Nets go 1-4, or 3-2 while the Nets end the season on a five-game losing streak. Considering that the Nets have games against the Raptors, Wizards, and Pistons, while the Bulls face the Miami Heat in Miami and the New York Knicks, this is relatively unlikely.
The Hawks could also conceivably sneak into the fourth seed if they win their final four games outright, the Nets lose their final five games outright, and the Bulls do no better than 3-2 in their final five games.
If the Brooklyn Nets end up the fifth seed, they’ll play… Again, either the Hawks or Bulls, but they’ll be doing it with a significant disadvantage: no home-court. The Nets went 1-3 in Atlanta and Chicago this year, the only victory coming in Atlanta on March 9th against a shorthanded Atlanta squad. The Boston Celtics, though still in the running for fifth seed, are mathematically eliminated from a shot at the fourth seed.
Overall chances: Unlikely, but possible. If the Nets falter down the season stretch against teams they should beat, the Bulls could take advantage. Still, since the shorthanded Bulls have games against Miami and New York, it’s a longshot.
The Brooklyn Nets will end up with the sixth seed if… Hoo boy. The Nets would have to lose all of their final five games, while the Hawks win their final four games and the Bulls go at least 3-2. That would leave the Nets with a 45-37 record, while the Hawks would be 46-36 and the Bulls at least 45-37. Since the Bulls have the better head-to-head record, they’d win a tiebreaker if the two teams finish with identical 45-37 records. Nearly impossible… but not impossible.
If the Brooklyn Nets end up the sixth seed, they’ll play… Most likely the Indiana Pacers, though there’s an outside chance that the 51-26 New York Knicks, two games ahead of the Pacers for the second seed, falter as well and slide down into the third spot. That would be an amazing series — who doesn’t want to see Brooklyn vs. Manhattan? — but it’d also come at the hands of some serious tanking on both sides, and going into the playoffs with a sense of failure probably isn’t the best way to start a series.
Overall chances: Damn near impossible. Excuse me while I go knock on this wood over here.