The most closely watched games of Wednesday night, by far, will feature the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, because their games will determine the winner of the race for the Western Conference's final playoff spot. But there are still a handful of other pieces to the playoff-positioning puzzle that will be put into place on Wednesday, too.
Here's what's still up for grabs, playoffs-wise, heading into the mammoth 15-game, all-30-teams-in-action, season-ending NBA slate:
• Whether the Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls will finish in fifth and sixth place.
After Atlanta's 113-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, the Hawks and Bulls both enter the final day of the season at 44-37. Chicago holds the head-to-head tiebreaker after winning two of its three meetings with Atlanta this season.
If Atlanta wins its regular-season-ender against the New York Knicks and Chicago loses its Wednesday home finale against the Washington Wizards, the Hawks will be the No. 5 seed and face the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs, while the Bulls will finish sixth and head to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take on the Indiana Pacers.
If Atlanta wins, but Chicago beats Washington, the Bulls will take the fifth spot and the matchup with Brooklyn, due to that head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Hawks lose, the Bulls finish fifth no matter what they do on Wednesday, and Larry Drew's squad will face the Pacers. (Given the reserve-heavy, regulars-resting approach the Hawks took against the Raptors on national television on Tuesday, one suspects this doesn't bother Atlanta too much ... which seems odd to me, but that's a story for another time.)
• Whether the Lakers or Jazz will take the West's last playoff spot.
I took a comprehensive look at this earlier on Wednesday.
• Whether the Nuggets or Clippers will take the No. 3 seed.
I covered this a bit on Tuesday.
A Denver win at home over the Phoenix Suns gives the Nuggets the No. 3 spot. So does a Clipper loss at Sleep Train Arena to the Sacramento Kings, which would lock L.A. in at No. 4. The combination of a Nuggets loss and a Clipper win, though, means L.A. finishes third and Denver finishes fourth.
• Whether the Clippers will have home-court advantage in their first-round series.
The Clippers control their own fate here — win and begin the playoffs at Staples Center, or lose and risk heading out to the Grindhouse for the second straight year.
As a division winner, the Clippers are guaranteed a top-four seed in the West; they are not, however, guaranteed home-court advantage if their opponent has a better regular-season record than they do. After taking care of business against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, a win over Sacramento would make them 56-26 and guarantee them home-court no matter what Denver does, because the Grizzlies can't finish with more than 56 wins and the Clippers get the tiebreaker by virtue of being a division winner.
(As we just touched on, a Clipper win and a Denver loss would send L.A. home free, because they'd be the third seed and have a better record than whoever finishes sixth. Denver would have home-court advantage over the Grizzlies, even if they finish with the same record, by virtue of winning the head-to-head season series.)
If Memphis can close the season with a win over the visiting Jazz, though, they'd finish at 56-26. And if the Kings can upset the Pacific Division champions, the Clippers would end up 55-27. As a result, while the Clippers would have the higher seed, the Grizzlies would take home-court in a first-round matchup.
Memphis-Utah tips at 8 p.m. ET; L.A.-Sacramento doesn't get underway until 2 1/2 hours later. I'm guessing there'll be some scoreboard-watching going on in the Clippers' locker room.
• Whether the Golden State Warriors will finish sixth or seventh.
If the Warriors beat the Blazers at the Rose Garden, they'll be the No. 6 seed. If the Houston Rockets lose to the Lakers at Staples Center, the Warriors will be the No. 6 seed.
If Golden State loses and Houston wins, the Rockets will finish sixth and the Warriors will finish seventh. While they'd have identical 46-36 records, Houston won three of the four head-to-head meetings between the two teams.
• Whether the Rockets will finish sixth, seventh or eighth.
As just noted, the combination of a Houston win and a Warriors loss would put the Rockets in the sixth slot. A Warriors win means Golden State gets No. 6, even if Houston wins, relegating the Rockets to No. 7 or No. 8.
As noted in this morning's Lakers/Jazz breakdown, a Rockets loss to the Lakers means L.A. finishes seventh and Houston takes eighth. If the Rockets beat L.A. and the Jazz lose to Memphis, Houston finishes seventh and the Lakers are No. 8; if the Rockets and Utah both win, Houston finishes seventh and Utah takes eighth.
Whew. Now, having set that up, here's a reminder of what's already locked up heading into the season's last night:
• The Miami Heat are the No. 1 seed and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
• The Knicks will finish second, the Pacers will finish third and the Nets will finish fourth. They will all have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
• The Boston Celtics cannot rise any higher than the No. 7 seed and the Milwaukee Bucks can't finish any better than eighth. Boston will start the playoffs against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and Milwaukee gets the distinct pleasure of traveling to AmericanAirlines Arena to take on the defending champion Heat.
• After their Monday victory over the Kings, the Oklahoma City Thunder have clinched the No. 1 seed and will have home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. (Should both the Thunder and the Heat make it to an NBA Finals rematch, Miami would have home-court by virtue of their superior record.)
• The San Antonio Spurs are locked into the No. 2 seed and will have home-court advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs (provided they make it out of the first).
• The Grizzlies will be the No. 5 seed. They can't finish with more wins than the Nuggets; the best they can do is tie the Nuggets at 56-26, and Denver won the head-to-head series between the two teams. They can't finish above the Clippers (now seeded fourth) because the Clips won the Pacific Division and are thus guaranteed a top-four seed. As discussed above, though, they can still earn home-court advantage for a series against the Clips by beating Utah tonight if the Clippers lose to the Kings.