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NBA playoff picture: Potential seeding and matchups at the All-Star Break

With the NBA regular season two-thirds complete, we take a look at the current playoff picture at the All-Star Break.

Teams are past the 50-game mark ad the playoff picture is beginning to form. Let’s take a look ahead to the postseason using the current standings to pick out the potential talking points and highlights to come. 

Current Playoff picture

Eastern Conference

  • Boston Celtics (1) vs Play-In 8-seed winner
  • Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs Play-In 7-seed winner
  • Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs Indiana Pacers (6)
  • New York Knicks (4) vs Philadelphia 76ers (5)

Play-In Tournament

  • Miami Heat (7) vs Orlando Magic (8)
  • Chicago Bulls (9) vs Atlanta Hawks (10)

Western Conference

  • Minnesota Timberwolves (1) vs Play-In 8-seed winner
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Play-In 7-seed winner
  • LA Clippers (3) vs New Orleans Pelicans (6)
  • Denver Nuggets (4) vs Phoenix Suns (5)

Play-In Tournament

  • Dallas Mavericks (7) vs Sacramento Kings (8)
  • LA Lakers (9) vs Golden State Warriors (10)

Surprise contenders leading the West

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder met in last season’s Play-In Tournament. The pair faced off for the final spot in the 2023 playoffs, but this term they’re the top two in the Western Conference.

Both sides have taken a huge leap which has them on course to meet this season’s Play-In winners. However, that could set them up with some heavyweight clashes.

The West’s Play-In features two of last season’s Conference semifinalists, plus the Sacramento Kings who finished third less than a year ago. The Dallas Mavericks are also a real threat despite their slump a year ago. 

While both the Timberwolves and the Thunder have enjoyed brilliant seasons, they’re battling in a stacked Western Conference. The top-seeded Timberwolves are +800 and the Thunder are +900 to win their conference, which points to bigger threats further down the standings. 

Expect plenty of fireworks in the West

The depth of the Western Conference is remarkable, as seen by their potential first-round clashes. 

The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns were recognised as probably the two best sides in the Conference after their epic meeting in the semis last year. 

Those sides are among the top three in the betting to win the conference. The Nuggets are +200 favorites, with the Suns at +750. Pairing them up in the first round of the playoffs would set the stage for another thrilling series.

The third-seeded Clippers are +240 to win the west and they're closing in on the fourth-placed Nuggets in the odds as their fantastic play - and good health - continues to impress. Their matchup with the sixth-seed Pelicans could be an epic if the stars of each team can stay on the floor, but they’re both among the most injury-plagued sides in the NBA. 

Even the West’s Play-In tournament looks stacked with good teams. The Mavericks and Kings could produce a thrilling clash likely lacking in defensive effort. 

As for the 9/10-seed game, a win-or-go-home clash between LeBron James and Steph Curry just as the league negotiates their new TV deal, would have Adam Silver swimming in massive media rights bids.

Indiana and Milwaukee could go 12 rounds

Thanks to the In-Season Tournament, the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers have already met five times this season. With the pair on course for a first-round encounter, there’s a real chance these teams could play each other 12 times this season.

Their season-series going to 12 rounds would be apt, as there’s clear bad blood. Giannis Antetokoumnpo hit the roof when the Pacers took the game ball - to give to rookie Oscar Tshiebwe after scoring his first NBA points - after Giannis' franchise-record 64 points in December. However, that was the Bucks’ only win, going 1-4 against the Pacers so far.

That includes their IST clash, in which the Pacers won in Vegas and Tyrese Haliburton pulled out the Dame-time celebration. Bucks players have publicly called out the Pacers, while Indiana strengthened by adding All-Star Pascal Siakam since the pair last met.

If this matchup happens, I’d make it the pick of the first round for pure drama.

Miami are dangerous loomers once again

The Miami Heat were once infamously labelled “dangerous loomers” for the NBA title while topping the Eastern Conference in 2022. They earned that title last season, making the NBA Finals as the East’s eighth seed.

While it feels harsh to overlook a potential 4/5 clash between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, injuries cloud what that series would look like. While those two franchises have taken steps forward this year, it’s hard to say they’d eliminate the Heat over seven games.

Erik Spoelstra’s side are settling into their groove after some shaky stretches of play. Last year proved that the Heat can get hot by Spring and they’re targeting a fourth Conference Finals in five seasons.

Unlike the West, the Heat stand head and shoulders above their Play-In rivals. Miami are +1800 outsiders to win the East at the moment, but they have the tools - and, in Erik Spoelstra, the coach - to trouble any of the sides above them. 

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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