The Most Important Games Left In The Battles For NBA Playoff Position

We have reached the final weeks of the NBA regular season, with most teams having just 10 games left to make a move in the standings. For teams eliminated from contention, they’ll be running out the clock and trying to find a bit of positivity going into the 2024-25 campaign, but for those still in the hunt for spots in the Playoffs or Play-In, there’s some real importance to this stretch run.

In the East, the top-seed has been locked up by the Boston Celtics, leaving the teams below them to posture for seeding. The Bucks loss on Tuesday to the Lakers opened the door for the Cavs and Knicks to still feel like the 2-seed is within reach if they can get hot, while the Magic will be looking to leap someone into a top-4 position. The Pacers, meanwhile, hold a 1.5 game lead over the Heat and Sixers for the all-important 6-seed that keeps you out of the Play-In. The East’s second Play-In game is effectively set in stone between the Bulls and Hawks, leaving little drama at the bottom of the standings.

Out West, things are bunched up much tighter throughout. At the top, Denver is a half-game up on the Thunder and 1.5 games up on Minnesota as that trio has separated themselves from the pack, but still could end up in any order as the top 3 seeds. In the middle, the Clippers, Pelicans, Mavs, Kings, and Suns are all within 2.5 games of each other, meaning the battle to avoid the Play-In should be fascinating. Below them, the Lakers could get in the mix for the 8-seed if they can get hot, but the 9 seems far more likely as they’re two games back of the 8 and two games up on Golden State in 10th. The Warriors, meanwhile, hold just a 1-game lead over Houston for the 10th and final spot in the Play-In and will have to battle just to give themselves a chance at playing their way into the postseason.

All of that is to say, there’s plenty still out there to play for in the final weeks of the season, and within those groupings, the few head-to-head battles remaining will be especially important. By my count there are 15 games left on the schedule that will directly impact playoff seeding by way of teams battling for the same positions going head-to-head (mostly in the West), meaning these are the games to keep a particularly close eye on as we close out this regular season.


76ers at Heat (4/4): This game figures to be a Play-In preview and could go a long way in determining whether the 7/8 game gets played in Philadelphia or Miami. The two teams are tied right now at 39-33 and while they both will have designs on catching Indiana 1.5 games ahead, neither team gets to play the Pacers in the final 10 games, meaning they’ll need help. In the mean time, they can help themselves with a win in this matchup as both teams look to round into form at the right time.

Knicks at Bucks (4/7): Making up 2.5 games in 10 is very difficult, but a win here by the Knicks would give them an outside chance at the 2-seed in the East. The Bucks have left the door ajar with their play of late and New York is playing at a high level as we hit the final couple weeks of the season. It should be Milwaukee in the 2 spot come playoff time, but they certainly haven’t earned the trust to put them there in pen just yet.

Magic at Bucks (4/10) and Bucks at Magic (4/14): Orlando is 3.5 games back of Milwaukee, but they do get two cracks at the Bucks to end the season. They would need a huge run before this to have a chance at reeling the Bucks in, but being able to pick up two games on them in head-to-head matchups means the Magic certainly have something to chase over the next couple weeks. If they can get to 2 games back by the 10th, these two games will become very important to both teams.


Timberwolves at Nuggets (3/29): The last head-to-head game for any of the top 3 in the West against each other will see Minnesota travel to Denver on Friday. A Timberwolves win would put the 1-seed in real doubt over the last two weeks, while a Nuggets win would likely put enough daylight between these two teams that it becomes a two-team race between Denver and OKC.

Mavericks at Kings (3/29): The battle for the 4-8 seeds in the West is going to be fascinating, particularly for Sacramento as they get a game against all four of the teams they’ll be battling for seeding with. That certainly gives them plenty of opportunity to make up ground on the teams around them. It also means they have a difficult schedule playing not only playoff caliber teams, but playoff caliber teams that still have something to play for. The first of those is against the red-hot Mavs, who have jumped the Kings into the 6-spot at the moment.

Suns at Pelicans (4/1): The Pelicans, meanwhile, face the two teams furthest from them in the standings at the moment, meaning they get a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Suns and Kings, all but assuring a playoff position. Their first chance to do so comes against Phoenix at home, where a win would give them some more cushion.

Kings at Clippers (4/2): The Clippers have been stumbling of late and now aren’t guaranteed homecourt in the first round. They need to right the ship quickly, and beating the Kings next Tuesday would likely lock them into a playoff spot.

Warriors at Rockets (4/4): The most important game of the season for the Warriors being a road game in Houston in April was not something anyone expected coming into the year, but here we are. Golden State is currently just one game up on Houston and in a week’s time we’ll have to see what that gap is, but it stands to reason this could be a play-in game for the Play-In when it’s all said and done.

Clippers at Suns (4/9) and Suns at Clippers (4/10): Like the Kings, the Suns will also have ample opportunity to make up ground on the teams around them via head-to-head matchups. While they’re 2.5 games back of the Clippers currently, they will get two meetings on a home-and-home back-to-back in the last week of the season. Those two games could be very important for both teams, with Phoenix obviously looking for a chance to move up and out of the Play-In, while the Clippers are rather desperate right now for some positive momentum going into the playoffs. A split here would likely be enough for L.A., but two wins in this mini-series for either team would be a big boost as the postseason arrives.

Warriors at Lakers (4/9): If the Warriors can get some cushion on the Rockets and win their game on the 4th, this game could be meaningful for homecourt in the 9/10 Play-In eliminator. That’ll be dependent on whether the Lakers slip at all, but this could be a little preview of a win-or-go home game in mid-April.

Pelicans at Kings (4/11): By this point, we should have some clarity on what’s really at stake in the race for West playoff seeding, but if the Kings can win some of their earlier head-to-heads, this could have some real importance. If the Pelicans can win this game, their game against Phoenix earlier in the month, and tread water otherwise, they should lock up a top-6 spot.

Suns at Kings (4/12): As of now, this is the 7/8 game in the Play-In out West. By the 12th, we’ll see if that’s still the case but as it stands, this could be for homecourt in that Play-In game.