The San Antonio Spurs have had a stranglehold on the league’s best record for a while now. But with Monday’s loss to the Blazers, their lead over both the Bulls and Lakers is down to three games in the loss column.
Top six teams, remaining schedule strength
|Team||W||L||Pct||Opp. Pct.||vs. Top 9||B2B||H/A|
Opp. Pct. = Cumulative winning percentage of remaining opponent
vs. Top 9 = Games remaining against top nine teams in either conference
B2B = Remaining back-to-backs
H/A = Home/Away
If either Chicago or L.A. were to win the rest of its games, the Spurs would have to finish the season 6-2 to ensure the top overall seed. They currently have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lakers, but face L.A. at Staples Center on April 12 (the next-to-last day of the season) in a game that may have a lot riding on it.
Of the two teams tied with 20 losses, the Bulls have a much easier schedule and a better chance of winning out. The Bulls and Spurs split their season series, so their tiebreaker, should they meet in The Finals, would be their record against the opposing conference.
San Antonio is 22-6 against the East with games vs. Boston (Thursday) and at Atlanta (April 5) remaining. Chicago is 21-7 against the West with games at Minnesota (Wednesday) and vs. Phoenix (April 5) remaining. The Bulls seem to have the advantage there, playing the two easiest of the four games.
Should the Bulls and Spurs finish the season with the same record and the same record against the opposite conference, the tiebreaker for home-court advantage in a prospective Finals matchup would be determined by a random drawing. That would make for an interesting scenario. But what are the chances the Bulls and Spurs meet in the Finals?
In the last 10 years, only once have the top seeds from the two conferences each made The Finals. That was in 2008, when the Celtics beat the Lakers.
Right now, the East seems wide open. The Bulls own the best record, the Celtics have the championship experience and the Heat have the most top-line talent. But in the West, the Lakers — with two titles under their belt and a 15-1 record since the All-Star break — are looking like stronger favorites than they were a month ago.
The Lakers may not have home-court advantage against the Spurs, but they won in San Antonio on Feb. 18. Plus, home-court advantage is clearly more important in The Finals (with its 2-3-2 format) than it is in the first three playoff rounds (2-2-1-1-1). The team with the home-court advantage has won 20 of the 26 Finals series since the format changed in 1986.
When it comes to seeding, it may be more important to pay attention to the Lakers’ record than that of the Bulls, Celtics and Heat. L.A. split its season series against both Boston and Chicago, but lost both meetings with Miami.
Top six teams, games vs. opposite conference
|San Antonio||22||6||vs. BOS, @ ATL|
|Chicago||21||7||@ MIN, vs. PHX|
The Lakers are done with games against the East, so they’ve clinched the cross-conference tie-breaker with Boston. But the Bulls have the edge over L.A. and would need to beat either Minnesota or Phoenix to clinch the tie-breaker.
The Heat would need to make up a two-game deficit to earn home-court advantage in a Finals matchup with the Lakers, but no team has a better chance to win the rest of their games than Miami. Their schedule is straight cupcakes until they face the reeling Celtics and reeling Hawks in the final week of the season. The Heat have won eight of their last nine games.
The prospect of another Finals Game 7 at the Staples Center looks like a distinct possibility with how the Lakers are now playing. But between now and April 13, there are still a lot of games to be played. And if there is a Game 7 for a second straight year, the location will likely be determined over the next 16 days.