HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It all comes down to this, the final night of the NBA regular season.
We’re not used to the one-and-done stuff around here, not when champions are crowned in a best-of-seven environment. It’s rare that we get to see teams dealing with a 48-minute cauldron that decides their fate (there are still tons of moving parts, as we detailed earlier in our complex playoff scenarios update). For some that means determining whether or nor they make the playoffs at all. For others it’s the difference between a desired (or dreaded) seed in the playoffs. And for some, that means whether or not you host a first-round series or start on the road.
Either way, it all comes down to this one night. The clock is winding down on the regular season for everyone. All 30 teams are on the schedule tonight, but the finale means a little more for the teams involved in these matchups:
ATLANTA HAWKS at NEW YORK KNICKS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Hawks were supposed to be fighting for the fifth seed Tuesday night against Toronto, but they didn’t look like they had a whole lot of fight in them during that TNT broadcast. The Hawks went through the motions during their home finale (without Al Horford) and got pounded by the Raptors. The Knicks will rest Carmelo Anthony and others heading into this weekend’s playoff opener, so the Hawks should have an edge. They have to finish with a better record than the Bulls to get the fifth seed, because the Bulls own the tie-breaker. An interesting side note: Anthony has already locked up his first scoring title without even suiting up since Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said on Instagram he won’t play tonight in Milwaukee.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS at CHICAGO BULLS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The beautiful thing about the Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau is that they’ll never be accused of not pushing it to the max every night of the season. This should be no different. Thibs will make sure his team shows up with the same nasty disposition for this game that they did for the 81 games that came before it. The Bulls want that No. 5 seed because Thibs won’t allow them to backslide into anything. And this notion that the Hawks and Bulls would rather avoid the No. 5 seed, and the potential second-round matchup against the Heat that comes with it, is laughable. You have to get past the Brooklyn Nets before you get to worry about the Heat.
UTAH JAZZ at MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is truly a win-or-go-home game for the Jazz. They have to win this game to keep their season alive and then they have to start their rain dance in the locker room and root for the Houston Rockets to upend the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center (10:30 ET, ESPN). The only problem for the Jazz? The Grizzlies need this game just as bad. Their seed is set, they’re going into the Western Conference playoffs at No. 5. But they can still host their first-round series by virtue of having a better record than the Los Angeles Clippers, provided the Clippers wind up at No. 4 (more on this below). This one will have all of the intensity of a playoff elimination game. It’s must-see TV!
PHOENIX SUNS at DENVER NUGGETS (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Nuggets have home court locked up, but their seed hangs in the balance tonight. George Karl‘s crew can clinch the No. 3 spot with a win over the Suns or if the Los Angeles Clippers fall in Sacramento. The Nuggets need to handle their business first and foremost, though, because if they end up with the same record as the Clippers, they lose out on the tie-breaker even after winning the season series with the Pacific Division champs. The No. 3 seed also keeps the Nuggets from having to face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
HOUSTON ROCKETS at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (10:30 p.m., ESPN): Kobe Bryant will be watching (from his home in Orange County as he’s been ordered to stay off of his surgically repaired torn Achilles) and willing his Lakers to a much-needed victory and into the playoffs in his absence. His playoff guarantee is on the line. But at least the Lakers, winners of four straight, control their own destiny. All they have to do is win. The Rockets, on the other hand, could land anywhere from No. 6 to No. 8 (it’s complicated). But this is all about the Lakers and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and whether or not these two big men can drive the Lakers into the playoffs and into a space where they can make the noise Bryant promised they would in the first round.
L.A. CLIPPERS at SACRAMENTO KINGS (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): The Clippers’ march to the Pacific crown guarantees them of a top-four seed in the Western Conference. But being No. 4 does not guarantee them home-court advantage (as explained above) if they get locked into a 4-5 matchup with a Grizzlies team that could finish the season with a better record. I’m sure the Clippers love Beale Street and dinners at the Rendezvous like we all do, but it would be a shame if they have to celebrate the first division title in franchise history by going on the road to start the playoffs.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS at PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): All the Warriors have to do is win to lock down the No. 6 seed. Lose, however, and things get a bit sticky. They’ve worked too hard this season to allow the Houston Rockets to decide their playoff picture. (Houston can finish as high as No. 6 and as low as No. 8, depending on how things shake out tonight around the Western Conference.) But they might not have a choice since the Rockets and Lakers will be finished playing before they get done in Portland tonight.
Bottom line, the playoffs start tonight for every team on this list!