A Different Look at the Remaining Schedule, Part 6

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Published: April 6, 2018

Punchline: The Pelicans are in a good position to make the Playoffs. They control their own destiny, have one game worth of cushion to keep control, but they need to win at least one game. They can get into the top-6 if they win out.

The New Orleans Pelicans have 4 games left to play, with 2 of them against teams they are in meaningful competition with for seeding: Clippers (and for Playoff life, technically) and Spurs (last game of the season). The Suns and possibly-resting-but-just-chewed-out Warriors round out the 4 games, in that order, starting tonight against the Suns. The Pelicans Magic Number is 3, so they control their own destiny with 4 games left to play.

Between tonight, Saturday, and Sunday, each team of the interesting-8 plays at least once, and the Pelicans are the only team to play twice. So, another update Monday before things get crazy again. I’ll have all the tie-breakers then.

Here are some things to keep in mind before we get into the details:

  • The Pelicans have to win at least 1 game to have a mathematical chance to make the Playoffs
    • Update: They won that game against the Suns, so they can, for now, get in on dumb luck. This can change.
  • The Pelicans need to get to 47 wins to guarantee a Playoff appearance, and the Magic Number is 3
    • Update: The win over the Suns puts the Magic Number at 2.
  • The Pelicans are in the top-6 if they win out
  • A Timberwolves loss won’t reduce the Magic Number today, but it will likely be a help down the line
    • Update: They won.

The Situation

In the West, 3 teams are mathematical locks for the Playoffs (Rockets, Warriors, Trail Blazers). The Rockets and Warriors are fixed into their seeds, in fact, with the Trail Blazers still trying to lock in the 3-seed. 5 teams have been eliminated (Suns, Jazz, I hate the Mavericks, Grizzlies, Lakers) and are shut out of the top-10 over and above that. The remaining 7 teams are all jockeying for 5 Playoff positions, 6 seeds. The records range from 42 wins to 48 wins with 3 games left for each team to play, except the Pelicans, who play 4.

There are 18 total remaining games for the teams of interest, but 7 of these are between teams of interest. That’s 7 of 16 after tonight’s games. This is a tangled web. Each of the following series has 1 more game:

  • Clippers – Nuggets
  • Clippers – Pelicans
  • Jazz – Trail Blazers
  • Nuggets – Timberwolves
  • Nuggets – Trail Blazers
  • Pelicans – Spurs
  • Spurs – Trail Blazers

The Metric

You can revisit the logic behind all this work in prior posts, but it involves

  • “Magic Numbers”
  • Tie-Breakers
  • Common Games

For reference:

The Real Standings

  • Trail Blazers: 48-31, 3 games remaining. The Trail Blazers have clinched a Playoff appearance and are steadily securing favorable seeding. Remaining games: @ Spurs, @ Nuggets, Jazz. That Jazz game could be for the tie-breaker if it matters and if they lose to the Nuggets, otherwise the Trail Blazers will have the two-way tie-breaker going in. They own the two-way tie-breaker over the Pelicans and will pass the Pelicans’ maximum possible wins with just one pickup in the last three or one Pelicans loss.
  • Jazz: 46-33, 3 games remaining. The Jazz finally hit their winning streak and lead the tight 4-8 group. They have the two-way over the Pelicans. Remaining games: @ Lakers, Warriors, @ Trail Blazers.
  • Spurs: 45-34, 3 games remaining. Still no Kawhi, and it looks like he might not return at all. They were playing well, then dropped 2 in Los Angeles. This two-way tie-breaker will be decided on the last day of the season. Remaining games: Trail Blazers, Kings, @ Pelicans.
  • Thunder: 45-34, 3 games remaining. The Thunder continue to slip, and while they own some key tie-breakers, the Pelicans have the two-way locked up. Remaining games: @ Rockets, @ Heat, Grizzlies. They alone have no games against other teams in the interesting-8.
  • Pelicans: 44-34, 4 games remaining. They alone among the interesting-8 play 4 games, starting tonight. Their tie-breaker situation is not good for their current position. Remaining games: @ Suns, @ Warriors, @ Clippers, Spurs.
  • Timberwolves: 44-35, 3 games remaining. The Timberwolves continue to slip-and-steady. They are in a good position in terms of tie-breakers if they can hold on, including over the Pelicans, but they need to hold on. Remaining games: @ Lakers, Grizzlies, Nuggets
  • Nuggets: 44-35, 3 games remaining. The Nuggets cling to life and are thankful they still have a game against the Timberwolves. They own the two-way tie-breaker over the Pelicans. Remaining games: @ Clippers, Trail Blazers, @ Timberwolves.
  • Clippers: 42-37, 3 games remaining. The Clippers have hung around and play some games that can help them, but they are ready to sink into the briny deep, and I’m ready for it, too. This two-way tie-breaker will be determined by winning of their upcoming game. Upcoming common games: Nuggets, Pelicans, Lakers. Save Our Sonics.

Magic Number Calculation

After the conclusion of the games on the 5th, the Pelicans’ magic number is 3, driven by the Clippers, Nuggets, and Timberwolves together.

Identify teams: The live teams with the worst records are the Clippers, Nuggets, Timberwolves with 35 losses each. Since no teams they play are within 1 loss of these teams, no other teams need to be considered.

Highest possible records: The Clippers can get to 45 wins. The Nuggets and Timberwolves can get to 47 wins. Clearly 48 wins will send the Pelicans to the Playoffs. The question is if 47 (or fewer) will once common games and tie-breakers are considered. The answer is yes. Here’s why. The Clippers don’t drive the situation, they are just a team getting passed, so assume they win out, save their common game against Denver, making it harder on the Pelicans. The Nuggets and Timberwolves play each others, so at least one maxes out at 46 wins. So, 47 wins are needed to clear 2 teams (we just don’t know which ones). The Pelicans lose all tie-breakers to these teams and miss the playoffs at 46 in the worst case. Since the Pelicans have 44 wins, the Magic Number is 3 with 4 games left to play, and the Pelicans control their own destiny.

They Need a Win

If the Pelicans lose out, they end with their current win total, 44. All teams except the Timberwolves, Nuggets, and Clippers have cleared this mark already.

  • If the Clippers lose their 2 non-Pelicans games, they top out at 43 wins, but then Denver moves to 45 wins. Minnesota sits at 44 wins. If they lose to the Nuggets, they get the two-way over the Pelicans, and the Pelicans miss the Playoffs. If they best the Nuggets, they get to 45 wins, and the Pelicans miss the Playoffs.
  • If the Clippers win both non-Pelicans game, they are at 45 wins and pass the Pelicans. Then one of the Timberwolves and the Nuggets has to pick up a win, and 2 of the bottom 4 teams have passed the Pelicans, so they miss the Playoffs.
  • If the Clippers win one non-Pelicans game, they end up tied with the Pelicans at 44 wins. One of the Nuggets and Timberwolves gets to 45 wins. At the point, the best Pelicans are looking at a tie, and they lose all possible tie-breakers in this case, miss the Playoffs.

So, they have to get a win. I know it seems intuitive that this is the case, but it’s an absolute fact. There are only a few cases where 45 wins will do it, but it’s possible pennies fall from Heaven if they pick up just one win, any win. 46 wins is a good chance, and 47 is a guarantee for the Playoffs.

Also, 47 wins does not get them top-7 automatically. They can, for instance, end up tied with the Timberwolves at 47 wins, ahead of only the Nuggets and Clippers, which lands them the 8-seed.

Winning Out

If the Pelicans win out, they can get to 48 wins. This puts them ahead of the Timberwolves, Clippers, and Nuggets. They also deal a loss to the Spurs in the process (trust me), who then top out at 47 wins. The puts them in the top-6. They could end up tied with the Thunder at 48 wins. If it’s a two-way tie, the Pelicans move up to 5 by owning that tie-breaker. If the Jazz or Trail Blazers are in the two-way tie, the Pelicans lose. The Pelicans come out last in a Jazz – Thunder tie-breaker, last in Jazz – Trail Blazers tie-breaker, and second in Thunder – Trail Blazers tie-breaker. They come out third in the Jazz – Thunder – Trail Blazers tie.

The point is their Magic Number for top-6 is 48. Less might do it, and where they end up from their depends on other teams they tie with, help from other teams, and to whom they lose..

The 3-seed it out of reach without help due to the Jazz – Trail Blazers game.

We’ll know more this weekend.

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