NBA Motivation Tracker: Playoff Seeding and Clinching Scenarios for Every Team

NBA Motivation Tracker: Playoff Seeding and Clinching Scenarios for Every Team

With just two days left of the regular season, the NBA Playoff and Play-In pictures are tightening up. There are still a few key seeds, as well as a few teams who are fighting to avoid said Play-In Tournament.

We get two 15-game slates to decide it all; one on Friday and again on Sunday, when every Eastern Conference team will tip off at 1PM ET, while the Western Conference teams will play all at once come 3:30 PM ET later that afternoon, save for the Pistons-Spurs basement battle. With any luck, we’ll have an exciting “win and in” matchup on that final day.

Until then, you probably want to keep betting on your teams with precious regular season runway left. However, not every team mat deploy their regular starting five, play with their usual fire or even display an ounce of care, which can make this the toughest part of the NBA’s “silly season.”

Below, you’ll find a quick look at each team’s current standing and whether or not they have a lot, a little or absolutely nothing to play for over the final two games. This shouldn’t define your betting strategy, but it should help shape your approach on the final weekend.


NBA Motivation Tracker

Update 4/13: Notable updates after Friday's results have been added to applicable teams below

Atlanta Hawks

Games remaining: @ MIN, @ IND

The Hawks are locked into the Play-In Tournament at 10 games behind the 6 seed. They’re also locked into the #9 vs. #10 matchup, meaning no matter what, they’ll need to win two Play-In games to make the postseason.

While they have no seeding to play for, Trae Young has just returned to the lineup and they’ll probably want to be in sync headed into the postseason, so they’ll likely be playing to win.

Update: As expected, the Hawks played a competitive game vs. the Wolves, but still took it easy, capping their starters at 30 minutes. Likely more of the same on Sunday

Boston Celtics

Games remaining: vs. CHA, vs. WSH

The Celtics have nothing to play for whatsoever, except for maybe their pride after getting manhandled by Jalen Brunson on Thursday night. A massive 13-game lead for the 1-seed means there’s a good chance we see them slightly pull back on usage for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others to prioritize their health. There could be a Payton Pritchard or Sam Hauser game incoming.

Update: The Celtics rested everyone and it was indeed a Payton Pritchard game, a career high 31 points in fact

Brooklyn Nets

Games remaining: @ NYK, @ PHI

The Nets are officially eliminated from the postseason at four games behind the 10-seed Hawks. They have nothing to play for but there could be a betting opportunity with Mikal Bridges.

He’s got the longest active game streak in the NBA, having never missed a game. It wouldn’t be the first time he checked in as a starter only to hit the bench shortly after. The books are onto this, since as of this writing he has no lines available for Friday’s game, but something to keep in mind.

Update: Bridges played 24 minutes and recorded just 5 points and 4 assists

Charlotte Hornets

Games remaining: @ BOS, @ CLE

The Hornets have been eliminated from the postseason for weeks. They’re a roster full of questions and we wouldn’t expect anything significantly different form them than we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Chicago Bulls

Games remaining: @ WSH, @ NYK

Like the Hawks, the Bulls are locked into their spot for the #9 vs. #10 Play-In game in which they’ll face Atlanta. Health should be important for them, but they won’t want to limp into their matchups with the Hawks so they should be pretty motivated to compete.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Games remaining: vs. IND, vs. CHA

The Cavaliers might be one of the most motivated teams this weekend. They’re in the 4-spot right now, with a small chance to climb. But more importantly, they are just two games ahead above the 7-seed and the Play-In. A 76ers loss or Cavs win locks them into a playoff spot so expect a full effort against Indiana, who also need to avoid a Play-In spot.

Update: The Cavs' win over the Pacers clinched them a playoff spot and they can not finish worse than 4th but can finish 2nd


Dallas Mavericks

Games remaining: vs. DET, vs. OKC

Dallas is not only locked into its spot but already knows its playoff opponent in the first round – the Los Angeles Clippers once again. Luka is questionable for Friday and we wouldn’t expect a huge output from him if he suits up in either of the final two games with the MVP race locked up as well.

Update: The Mavs rested everyone on Friday and Sunday will likely be more of the same

Denver Nuggets

Games remaining: @ SAS, @ MEM

Denver sits as the 1-seed and will lock that up with a win and a loss by Minnesota *and* Oklahoma City. They should be highly motivated to pick up a win on the road and lock in their matchup against a play-in team.

Update: Now things have gotten interesting. The Nuggets fell to the Spurs on Friday meaning there is a three-way tie for the 1-seed. Maximum effort!

Detroit Pistons

Games remaining: @ DAL, @ SAS

There might not be a team with less to play for than the Pistons who sit dead last in the NBA with their worst record in franchise history. With a primarily young team already, they don’t have anyone to suddenly turn the keys over to in these final two games.

Golden State Warriors

Games remaining: vs. NOP, vs. UTA

The Warriors are locked into their Play-In fate but have a chance to sneak into the higher-seeded matchup which would give them two chances to make the playoffs. A teams a discombobulated as Golden state this year will want the easiest path so they should play hard over the final two games.

Update: Golden State fell to the Pelicans but can still sneak into the higher-seeded Play-In matchup with a win and some help form the Kings or Lakers.

Houston Rockets

Games remaining: @ POR, @ LAC

Maybe next year, Houston. The Rockets showed plenty of flashes this year, including a late-season 11-game winning streak before dropping five of their last six and now sitting one spot outside the Play-In. They’re eliminated and *should* give Jalen Green and Amen Thompson some time to shine, but if Fred VanVleet has anything to say about it, he’s gonna hog the ball for another 40-piece.

Update: The Rockets are letting the kids go wild to close it out. Amen Thompson dropped 17/15/6 with a full 35 minutes and Fred VanVleet didn't touch the court.

Indiana Pacers

Games remaining: @ CLE, vs. ATL

Like the Cavaliers, the Pacers have everything to play for as they sit just a lone game above the 76ers for that 7-seed in the Play-In. A win and a Sixers loss locks them into the playoffs so they should play extremely competitively against Cleveland, with that result determining their strategy for Sunday vs. Atlanta.

Update: After losing to the Cavaliers, the Pacers' fate rests not only in their must-win vs. the Hawks, but at the hands of the Magic and 76ers, as they need one of them to lose to sneak into the 6-seed

Los Angeles Clippers

Games remaining: vs. UTA, vs. HOU

As mentioned in the Mavericks’ writeup, the Clippers are fated to showdown with the Mavs in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. The team is in sync and health is sure to be a primary focus for LA over the weekend. Another Bones Hyland blow up game, perhaps?

Update: James Harden and Paul George played 10 and 8 minutes respectively and Bones Hyland was their leading scorer with 20 points


Los Angeles Lakers

Games remaining: @ MEM, @ NOP

Los Angeles is again poised for the Play-In, with a path to the higher-seeded game if they can outlast the Kings and Warriors over these last two games. More than anything, Los Angeles is likely just happy to have Anthony Davis set to return, getting them up to full strength for whoever they face in the Play-In. The Grizzlies should give them a nice tune-up for a likely pivotal Sunday showdown with New Orleans, who could be fighting to avoid the Play-In themselves.

Update: A win vs. the Pelicans will keep the Lakers in the higher-seeded Play-In game while a loss could push them out if the Kings or Warriors win

Memphis Grizzlies

Games remaining: vs. LAL, vs. DEN

Eliminated from the playoffs with a depleted roster, it’s anyone’s guess what Memphis will do over these final two games. Scotty Pippen Jr. has seen his usage tick up over the past two weeks so he could be a favorable target for some alternate points scoring.

Miami Heat

Games remaining: vs. TOR, vs. TOR

The Heat are sitting as the 8-seed but could climb their way out of the Play-In with a little help from the Pacers or the Magic. Expect a full effort from this team who has just gotten Tyler Herro back as they get two easy matchups with the eliminated Raptors.

Update: The Heat need a win and at least one of the Pacers, Magic or 76ers to lose and they can jump up and avoid the Play-In

Milwaukee Bucks

Games remaining: @ OKC, @ ORL

Milwaukee can’t finish worse than the 4-seed and will clinch at least the three-seed with a win or Cavs loss, but they’ve got plenty to play for. Losing Giannis was a brutal blow for this team who never quite found their stride during the regular season and now will need Damian Lillard to take over, who is doubtful for Friday’s contest. Is this a Pat Bev game??

Update: It was not a Pat Bev game and the Bucks still control their fate with a win

Minnesota Timberwolves

Games remaining: vs. ATL, vs. PHX

This one is simple – Minnesota has a shot at the No. 1 overall seed and the presumptive easier matchup against a Play-In team. There’s also a chance they finish with the 3-seed, so they should be at full strength and motivated for these last two contests.

Update: See Denver nuggets - a three-way tie for the 1-seed in the West means the Wolves are all in

New Orleans Pelicans

Games remaining: @ GSW, vs. LAL

New Orleans survived its first test, eliminated the Kings from avoiding the Play-In, punctuating a regular season sweep over Sacramento on Thursday. They need to outlast the Suns who are one game back and in the 7-seed in order to secure a playoff position. It’s wheels up for New Orleans tonight against the Warriors.

Update: It will be a playoff atmosphere in this final game as the Pelicans need a win or a Suns loss to secure the 6-seed and since they'll be playing at the same time, it will be full effort from New Orleans


New York Knicks

Games remaining: vs. BKN, vs. CHI

The Knicks have guaranteed a playoff spot but can finish anywhere between #2 and #6. They should be playing with full strength against their crosstown rivals on Friday night, with Sunday determined by the result.

Update: A Knicks win and a Bucks loss pushes New York to the s-seed so the Knicks should battle hard on Sunday afternoon

Oklahoma City Thunder

Games remaining: vs. MIL, vs. DAL

Like Minnesota, things are simple for Oklahoma City. One game out of the No. 1 overall seed, they will do everything in their power to plant their flag atop the Western Conference and are looking fully healthy.

Update: Three-way tie for the No. 1 seed and they'll likely get the Mavs B-squad. Thunder to win by a billion?

Orlando Magic

Games remaining: @ PHI, vs. MIL

Sixers-Magic fighting to avoid a play-in position is going to make for some great TV and some great betting. Everyone will need to show up in this game and we could see a Paolo Banchero legacy game if he can get the best of Joel Embiid and Co.

Update: The Magic can lose and still avoid the Play-In, but not if they don't get help from the other teams so they'll be playing hard

Philadelphia 76ers

Games remaining: vs. ORL, vs. BKN

Same as for the Magic, though they are one game back, making this a true must-win for Philly to avoid the Play-In.

Update: Step 1 was win on Friday. Now they're in a battle with the Magic, Pacers and Heat to avoid the Play-In

Phoenix Suns

Games remaining: @ SAC, @ MIN

The Suns are in the 7-spot in the West with a chance to skip the Play-In if they can win and see the Pelicans lose. The “big three” of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal hasn’t been big enough to secure a playoff spot this year, but they’ll try over these final two games.

Update: Just like the Pelicans, the Suns must win this game for a shot at the last playoff spot in the West, but will be against a Minnesota team trying to lock up the No. 1 spot and still need the Pelicans to lose

Portland Trailblazers

Games remaining: vs. HOU, @ SAC

The Blazers have long been eliminated from the postseason and have already began to give their younger guys some extra run, notably Scoot Henderson who’s hit double-digit assists in three of his past five games after averaging just 5.5 all year.

Sacramento Kings

Games remaining: vs. PHX, vs. POR

The Kings blew their shot at avoiding the Play-In and get a team as motivated as any against the Suns. They should play competitively but this could become a Suns game early leaving the Kings with nothing to play for.

Update: The Kings can get into the higher-seeded Play-In game but will need to win and see the Lakers lose.


San Antonio Spurs

Games remaining: vs. DEN, vs. DET

The Spurs are the last seed in the West and have one objective: showcase rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama as much as possible before the offseason. Our model loves Wemby’s overs tonight.

Toronto Raptors

Games remaining: @ MIA, @ MIA

Eliminated. Not very much to say about Toronto here.

Utah Jazz

Games remaining: @ LAC, @ GSW

The Jazz are eliminated and just snapped a13-game losing streak. A different player shows up for Utah every night and Friday’s game is effectively as meaningless as they come for both sides, though a Clipper win can help them secure homecourt advantage in Round 1.

Washington Wizards

Games remaining: vs. CHI, @ BOS

The Wizards are eliminated and don’t exactly have an up-and-coming young core to turn the keys over to.

Dave Garofolo
Content Producer

Dave Garofolo, a seasoned fantasy sports and betting enthusiast with a special affection for MLB and NFL, uses his deep knowledge to craft game previews for the NBA, MLB, and NFL. He also brings his expertise to the golf world with tournament previews and parlays for the PGA TOUR and major golf tournaments. Additionally, Dave offers valuable props for NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAAM basketball, along with best bets for MLB, NHL, and NCAAM. 

When not delving into the world of sports, Dave is an avid advocate for New Haven pizza, enjoys reading comic books, gardening, and spending time with his cats. His broad interests and detailed sports insights ensure that his contributions are both engaging and informative.

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