NBA Playoff Picture 2024: Celtics Clinch Best Record; Heat, Suns Enter Top 6

The Boston Celtics have been the NBA’s best team throughout the 2023-24 season.

Now, they’ll officially have the record to show for it.

Boston’s 135-100 thrashing of the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday was its 60th win of the campaign. It was also the clincher for giving the Celtics the best record in the league and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

“We deserve it,” Kristaps Porziņģis told reporters. “I think it’s possibly going to matter if we follow through with the vision we have for ourselves.”

While the Celtics have secured their spot atop the league standings, just about everything else is still being sorted out behind them. Let’s update the standings after Wednesday’s results, then, before breaking down some of the best races to watch.

Eastern Conference

1. z-Boston Celtics: 60-16

2. Milwaukee Bucks: 47-29

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: 46-31

4. Orlando Magic: 45-31

5. New York Knicks: 44-31

6. Miami Heat: 42-33

—–Automatic Playoff Berth Cutoff—–

7. Indiana Pacers: 43-34

8. Philadelphia 76ers: 41-35

9. pb-Chicago Bulls: 36-40

10. pb-Atlanta Hawks: 36-40

—–Play-In Tournament Cutoff—–

11. e-Brooklyn Nets: 30-47

12. e-Toronto Raptors: 23-53

13. e-Charlotte Hornets: 18-58

14. e-Washington Wizards: 15-62

15. e-Detroit Pistons: 13-63

Western Conference

1. x-Minnesota Timberwolves: 53-23

2. x-Denver Nuggets: 53-23

3. x-Oklahoma City Thunder: 52-24

4. Los Angeles Clippers: 47-28

5. Dallas Mavericks: 45-30

6. Phoenix Suns: 45-31

—–Automatic Playoff Berth Cutoff—–

7. New Orleans Pelicans: 45-31

8. Sacramento Kings: 44-31

9. Los Angeles Lakers: 44-33

10. Golden State Warriors: 41-34

—–Play-In Tournament Cutoff—–

11. Houston Rockets: 38-37

12. e-Utah Jazz: 29-47

13. e-Memphis Grizzlies: 26-50

14. e-Portland Trail Blazers: 20-56

15. e-San Antonio Spurs: 18-58

*z-clinched best league record; x-clinched playoff berth; pb-clinched play-in berth; e-eliminated from playoff contention

With both the Cavaliers and Knicks hitting injury-impacted rough patches, the Bucks had a chance to seize control of the No. 2 spot in the East. Instead, Milwaukee has dropped back-to-back games to Washington and Memphis, inexcusable losses regardless of the fact Damian Lillard didn’t suit up in either tilt and Khris Middleton missed the latter.

But the Grizzlies were playing without Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart. And even after the victory, they have a sub-.350 winning percentage. The Bucks should not have lost, but credit Jaren Jackson Jr. for making sure they did with a masterful 35-point performance.

The Bucks are leaving the door open, and while the Cavs and Knicks haven’t taken advantage, maybe the Magic will be the team that does.

Orlando strengthened its hold on the East’s No. 4 spot (and climbed within a half-game of No. 3) with a 117-108 win over New Orleans. It was the Magic’s third victory in a row, and Friday’s road trip to Charlotte sure looks like a great opportunity to extend this streak to four.

Staying in Florida, the Heat quietly crept into the sixth seed Wednesday with Indiana’s loss to Brooklyn. The Nets, who won for only the fourth time in their last 12 games, were still eliminated from playoff contention with the Hawks’ win over the Pistons, which featured an out-of-nowhere 50-burger from Detroit reserve Malachi Flynn.

The Pacers had mostly played good basketball of late, but they’ve still been prone to a few head-scratchers. Despite sprinting out to a 12-point lead after the first quarter, they couldn’t hold the lead as their normally explosive offense went dormant in the second half. They had 62 points in the first 24 minutes and only 49 after intermission.

“It was an uneven compete level for us tonight,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “You know, the second quarter was our undoing and the second half (we) just left too much to chance.”

The Pacers have a tougher remaining schedule than the Heat. Any more slip-ups, and Indiana might want to just plan on Play-In Tournament participation.

Bouncing over to the West, the top seed has changed hands yet again.

The Timberwolves returned to the No. 1 spot with a 133-85 thumping over the Raptors. Minnesota, which won each of the final three quarters by double-digits, holds the tiebreaker over Denver. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, slipped a game back of that pair after its second consecutive loss, neither of which featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (quad) or Jalen Williams (ankle).

Lower down the standings, the Pelicans slipped to No. 7 with their loss to the Magic, while the Suns jumped from No. 8 to No. 6 with a 122-101 takedown of the Cavaliers. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker combined for 72 points, while Bol Bol pumped in 15 points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist in his busy 22 minutes off the bench.

Finally, the Lakers picked up their third consecutive win Wednesday, and while they still have work to do, they’ve at least kept open the possibility of a magical ending.

They’re only one game back of the No. 8 seed, one-and-a-half down from No. 6 and just two games out of No. 5. If nothing else, they can make the teams in those spots seriously sweat down the stretch.

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