It’s that time of year again! The most exciting time in sports! The NBA playoffs are coming. The playoff race is tight as ever in both conferences for the first time in a long time: the East, where one game separates the sixth and ninth spots, and the West, where there is a four and a half game difference between the third seed and the eighth seed. After last night’s blowout victory, the Los Angeles Lakers crushed the Charlotte Hornets’ hope of making the playoffs this season, barring a catastrophic implosion by any of the four teams ahead of them.  The East is probably having their most exciting playoff race in a long time, with the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat all fighting to finish with the sixth seed and avoid being swept by the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors. The West’s playoff race is already locked in with the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder all having clinched their breaths in the postseason. 

The closeness of the playoff race in the East is absolutely ridiculous. There is still the possibility of a four-way tie for sixth place with one team losing their spot in the playoffs due to not having won their division. If you didn’t know the NBA had divisions then you are part of the vast majority that have completely forgotten divisions exist. However, divisions still play a small part in the NBA today. If a team wins their division, they automatically win any tiebreaker for seeding. If the Pistons, Nets and Heat all finish the season tied, the Heat will be the sixth seed just by virtue of having won their division, which I will add can very realistically contain zero teams above .500 on the season. The rest of the seeding in the East is pretty settled. The top three realistically won’t change, and the fourth and fifth seed — Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics — will play each other no matter which one winds up fourth and fifth.

All the seeds in the West are still up for grabs. The first seeded Golden State Warriors can still fall to the sixth seed and the eighth seeded Oklahoma City Thunder can still rise to the third seed. With only three games separating the three and six seed in the west, and another game and a half separating the six and the eight seeds, any Western conference team can be any seed if they go on a small winning or losing streak right now. Case in point, a little over a week ago the Oklahoma City Thunders were the three seed and looked like dark horses to make the NBA finals; since then, they have imploded and fallen all the way to the eighth seed. Led by Paul George’s 40 percent shooting from the field since the all-star break, the once highly thought of Thunders look incredibly beatable, losing to teams such as the Tanking Memphis Grizzlies, the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers and the Minnesota “what’s a winning season” TimberWolves — all in the month of march. The Thunders would be in danger of missing the playoffs if not for the shortcomings of playoff challengers Sacramento Kings. The Sacramento Kings’ almost miraculous season recently came to a close due to the loss of their young star Marvin Bagley for long stretches of time, and the King’s other players seem unable to fill the large hole he left. Though they aren’t in the mix this year, the Kings have shown they have a bright future with their plethora of great role players and the breakouts of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and young stud Marvin Bagley.