Before 16 teams prepare for the start of the postseason Saturday, nine teams have to figure out their seedings on the last day of the regular season. Here's what to watch for during Wednesday's key games. (All stats and records are through April 13; all times Eastern.)
What's at stake: For the Bulls, a trip to Cleveland. Granted, that's not what most would consider a reward for a successful season, but a win in Charlotte would set up a Bulls-Cavaliers first-round series. Despite the fact that Charlotte is locked into the No. 7 seed, coach Larry Brown feels his team "[owes] it to the league to do the right thing" and will play his regular rotation -- a rotation that is 31-9 at home this year. Not exactly what the Bulls want to hear.
Prediction: Fatigue (they knocked off the Celtics on Tuesday ) and team turmoil (vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negroreportedly had an altercation recently) will sink the Bulls, but, luckily, a Toronto loss will get them their date with the Cavs (see below).
What's at stake: A spot in the playoffs. Toronto, which trails Chicago by a game, needs to win and get help from the Bobcats to take advantage of the tiebreaker it owns over the Bulls. Should they make it, the Raptors' run figures to be short-lived as they'd be greeted by LeBron James & Co. in the first round -- and likely without Chris Bosh, who is recovering from a nasal fracture. Still, fighting into the postseason is a must for a team that needs to convince Bosh it has the tenacity and supporting cast that could make him a winner should he stay.
Prediction:Mike D'Antoni has managed to get his Knicks to play hard, at least on offense, and given that the Raptors allow 105.8 points per game (28th in the NBA) and will be without Bosh, look for a Knicks win in Canada.
What's at stake: A first-round date with the third-seeded Hawks or the fourth-seeded Celtics. The Heat would open the postseason in Boston if they beat New Jersey or the Celtics defeat Milwaukee. A Heat loss and Bucks win would drop Miami to the No. 6 seed and a series with the Hawks -- which wouldn't be all bad for the Heat considering they won three of four meetings; they'd also avoid seeing the Cavs until a potential conference finals. The Heat look poised to secure the fifth seed, but if they rest their regulars, don't be surprised if the Nets win their fifth road game of the season.
Prediction: Assuming Miami's starters play, the Heat can book their flights to Boston.
What's at stake: In reality, not much. Technically, the Bucks still can capture the No. 5 seed and a playoff meeting with the Celtics. But without Andrew Bogut for the rest of the season, it doesn't matter if the Bucks face the Hawks or Celtics; their playoff run is sure to be short.
Prediction:Doc Rivers has been dodgy about how much he'll play his starters, which bodes well for the Bucks. Milwaukee also needs the Heat to lose to the Nets to secure No. 5, a strong possibility if Miami relies on its bench most of the game.
What's at stake: Potentially seeds 2 through 5. How does a game between two teams possibly affect the fortunes of four? Well, when all four sit within a game and a half of each other, it doesn't take much to scramble the matchups. Here is how a win by either, along with the outcome of the Spurs-Mavericks game, will play out in the seedings: * Jazz win, Mavs win: 2. Mavs, 3. Jazz, 4. Suns, 5. Nuggets * Jazz win, Mavs lose: 2. Jazz, 3. Mavs, 4. Suns, 5. Nuggets * Suns win, Mavs win OR lose: 2. Mavs, 3. Suns, 4. Nuggets, 5. Jazz
Prediction: With the Suns and Jazz both playing in the second half of back-to-backs, expect the Jazz's home excellence (32-8) to be the decisive factor. As for Dallas' fate ...
What's at stake: The No. 2 seed for Dallas. The Mavericks can finish second -- and avoid the Lakers until a potential conference finals showdown -- with a victory, which would also set up a Dallas-San Antonio first-round clash. However, a Spurs win, coupled with a Jazz win, could mean a No. 3 seed and a first-round matchup that may be more to the Mavs' liking: the Trail Blazers, who will either be without Brandon Roy (torn meniscus) or with a limited Brandon Roy.
Prediction: With health more important than playoff position to the Spurs, we can't see Gregg Popovich playing his starters big minutes. Dallas wins this one easily and takes the No. 2 seed.
What's at stake: The No. 6 seed in the West. It's only a win away (or a Spurs loss) for the injury-ravaged Blazers, who will not have leading scorer Roy in this game or possibly in the playoffs. If Portland loses and San Antonio wins, the Blazers would finish seventh and the Spurs sixth.
Prediction: At home, against a Warriors team that no longer has the incentive of helping coach Don Nelson set the wins record, Portland is a safe bet to crawl across the finish line with the No. 6 seed.
FINAL PREDICTIONS:EastCavs (1) vs. Bulls (8)Magic (2) vs. Bobcats (7)Hawks (3) vs. Bucks (6)Celtics (4) vs. Heat (5)
WestLakers (1) vs. Thunder (8)Mavericks (2) vs. Spurs (7)Jazz (3) vs. Blazers (6)Suns (4) vs. Nuggets (5)