Breaking Down the Playoff Scenarios for the No. 1 Seed in the Western Conference

Apr 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Apr 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. / Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The battle for the No. 1 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference has raged on for 81 games, but the three frontrunners will take the fight all the way until game No. 82 to determine a victor.

After Friday’s results, the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder are knotted at 56–25 records. Denver held a one-game advantage going into the penultimate contest of the regular season but fell to the San Antonio Spurs 121–120 on a shot from Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham with 0.9 seconds remaining.

Of course, the playoff seeding could be most easily solved by one team winning and the others losing in their respective season finales on Sunday, but should that not be the case, tiebreakers come into play.

All three teams are in the same division meaning that the tiebreaker used should two or all three teams end up with the same final record is head-to-head against one another. That breaks down as such, courtesy of ESPN’s Andrew Lopez and ESPN Stats & Info.

The Thunder boast the best collective record against the Timberwolves and the Nuggets at 5–3. Minnesota is next at 4–4, while Denver is at 3–5.

That means, if all three teams have the same result on Sunday—win or lose—Oklahoma City will claim the No. 1 seed, Minnesota the No. 2 and Denver the No. 3.

Home-court advantage throughout the first three rounds would be the clearest benefit of earning the top spot, but the West’s No. 1 won’t necessarily have the easiest path to the NBA Finals. With the streaking Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors awaiting in the play-in tournament, the team that lands the top seed may face a tough test in its first round playoff series.

Either way, the final standings will be decided on Sunday, when all 30 teams will be in action. The Thunder play the Dallas Mavericks, the Timberwolves take on the Phoenix Suns and the Nuggets square off with the Memphis Grizzlies, with all three games set to top at 3:30 p.m. ET.


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Zach Koons

ZACH KOONS

Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2022 graduate of Northwestern University and lives in New York City.