Guide to the Scenarios and Magic Numbers of the 2016 NBA Playoffs

Try to find NBA playoff scenarios on the internet, its impossible. In the words of my favorite bureaucrat, Hermes Conrad, “If you want a job done right you got to do it yourself.” So why the hell not lets figure out these NBA playoff scenarios together. Hold my hand.



  • (-) Tie breaker not needed (better overall winning percentage)
  • (1) Head-to-head won-lost percentage
  • (2) Division leader wins tie from team not leading a division
  • (3) Division won-lost percentage for teams in the same division
  • (4) Conference won-lost percentage
  • (5) W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, own conference
  • (6) W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, other conference
  • (7) Net Points, all games


  • (-) Tie breaker not needed (better overall winning percentage)
  • (1) Division leader wins tie from team not leading a division
  • (2) Head-to-head won-lost percentage
  • (3) Division won-lost percentage for teams in the same division
  • (4) Conference won-lost percentage
  • (5) W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, own conference
  • (6) W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, other conference
  • (7) Net Points, all games

This will be our reference tool for determining who owns which tiebreakers.

Eastern Conference Magic Numbers (required wins to straight up clinch a playoff spot regardless of other team’s performance):

  • Cavaliers: Clinched playoffs birth
  • Raptors: Clinched playoffs birth
  • Hawks: 5
  • Celtics: 5
  • Hornets: 6
  • Pacers: 8
  • Pistons: 8

The Bulls and Wizards do not control their own destiny, and even if they won out, they would need to rely on help from opponents.

For fun, lets look at the record that these teams would need to achieve to have a reasonable shot. Current 8th seed Detroit is projected to end the season at 43-39.

Chicago would need to finish the season 7-4 to tie the Pistons, and this must include a win versus Detroit in their April 2nd game. This would give Chi and Det a 2-2 season series, taking us to the next tiebreaker which is division winning percentage. Currently Detroit is 8-6 and Chicago is 7-5 in division they both have division games in store, so it becomes murky to project who wins that tiebreaker.

If we assume that Chicago beats Detroit and they both end with the same division record, the next tiebreaker is conference record, which Detroit has a nigh insurmountable lead.

So what does this mean for Chicago?

Chicago is likely going to have to finish the season 8-3 to sniff the playoffs, with 7 of those 11 being road games, its not looking good. Chicago has a 20.8% chance to make the playoffs, according to

Moving on to the 10th teem in the East, Washington is in an even deeper hole, being a full game back of Chicago and 2.5 games back of Detroit. The good news for Wiz fans is that they hold the tiebreakers over both Detroit and Chicago. If Washington can manage to finish 43-39 (Detroit’s projected record), they will likely make it in on a tiebreak.

So what does this mean for Washington?

They are going to need to try to go 8-3 to close the season, which includes games @Warriors, @Clippers, and a potentially huge game on April 8th @Detroit. Espn gives Washington a 15.4%

The Eastern conference is probably already set to be honest, fam.

Lets take a look at the ole Western Conference:

  • Warriors: clinched
  • Spurs: clinched
  • Thunder: clinched
  • Clippers: 1
  • Memphis: 4
  • Trail Blazers: 8
  • Mavericks: 10
  • Rockets: 9
  • Jazz: 10

Its not likely that portland/dallas/houston/utah reach those win totals. Basically those magic numbers are saying “these teams are so close the only magic number is to win every game.”

Thats not happening, so lets look into the projected win-loss records at the end of the season.

Portland – 42-40

Houston – 40-42

Utah – 41-41

Dallas 39-43

Right off the top, Portland has 7 of its last 9 at home, including some games that should be easy against the 76ers, kings (twice), timberwolves and nuggets. If portland handles business in these 5 games, their ticket is probably punched. Blazers are looking good with a 95.9% playoff chance.

Houston has the next highest playoff chance, at 82.5%, even though their projected W-L total is actually lower than both Portland and Utah. Why is that? Well one main factor is that the Rockets currently hold the tiebreaker against the Jazz. The teams played each other to a 2-2 draw for the season series, but Houston has a much better conference record at this point, meaning any tie in record would likely go to the Rockets. For Houston to get to 41-41 they will need to go 6-4 from here on out and their fate looks to be decided in the first 6 of those 10 games. Houston plays tough teams in Toronto, Indiana, Cleveland, Chicago, OKC and Dallas before rounding out the season against 4 bottom feeders. If Houston can pluck 2 games off of the good teams, and win all 4 against the bad teams, that should be enough. Houston has lost 4/5 and plays Toronto tonight. This would be a huge win for the Rockets.

The Jazz are just below the Rockets with a 80.7% chance. As mentioned before, Houston owns the tie breaker with Utah, but Utah is in position to own the tiebreaker against the Mavericks with one final tilt between the teams scheduled for April 11th in Salt Lake City. This game may very well clinch the playoffs for one of these two teams. For the jazz to get to 41-41, they would need to go 6-4 in the final 10, but their road seems a bit easier. Games against GSW, SAS and LAC will be tough, but outside of those 3 games its a bunch of non-playoff contenders who should be all but packing their season up, and then Dallas.

Another interesting game will be Kobe’s last game in the NBA, which is against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz may need to win this game, and while it won’t mean anything for the Lakers, simply being Kobe Bryant’s last game may make it a memorable game for the Lakers.

And the last team with a shot is Dallas, at 41%. Dallas is currently in the 7th position at 35-36, ahead of Houston and Utah, but they have a much tougher road. To get to 41-41 they will need to go 6-5. With 7 road games, and games @Warriors, @Pistons, @Clippers, @Jazz, and home games against Memphis, San Antonio and Houston, the Mavericks are going to need to pull off a couple upsets here.

While the East is probably going to be the same 8 teams that are currently in, the west looks to get shaken up, as Dallas, Houston and Utah duke it out. Portland must still maintain a steady course, but they’ve elevated themselves from the scrum somewhat.

With about 10 games left for each team, its going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

photo courtesy of