With just one game remaining in the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched a place in the NBA Playoffs that are set to begin on Saturday. While that aspect is settled, the seed the Bucks will claim, and the opponent Milwaukee will face is still undecided.
Milwaukee can find itself in either sixth, seventh, or eighth place in the Eastern Conference when the season ends Wednesday night.
Here are the possibilities for the Bucks in terms of seeding and playoff opponents:
No. 6 seed
The Bucks can finish in sixth place simply by winning the final game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. This is the simplest scenario to explain. Beat the Sixers and claim the No. 6 seed.
That’s not the only way that Milwaukee can finish in sixth, however. If the Miami Heat lose against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night AND the Washington Wizards lose their final game of the season to the Orlando Magic, then the Bucks finish in sixth regardless of the result against Philadelphia.
As for the opponent there are a couple of possibilities. If the Bucks beat Philadelphia and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the New York Knicks on Wednesday it would set up a first round series between Milwaukee and Cleveland. If the Cavaliers were to lose that game, Philadelphia would clinch the No. 3 seed and the Bucks would open up the playoffs against the Sixers.
Cleveland and Philadelphia are the only two possible teams that can finish in third place.
No. 7 seed/No. 8 seed
Things start to get confusing here, but it begins with a Milwaukee loss and a Miami win over the Raptors. Miami and Milwaukee would finish the regular season tied, with the Heat holding the tiebreaker.
This is also dependent on the result Washington’s final two games as well. The Wizards need to finish 1-1 or 0-2 in the remaining two games for the Bucks to finish in seventh place. If all three teams finish tied with the same record (44-38) then the Bucks would be the No. 8 seed.
This is also dependent on what Washington does it its final game on Wednesday night. The Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night to move into a tie with the Miami Heat for seventh, one game behind the Bucks. In order for the Bucks to finish with the No. 7 seed, the Heat and Wizards need to have the opposite result on Wednesday, paired with a Milwaukee loss to Philadelphia. If the Bucks lose and both Miami and Washington WIN, Milwaukee will finish as the No. 8 seed. If the Bucks lose and both Miami and Washington LOSE, Milwaukee will finish as the No. 6 seed.
The opponents in this case are easy to figure out. The Toronto Raptors have clinched the best record in the conference, making them the No. 1 seed and will face the No. 8 seed. Boston has clinched the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 7 seed.
The one caveat to this entire situation is the fact that the Bucks potentially will lose their 2018 first-round draft pick.
For that to happen the Bucks would need to lose the game against Philadelphia on Wednesday night. If Milwaukee finishes as the No. 6 seed, then the pick will be 17th overall and stay in Milwaukee.
This is part of the trade that was made with the Phoenix Suns to acquire Eric Bledsoe earlier this season. The pick is protected if it falls between 1-10 and 17-30 in the 2018 NBA Draft. If it falls between 11-16 it will be sent to Phoenix.
Winning the game against Philadelphia would be the easiest solution for Milwaukee. A loss to the Sixers puts things in chance as far as the pick goes. If Milwaukee finishes tied with Miami, Washington, or both, then there will be a drawing held on Friday, April 13, to determine the draft order of those three teams. If Milwaukee “wins” that draw and picks 15th (or 16th), the pick is gone. Lastly, if the Bucks “lose” the draw and pick 17th then the pick stays, but it’s something that is entirely out of their control.
What happens if the pick stays in Milwaukee this year?
If the pick lands at 17th and the Bucks keep it, then there’s a chance it is conveyed to Phoenix next year. The 2019 first round pick is protected 1-3 and 17-30, making it unlikely – barring more regression from Milwaukee – that it would be sent to Phoenix then. The Bucks would have to finish in a similar positon next year as this season. It’s something that’s certainly possible but would be another disappointment of a season.
The likeliest scenario – and the one Milwaukee planned on occurring when the trade was made – is that the pick is sent to Phoenix in 2020. In 2020 the pick is protected only if it falls inside of the top seven picks, other than that it will be sent to the Suns.