The Western Conference playoff race is remarkably tight. Only two games separate the fourth seed from the ninth seed. This means it’s quite possible that the Minnesota Timberwolves will end the season tied in the standings with another team. Let’s examine the Timberwolves playoff tiebreakers with each team in the West Conference playoff race.
Before assessing these potential situations, it’s worth establishing an understanding of how NBA tiebreakers work.
Obviously, teams are first ranked by season record. Usually, this is enough, but sometimes teams end up with the same record for the year. This is when tiebreakers are employed.
First, the NBA looks at head-to-head matchups. The team with the better record against the other would win the tiebreaker. If three teams were involved in the tie, they would add up each team’s record against the other two. The winner of the tiebreaker would be determined based on win percentage.
However, the tied teams oftentimes will split their series. In this scenario, if either team has won their division they will automatically receive the higher seed. This rule applies regardless of if the teams are in the same division. If neither team is a division winner, the NBA will look at their division records. Note that this will only apply if the teams are in the same division.
If the teams have the same division record or are not in the same division, then the next step will be to look at conference record.
After this, there are several more procedures in the unlikely event that the teams are still tied. However, these rules are rarely used and probably will not come into play this year. A full list of NBA tie-break procedures can be found here.
In the West, it is possible that playoff seeding will be determined by division winner. The Houston Rockets have already clinched the Southwest Division and the Golden State Warriors have won the Pacific Division. The Portland Trail Blazers are tied with the Utah Jazz and the result of tonight’s game determines the three seed.
Current seed: Utah is currently in the third seed with a 48-33 record.
Conditions required for a tie: The Wolves would need to win their remaining two games while Utah would have to go 0-2.
Head-to-head results: The Jazz have gone 2-2 against the Timberwolves this year.
Division winner: If Utah wins the Northwest Division, they will win the tiebreaker. However, it Portland wins the Northwest Division, they will go to the next round of tie-breaks.
Division win/loss percentage: Utah has a division record of 7-8, which puts their win percentage at .467. The Wolves have gone 9-6 against division rivals, giving them a 0.60 win percentage.
Final result: To be determined.
Current seed: The Pelicans are in the fifth seed, with a record of 47-34
Conditions required for a tie: There are two scenarios that would result in a tie. First, the Pelicans could lose both remaining games and the Wolves could go 1-1. Another possibility is that New Orleans goes 1-1 while the Timberwolves win both of their final two games.
Head-to-head results: In all four of their games this season, Minnesota has defeated the Pelicans.
Final result: The Timberwolves win the tiebreaker.
San Antonio Spurs
Current seed: The Spurs are in the sixth seed, with a record of 47-34.
Conditions required for a tie: Since San Antonio has the same record as New Orleans, the conditions required for a tie are the same.
Head-to-head results: The Spurs have won two out of the three matchups between the two teams.
Final result: San Antonio wins the tiebreaker.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Current seed: The Thunder are in the seventh seed, and just like the Pelicans and Spurs, they have a 47-34 record.
Conditions required for a tie: Since OKC has the same record as New Orleans and San Antonio, the conditions required for a tie are the same.
Head-to-head results: The Timberwolves have gone 3-1 against the Thunder this season.
Final result: Minnesota wins the tiebreaker.
Current seed: The Nuggets are in the ninth seed, with a 46-35 record.
Conditions required for a tie: None; Both teams are currently tied with a 46-35 record and will play tonight for who gets in.
Head-to-head results: So far, Minnesota has won two out of the three matchups between the two teams. If the Wolves beat the Nuggets in their final game, they win the tiebreaker. If Denver wins, the tiebreaker will be determined by division record.
Division win/loss percentage: Denver is tied with the Minnesota Timeberwolves with exact same win percentage,and division record.
Conference win/loss percentage: Denver can not catch Minnesota who will have a better conference record than Denver.
Final result: Minnesota wins the tiebreaker.
All in all, the Timberwolves playoff tiebreakers look promising. Although they will lose to the Spurs if tied, they hold tiebreakers over the Nuggets, Thunder and Pelicans. In addition, it is likely that Minnesota will win the tiebreaker over the Jazz.