NBA playoff picture: how would the playoff bracket look if the season ended today?

Philadelphia 76ers v Milwaukee Bucks
Philadelphia 76ers v Milwaukee Bucks / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

We’re now less than a month out from the end of the NBA regular season and the playoffs are around the corner. The finish line is close enough that fans can start thinking about playoff matchups and seeding.

Things are still tight and a lot can change between now and the end of the season, plus the play-in tournaments will determine the final two spots, but the current standings at least offer a first look at what the playoff bracket may eventually look like.

Eastern Conference

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers
  4. New York Knicks
  5. Orlando Magic
  6. Indiana Pacers
  7. Philadelphia 76ers
  8. Miami Heat
  9. Chicago Bulls
  10. Atlanta Hawks

For the sake of this exercise let’s pretend the better seeds end up winning the play-in games so the seeds hold true from 1-8 for the playoffs. That would mean we’d get some doozies for first-round matchups.

1) Celtics vs. 8) Heat

A rematch of the last two Eastern Conference Finals in the first round? Sign me up! This is one of the best rivalries in the NBA. The Heat believe they can win and the Celtics are hungry to prove that this year’s team is different.

2) Bucks vs. 7) 76ers

If Joel Emiid actually returns for the playoffs this would be another incredible matchup. Doc facing his old team, the battle of MVPs in Embiid and Giannis, Lillard and Maxey squaring off. At the beginning of this season these were two finals contenders.

3) Cavaliers vs. 6) Pacers

This would be a fun contrasting matchup of young teams trying to win their first playoff series with their young cores. The Pacers are built around Tyrese Haliburton and their explosive offense, while Cleveland rallies around their elite defense. This would be a fascinating stylistic matchup.

4) Knicks vs. 5) Magic

This would be a rockfight between two defensive-minded teams that like to grind out low-scoring affairs. For those fans who yearn for the 90s, this is the series for you. Paolo Banchero and the Magic’s young players will be getting their first taste of playoff basketball, while Jalen Brunson and company try to build on last year’s second-round exit.

Western Conference

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. Denver Nuggets
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. New Orleans Pelicans
  6. Sacramento Kings
  7. Phoenix Suns
  8. Dallas Mavericks
  9. Los Angeles Lakers
  10. Golden State Warriors

The wildest thing about these seeds is that the two cuts are the Lakers and Warriors and a handful of Hall of Famers. But that certainly won’t diminish these incredible matchups.

1) Thunder vs. 8) Mavericks

Luka vs. SGA would be the headliner, but this would be an awesome matchup across the board. Dallas can bludgeon people with size and rebounding, which is the biggest question mark for OKC. Tough break for the young Thunder that their prize for having the best record in the conference is a date with Luka Doncic.

2) Nuggets vs. 7) Suns

The only team to take more than one game off the Nuggets in the playoffs and also the only team to beat the Nuggets since the All-Star break. They added Beal to ease some of the burdens that Booker and Durant carry. Plus they added Nurkic, one of the few guys in the league who plays fairly well against Jokic. This wouldn’t be the team Denver wants to see in round one.

3) Timberwolves vs. 6) Kings

One of these teams would break a long playoff series-winning drought. The Wolves' elite offense going up against the Kings' electric offense would make for a great clash of styles. Edwards against Fox and Gobert against Sabonis would be great storylines. The health of Karl Anthony-Tows could loom large.

4) Clippers vs. 5) Pelicans

The old guard against the new. The Clippers are trying to show their core isn’t too old, and that they can stay on the court and succeed in the playoffs. The Pelicans young stars want to show they can break through and win games that matter. Kawhi guarding Zion will be incredible to watch over the course of a series.