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What’s at Stake on the Final Day of the NBA’s Regular Season

The playoff field is mostly set, and we’re already looking ahead to postseason matchups. But before we can get to the playoffs, half the league needs to play Game 82—and there is plenty to play for.

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The final slate of games for the 2018-19 regular season is on Wednesday, and if Magic Johnson’s impromptu, tear-and-laughter-filled resignation on Tuesday proved anything, it’s that it’s never too late for some crazy shit to happen. Crazy shit: I can’t think of a better descriptor for this season, a season in which Anthony Davis became a villain and Danuel House a hero, in which the Orlando Magic made the playoffs and LeBron James did not, in which Vlade Divac’s master plan came together and Danny Ainge’s fell apart. All that, and there’s still seeding and money and reputation to be settled Wednesday, which features Game 82 for half the league. Here’s what’s at stake on the final day of the season:

The Bottom of the Eastern Playoff Field

Seeds six through eight in the Eastern Conference are all subject to change, the current order being Brooklyn in sixth, followed by Orlando in seventh, Detroit in eighth, and Charlotte on the bubble in ninth.

The Nets and the Magic, both 41-40, have already clinched playoff berths. Brooklyn will finish sixth if it defeats Miami or if Charlotte defeats Orlando; if neither happens, Brooklyn gets the seventh spot. (The difference is facing Toronto or facing Philadelphia in the first round.) Detroit only needs to win against New York to keep its position. If Detroit wins and Orlando also loses, the two swap spots, and Detroit enters the postseason as the seventh seed. That would be HUGE for the Pistons, who would then play their first-round series against the Raptors rather than … the Bucks … which is ... so much … better … for them (?). You really have been great this season, Blake.

As for Charlotte, their fate depends on one man:

Now that’s a game face! The Hornets need Mitchell Robinson and the Knicks to beat the Pistons (and to win themselves) for Charlotte to grab the eighth spot.

Ricky Rubio’s Direct Deposit

Shooting isn’t Rubio’s thing, but my guess is that money is Rubio’s thing, because money is everybody’s thing except for Karl Marx’s, which doesn’t matter because Marx can’t ball. This year, Rubio has a total of $225,000 in potential bonuses, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. To make the full amount (these aren’t dependent on each other; he could earn part of the total), Rubio needs to average more than 3.2 free throw attempts per game, reach a free throw percentage of 85.6 percent or above, and shoot at least 40 percent from the field.

Rubio’s averaging 3.4 free throw attempts a game and, since you can’t go to the line a negative amount of times, is good there! Check! Literally! Ricky F Baby and the F is for Financial!

The other two put Rubio in a bit of a pickle. As of Game 81, he’s shooting 40.4 percent from the field, which surpasses the requirement. All Rubio needs to do is not shoot, and that money is his. He’d have to go 0-for-8 to drop below 40 percent, which is (a) unlikely, but also (b) something he’s done twice this season.

Utah’s already clinched the fifth seed, anyway—there’s really no benefit to a win or a loss. (And to be honest, there’s no telling whether Rubio’s shooting helps the Jazz win or not, really.) However, Rubio is currently shooting 85.5 percent from the line, a tick away from reaching the requirement. (Even if the Jazz were cool with rounding up, Rubio wouldn’t make it—he’s at 195-for-228, which is 85.5262316 percent.)

So what Rubio needs is to make it to the line. Once, to be exact. If he were to go 2-for-2 on free throws against the Clippers, he would be shooting 85.6 percent for the season. Unfortunately, that also means Rubio will have to try to get fouled, which, unless he waits for the Jazz to be in the bonus and tries to Harden-shimmy into Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, means Rubio needs to try to score.

Houston’s First-Round Matchup (and Other Western Conference Things)

Here’s what we know for sure: Golden State has, as Golden State does, already clinched the top seed. Second is Denver (53-28), third is Houston (53-29—the 29th loss coming on Tuesday to Oklahoma City), and fourth is Portland (52-29). If Denver loses to Minnesota, Houston can advance to the second spot. But if Denver wins, the Nuggets will have the two-seed just one season after not making the playoffs with an almost identical roster. It can get worse for Houston, though: If Denver wins and Portland beats Sacramento, Houston will drop to fourth.

The rest of the West looks like this:

6. Oklahoma City, nine games back
7. San Antonio, 10 games back
8. Los Angeles, 10 games back
9. Sacramento (OK, the Kings are eliminated from the playoffs. I just want them to know they’re relevant in my heart.)

All of the above play on Wednesday. Unlike the East, none are at risk of falling out of postseason play. And, thanks to Paul George’s last-second 3-pointer against the Rockets on Tuesday, the Thunder are no longer at risk of playing the Warriors in the first round—that’s between the Spurs and Clippers now. (There’s something glorious about the guy who stayed with Russell Westbrook hitting a shot that helps Westbrook avoid being eliminated by the guy who left Westbrook.)

Here’s how the rest shakes out: Essentially, if the team in the standing above [enter your team here] wins, and you win, both stay. If the team above you loses, and you win, you bump them. If you both lose, you both stay. The Thunder face the Bucks; the Spurs face the Mavericks; the Clippers face the Jazz, who are locked in at the fifth seed.

The Head of the Table at the Curry Household

Seth Curry couldn’t beat Steph Curry in the 3-point contest (though Steph didn’t win either—shout-out Joe Harris), but he could beat his big brother in the real 3-point contest, a.k.a. the Grown Man 3-point contest, a.k.a. the better shooter on the season contest. Entering Wednesday, Seth is shooting third best in the league (among qualified players) at 45 percent from behind the arc; Steph is fourth best at 43.7 percent. All Steph needs is to have a great shooting night—say, 6-for-6—and for Seth to have a horrific shooting night—say, 0-for-6—and the Curry hierarchy will be as it always has:

1. Riley, Ryan, and Canon (the Big Three)
2. Sonya (arguably the best 3-point shooter in the bloodline)
3. Ayesha (bumped up a spot in 2016 after her horchata brownies dropped)
4. Dell (I think he can also shoot [?]—unclear—will get back to you)
5. Steph’s goldendoodle, Rookie (a very good boy; shooting form unclear)
6. Sydel (their sister, a former Elon University volleyball player; couldn’t find her vertical on Google but she might have the best hops in the family)
7A. Steph
7B. Seth

It’s a hard knock-down life.