The Denver Nuggets currently sit at 47-32 which places them as the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
With three games remaining, Denver has a two-game lead on the seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets also trail the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks by two games.
What are the odds the Nuggets fall into the seventh seed and the play-in tournament?
Could Denver sneak into the top four seeds of the Western Conference?
Or is there a middle ground that is more likely?
Let’s dive in.
Worst-case scenario: Falling into the play-in tournament
The odds are quite low. And Denver controls its own destiny.
But the Nuggets do still have a chance to slip into the play-in tournament if they trip up over the final three games of the regular season.
The Timberwolves currently occupy the seventh seed which earns them a spot in the play-in tourney.
They have three contests remaining and all are in Minnesota. The T-wolves face the Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, and Chicago Bulls.
The Wizards have nothing to play for, but the Spurs and Bulls are still jockeying for playoff positioning.
It won’t be easy, but Minnesota could come out of his stretch 3-0.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets would have to lose two of their next three games in addition to Minnesota going undefeated for the Timberwolves to leap them.
Denver still has the Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers to battle before the regular season concludes.
Even with all three of those games at home, the Nuggets have shown they can slip up. Their margin for error is slim.
The Spurs are fighting to remain in the play-in tournament. And the second-seeded Grizzlies are a tough opponent no matter how many players rest.
The only game that feels like a sure-fire win is Denver’s regular season finale against the Lakers. But nothing is certain in the NBA.
It’s very unlikely the Nuggets fall into the play-in tournament, but it is not out of the question.
Denver has to take these next few games seriously.
The Spurs have Dejounte Murray playing the best basketball of his life.
And the Grizzlies recently were able to defeat the top-seeded Phoenix Suns without Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr.
If it comes down to the final game of the season against the Lakers, anything could happen.
Best-case scenario: Securing a top-four seed
Just like the Nuggets falling into the play-in tournament, it is also unlikely Denver is able to jump up to the fourth seed.
They would have to overtake the Dallas Mavericks in order to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Still, it is mathematically possible.
Dallas (49-30) has a two-game lead on the Nuggets, and the Mavericks own the tiebreaker.
That means the Nuggets not only need to make up both losses, but also overtake Dallas and finish one game better.
It also means Denver’s odds of securing a top-four seed will dissipate if Dallas wins one more game. Or if the Nuggets lose one more game.
To put it simply, the Nuggets need to win their remaining three contests. They also need Dallas to lose its final three games.
However, Dallas has a trio of winnable contests ahead.
The Mavs visit Detroit to face the Pistons — currently the third-worst team in the league.
They then return home for their final two games, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers and the Spurs.
That’s why Denver reaching the fourth seed is such a far-fetched idea.
Still, as mentioned, it’s not mathematically impossible quite yet.
Most-likely scenario: Finishing sixth in the West
Strangely enough, the most likely scenario is arguably the best scenario if the Nuggets hope for a longer playoff run.
As of Monday afternoon, the Nuggets sit fifth in the West with a half-game lead on the Utah Jazz (46-32).
But they are tied in the loss column.
The Jazz own the tiebreaker and control its destiny to secure the fifth seed.
If Utah wins their remaining four games, there is nothing the Nuggets can do to keep the Jazz from overtaking them.
Essentially, the Jazz have more opportunities to pass the Nuggets in the standings.
If Denver falls back into the sixth seed, it likely would have a date in the first round of the playoffs with the banged-up Golden State Warriors.
In that scenario, the Nuggets also would avoid top-seeded Phoenix by virtue of being on the other side of the bracket. That is the most advantageous route through the Western Conference for the Nuggets.
Dallas still could find a way to overtake the Warriors in the final few games to take control of the third seed.
But it still makes more sense for the Nuggets to battle it out with the Mavericks or Warriors and avoid the Suns’ side of the bracket.
It seems unlikely that the Nuggets would rest players in order to fall to the sixth seed. But that does not make it any less helpful.
If Denver is purely looking for the best path through the postseason, this would be it.