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A primer for the Warriors - Nuggets tiebreakers

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Tonight’s game will go a long way towards determining seeding in the Western Conference. Here’s everything you need to know.

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets meet tonight, and there’s a lot more at stake than the schedule makers expected when they put the season together.

With just six games remaining for each squad, only one game separates the Warriors (52-24) from the upstart Nuggets (51-25) in the standings. Currently Golden State holds the top seed in the Western Conference, with Denver slotted second. But a lot can change in the final weeks.

Tonight’s game is unquestionably the biggest game remaining for these two teams, as far as determining the number one seed. However, with the teams neck and neck, a tie in the standings is very much in play.

So what happens then? Here’s a primer on the tiebreakers, so you know what to look for.

Head-to-head record

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, which means tonight’s game is doubly important. Golden State has won two of the first three games against Denver, so tonight’s game determines whether the Warriors win this tiebreaker, or if they go to the next one.

With a win, the Warriors essentially guarantee the top seed. They would be two games ahead of Denver, with the tiebreaker, meaning the Nuggets would need to gain three games on Golden State. In other words, even if Denver went 5-0 in their remaining games, the Warriors could go 3-2 and still capture the top seed.

But if the Nuggets win tonight, things get interesting, as the teams will be tied in the standings, and we move to the next tiebreaker.

Division success

The next tiebreakers don’t really apply. The second tiebreaker simply states that if one team wins their division and the other doesn’t, the winning team earns the tiebreaker.

That’s not applicable. Golden State has already clinched the Pacific Division, while the Nuggets can’t lose the Northwest Division without, well, being passed by another team.

The third tiebreaker is record within your division, but it only applies to teams who are in the same division. That’s not the case here.

Conference success

Ahh, now it gets interesting again. If the Nuggets win tonight, and the teams end up with the same overall record, the next tiebreaker is success in the conference.

Let’s assume Denver wins tonight, since that’s the only likely scenario that brings this tiebreaker into play. If that happens, Denver will have a conference record of 32-15, while the Warriors will be 31-17.

So here’s where it gets confusing. If Denver wins tonight, the Warriors cannot match the Nuggets’ conference record without surpassing them in the standings. They would be 1.5 games behind the Nuggets in this tiebreaker, and the two teams have only one combined game left outside of the conference.

So this tiebreaker can’t really come into effect.

The conclusion

Ultimately it boils down to this: If the Warriors win tonight, they’re almost certainly the number one seed. If they lose tonight, they need to finish ahead of the Nuggets in the standings, or else Denver will be the top seed. A tie will go to Denver.

Here are the Warriors final five games:

At the Los Angeles Lakers
Hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers
Hosting the Los Angeles Clippers
At the New Orleans Pelicans
At the Memphis Grizzlies

And the Nuggets final five games:

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs
Hosting the Portland Trail Blazers
At the Portland Trail Blazers
At the Utah Jazz
Hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves

Advantage, Warriors.