Chicago just got a big road win over Detroit, meaning these are your up-to-the-second Eastern Conference bottom three:
Bulls 41-40 (remaining game: home vs. Toronto)
Sixers 40-40 (remaining games: home vs. Boston; @ Cleveland)
Detroit 39-42 (doesn’t matter)
Detroit is now locked in as Cleveland’s opponent and the eighth seed, since Philly wins the tie-breaker over the Pistons based on a taking the season series, 2-1.
Let’s assume Chicago beats Toronto, to move to 42-40 overall. That means Philly (obviously) would have to win out in order to have the tie-breakers (explained below) kick in. But let’s put this simply for now: If Chicago beats the Raptors, the Celtics can ensure they play Philly in the first round by beating Philly on Tuesday. So if you want the Sixers and not the Bulls, cheer extra hard for Boston tomorrow.
If Philly and Chicago do finish tied, the next tie-breaker is record against Eastern Conference opponents. Right now, that looks like this:
So in the unlikely event the Bulls lose to Toronto (dropping them to 24-28 against the East), they could be in trouble, since a Philly split against Boston and Cleveland would give them an edge in this tie-breaker (at 25-27 versus the East) and thus the sixth seed. If both teams finish at 42-40, Philly will get the sixth seed based on a superior conference record.
We don’t have to go any further in tie-breakers, since, by definition, if both teams finish 41-41, Philly gets the sixth seed because they’ll have a superior conference record.
To recap, here are the scenarios:
1) Bulls beat Toronto, Philly goes 2-0 = Philly finishes 6th, Chicago 7th
2) Bulls beat Toronto, Philly goes 1-1 or 0-2 = Chicago finishes 6th, Sixers 7th
3) Toronto beats Bulls, Philly goes 2-0 = Philly finishes 6th, Bulls 7th
4) Toronto beats Bulls, Philly goes 1-1 = Philly finishes 6th, Bulls 7th
5) Toronto beats Bulls, Philly goes 0-2 = Chicago finishes 6th, Sixers 7th
(PS: It’s late and I’m tired. If someone thinks I’ve screwed this up, please let me know in the comments).