The surprise lasted until the end. After 82 regular season games, the Oklahoma City Thunder players managed to maintain their number one spot, and therefore home court advantage for the NBA Western Conference play-offs, the North American championship of basketball.

While the suspense remained between three teams before the last meeting, the Thunder crushed the Dallas Mavericks (135-86), on Sunday April 14, who had rested their two stars, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Oklahoma City thus finishes with the same record as the reigning champion, the Denver Nuggets (57 wins and 25 losses), which it is ahead of thanks to its three successes in four direct confrontations this season.

This first place validates the reconstruction of the franchise – it was 14th (out of fifteen teams) in 2021 then in 2022, and 10th in the West in 2023 – with a young group (average age less than 25) led by Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Third best scorer in the league with an average of 30.1 points this season, “SGA” is one of the three favorites for the MVP (most valuable player) distinction with Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry on a tightrope

Jokic, winner on Sunday, with Denver, from Memphis (126-111) managed to take his team up a notch, during this last day, finishing in second place in the Western Conference, taking advantage of the defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves against Phoenix (106-125). The Wolves of French pivot Rudy Gobert (21 points, 7 rebounds), will meet the Suns of Kevin Durant, finally sixth, in the first round of the play-offs which will begin on April 20. The Los Angeles Clippers (4th) and the Dallas Mavericks (5th) were assured of their final ranking before this last day and will face each other in the first round.

To participate in the play-offs, stars LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) and Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) will have to go through the play-offs (“play-in”). The Los Angeles Lakers (8th) defeated the New Orleans Pelicans (124-108) on Sunday, whom they will meet on Tuesday in Louisiana for a dry match with qualification for a first round against Denver at stake.

The loser of this match will have a final chance to qualify – to face Oklahoma – by facing, on Friday, the winner of the other play-off between Sacramento (9th) and Golden State (10th), the neighbors in northern California. Four times champions in the last ten years (2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022), Stephen Curry’s Warriors have two games to try to save their season.

In the East, the Knicks overtake Milwaukee

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks provided spectacle and suspense in their Madison Square Garden, only defeating the Chicago Bulls after overtime (120-119), thanks to 40 points from All-Star leader Jalen Brunson (8 rebounds, 7 assists). They thus seize second place in the Conference to the detriment of the Milwaukee Bucks, beaten in Orlando by the Magic (88-113), who secured fifth place.

The suspense at the top of the rankings had long been extinguished by the Boston Celtics, winners for the 64th time of the season (18 defeats) against the Washington Wizards (132-122).

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who once hoped for second place, were beaten by the Charlotte Hornets (110-120) and finally finished fourth to find Orlando in the first round of the play-offs.

The Indiana Pacers, who crushed the Atlanta Hawks (157-115), snatched sixth place, the last directly qualifying for the play-offs, where they will face Milwaukee, which hopes to be able to count on its star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Miami Heat, finalist last season against Denver, ultimately eighth, will have to go through the play-offs despite their success against the Toronto Raptors (118-103). The Florida franchise will travel to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, who have seen the return of pivot Joel Embiid for a few days, for a dry qualifying match for the play-offs. The loser of this meeting will face, on Friday, the winner of the match between the Chicago Bulls (9th) and the Atlanta Hawks (10th) for the last ticket.