NBA Playoff Standings 2021: Latest Team Records, Seeds and Bracket Picture
There are only two weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, and there's much to be decided. Only four teams have clinched playoffs spots, and because of the new format featuring the play-in tournament, there are more opportunities for teams to extend their seasons than in the past.
Of the four teams that have clinched postseason berths, two are from the Eastern Conference (Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers) and two are from the Western Conference (Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns).
Some of the tightest battles for playoff positioning feature the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in both conferences. And these are hugely important, as only the top six seeds secure spots in the first round, while the No. 7 seeds will have to participate in the play-in tournament, which also features the Nos. 8, 9 and 10 seeds.
Here's the playoff bracket as things stand, along with some of the key storylines to focus on regarding the battle for postseason seeding.
Current Bracket Picture
Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte Hornets (31-32) at No. 7 Miami Heat (34-30)
Game 2: No. 10 Washington Wizards (29-35) at No. 9 Indiana Pacers (30-33)
Game 3: Winner of Game 2 at Loser of Game 1
Winner of Play-In Tournament Game 3 at No. 1 Brooklyn Nets (43-21)
Winner of Play-In Tournament Game 1 at No. 2 Philadelphia 76ers (42-21)
No. 6 Boston Celtics (34-30) at No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks (39-24)
No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (35-30) at No. 4 New York Knicks (35-28)
Game 1: No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (32-31) at No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers (35-28)
Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (31-31) at No. 9 Golden State Warriors (32-32)
Game 3: Winner of Game 2 at Loser of Game 1
Winner of Play-In Tournament Game 3 at No. 1 Utah Jazz (46-18)
Winner of Play-In Tournament Game 1 at No. 2 Phoenix Suns (45-18)
No. 6 Los Angeles Lakers (36-27) at No. 3 Denver Nuggets (43-21)
No. 5 Dallas Mavericks (36-27) at No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (43-22)
Will Lakers Be Able to Avoid Play-In Tournament?
Even LeBron James' return couldn't arrest the Lakers' recent slide. After missing more than a month because of an ankle injury, James returned to Los Angeles' lineup in a 110-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. It was the Lakers' fifth loss in their past six games.
Los Angeles' struggles extend back further than that, though. It hasn't won two games in a row since the end of March. And its most recent winning streak of at least three games was a four-game run from March 12-18.
The Lakers are the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, only one game ahead of the No. 7-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. So if Los Angeles can't get things going before May 16, the NBA champions' quest to defend its title may have to begin in the play-in tournament.
"I expect there to be an adjustment over the final nine games," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said, per the Associated Press. "We have to balance that and get these guys each day to find their chemistry and win as many games along the way."
And if Los Angeles doesn't win many games, its route to the playoffs may have a roadblock.
Which East Team Will End Up at No. 7?
The battle for the No. 6 seed is just as close in the East as it is in the West. The Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are all within a half-game of each other and sit in the Nos. 5-7 spots in the Eastern Conference. If the Knicks hold on to the No. 4 seed and no team from the Nos. 8-10 spots rise up, then it could come down Atlanta, Boston and Miami battling to avoid the play-in tournament.
Of the Hawks' seven remaining games, only one is against a team that's in the top six in its conference (Wednesday vs. the Phoenix Suns). And if point guard Trae Young stays hot, Atlanta should be tough to beat. Young has scored 20 or more points in five straight games and in six of his past seven.
The Celtics and Heat still have two matchups against each other (May 9 and May 11 in Boston), so those could end up being crucial contests. Boston has won two straight games after losing four of its previous five, while Miami has won six of its past eight games and has played much better in the second half of the regular season.
The Heat reached the NBA Finals last season, but if the season ended today, they would be in the play-in tournament. There's still time for them to change that, but they will likely have to overtake either the Hawks or Celtics for that to happen.
Could Warriors Make Noise in the Postseason?
After reaching five straight NBA Finals (and winning two championships during that stretch), the Warriors were plagued by injuries in 2019-20, which led to them finishing a league-worst 15-50. But things are going better for Golden State during the 2020-21 campaign.
The Warriors may not be back to being a top NBA title contender, but they are in a good position to extend their season past their regular-season finale on May 16. Five of Golden State's final eight games are against teams that wouldn't be in the play-in tournament right now, so it has the potential to finish strong.
Having won eight of their past 12 games, the Warriors could establish some momentum and move up the standings. While they are 4.5 games back of the Lakers for the No. 6 spot, it's more attainable that they could move from No. 9 to No. 7 or No. 8, which would mean they could advance to the first round of the playoffs with one win instead of two.
With leaders such as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, Golden State can't be counted out. These veterans will be hungry for postseason success after last year's disappointment.