NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Stephen Curry Pushes Warriors Closer to Postseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 4, 2021

NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Stephen Curry Pushes Warriors Closer to Postseason

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    It made all the sense in the world for ESPN to break out the NBA's first Marvel-inspired presentation on Monday when the Golden State Warriors tipped off a road back-to-back set with the New Orleans Pelicans.

    Stephen Curry has been downright superheroic for the Dubs, who needed a win to help hold off the Pels and got it thanks in no small part to the Chef's latest delicacy.

    Curry kept the Pelicans' defenders guessing all night and wowed their fanbase with his latest net-shredder. This time around, he popped for 41 points on 14-of-26 shooting (8-of-18 from deep) and registered a plus-19 across his 35 minutes.

    If Golden State punches a ticket to the play-in tournament, it would immediately become the proverbial team no one wants to face.

    After laying out the latest postseason bracket, we'll spotlight two other teams currently slated for the play-in tournament that could scare a higher seed.

Latest Playoff Bracket

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Eastern Conference

    1. x-Philadelphia 76ers vs. play-in tournament runner-up

    2. x-Brooklyn Nets vs. play-in tournament winner

    3. y-Milwaukee Bucks vs. 6. Miami Heat

    4. New York Knicks vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks

    Play-in tournament field: 7. Boston Celtics, 8. Charlotte Hornets, 9. Indiana Pacers, 10. Washington Wizards

                      

    Western Conference

    1. x-Utah Jazz vs. play-in tournament runner-up

    2 x-Phoenix Suns vs. play-in tournament winner

    3. x-Denver Nuggets vs. 6. Dallas Mavericks

    4. x-Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5. Los Angeles Lakers

    Play-in tournament field: 7. Portland Trail Blazers, 8. Memphis Grizzlies, 9. Golden State Warriors, 10. San Antonio Spurs

    *x-clinched playoff berth; y-clinched division

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Blazers might be seeded seventh, but they're a game back of the fifth seed. If anyone had a reason to gripe about the play-in format, it's probably Portland's finest.

    If they feel that way, though, they haven't made their thoughts public. Then again, the silence might just be the quiet confidence of a club knowing it rosters one of the league's elite offensive assassins in six-time All-Star Damian Lillard.

    He is objectively awesome at basketball and is the only player averaging 28 points, seven assists and four three-pointers. He is especially lethal in the clutch, which explains how Portland has gone 23-12 in games that were within five points during the final five minutes of regulation. In those circumstances, the Blazers are a staggering plus-93 in Lillard's 118 minutes.

    It's not all about Dame, though. His backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, is almost as hard to handle on the offensive end. Deadline acquisition Norman Powell has bolstered what was already an explosive attack. Robert Covington creates all kinds of chaos on defense. Add Jusuf Nurkic to the mix, and you're looking at a quintet that has obliterated opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions.

    The Blazers have been to the playoffs each of the last seven seasons and are only two years removed from making a run to the Western Conference Finals. This group has experience, loads of offensive firepower and an absolute killer in the clutch. That's not a combination clubs will be eager to go up against in the playoffs.

Washington Wizards

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The NBA schedule spawns streaks on the regular, but at some point, a fiery-hot or frigid-cold stretch becomes more than a good or bad run and turns truly transformational.

    Maybe this is recency bias talking, but it sure seems like a good time to forget everything you thought you knew about the Wizards. They're closing in on nearly a month of being one of the best teams in basketball, posting a 13-3 record since April 7 with the league's third-best net rating over this stretch (plus-7.1).

    Bradley Beal is the face of this franchise, and he's probably finishing no worse than second place in the scoring race. But Russell Westbrook might be the engine of this turnaround. After Monday's ridiculous 24-assist, 21-rebound, 14-point triple-double, the former MVP is averaging 21.8 points, 13.6 boards and 13.1 dimes in this stretch.

    "He's amazing—superhuman at times," Wizards coach Scott Brooks told reporters. "Point guards don't do what he does. They're not built this way."

    When Westbrook and Beal are rolling, the Wizards pack a lethal one-two punch. Davis Bertans is back to burying most everything he launches (3.2 threes at a 42.4 percent clip in this stretch). Rui Hachimura often handles third-scoring duties, but he can rise above that any night. Daniel Gafford, Robin Lopez and Alex Len have come together to form a three-headed monster at center.

    Washington looks for real. Considering what this club endured earlier in the year, perhaps this is who the Wizards were supposed to be all along. That's a scary thought for whomever draws this club in the second season.