NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Lonzo Ball, Pelicans Stay Alive in Play-in Tourney Mix

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 5, 2021

NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Lonzo Ball, Pelicans Stay Alive in Play-in Tourney Mix

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    A night after losing to the Golden State Warriors, the New Orleans Pelicans bounced back and got some revenge Tuesday night. And it was point guard Lonzo Ball who led the charge to help keep the Pels alive in the postseason hunt.

    Ball had 33 points and went 7-for-13 on three-pointers, powering the Pelicans to a 108-103 win over the Warriors. It was New Orleans' third victory in its past four games, and it's now two games back of the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 10 seed, which is the final spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament.

    The Pelicans have played two more games than the Spurs, who are in control in the race for that final spot. New Orleans also plays its next five games on the road before concluding the regular season with a home matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 16.

    So although the Pelicans may face some adversity in trying to reach the play-in tournament, they're still alive in the race, and anything can happen over the next week-and-a-half.

    Here's a look at the latest projected playoff picture, along with more on the landscape for the play-in tournament.

Latest Playoff Bracket

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    Garett Fisbeck/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-Phoenix Suns vs. play-in tournament runner-up

    2 x-Utah Jazz vs. play-in tournament winner

    3. x-Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6. Los Angeles Lakers

    4. x-Denver Nuggets vs. 5. Dallas Mavericks

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

    *x-clinched playoff berth; y-clinched division

Can Spurs Finish Strong Enough to Make Play-in Tournament?

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    With a 31-33 record, the Spurs are only one game behind the Warriors and Grizzlies (the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds) in the Western Conference standings. However, they're also only two games ahead of the Pelicans. And if they don't start playing better than they have of late, they could potentially fall out of the top 10 and miss the play-in tournament.

    San Antonio is on a four-game losing streak after falling to Utah on Monday night. It plays the Jazz on the road again Wednesday night, and its schedule doesn't get much easier down the stretch.

    Of the Spurs' eight remaining regular-season games, they have seven against teams who are currently in the top seven of its conference—one each against the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Bucks, Nets and Knicks, as well as two against the Suns. And five of San Antonio's next six games are on the road.

    Monday's 110-99 loss at Utah was indicative of how the Spurs have played for much of the season.

    "Poor first half, really good second half," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "We’ve kind of had that personality for a lot of the year."

    Meanwhile, New Orleans has won five of its past eight games and has a less difficult schedule down the stretch (although it has two fewer remaining games than San Antonio). So while the Spurs can secure the No. 10 seed, or potentially even move up the standings, they'll need to play well and hold off the Pelicans while doing so.

    If San Antonio doesn't reach the postseason, it will mark the second straight season that it's missed the playoffs after making it each of the 22 years prior to that.

Will Celtics Make It Back into Top Six in East?

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Celtics opened April by winning eight of their first nine games, and it appeared they were well on their way to securing one of the top six seeds in the Eastern Conference. However, they haven't fared as well since then, losing five of their past eight games and dropping down to No. 7.

    Boston is only a half-game behind Miami for the No. 6 seed, though, and it will have an opportunity to pull even with the Heat when it plays the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday night. The Celtics then play the Bulls, who are unlikely to reach the playoffs, on Friday, so this will be an opportunity for them to reestablish some momentum.

    Then, Boston has two home games against Miami on Sunday and Tuesday, and those could end up being crucial in determining which of the two teams ends up with the No. 6 seed and which one has to participate in the play-in tournament as the No. 7 seed. Other teams could also factor into the mix, but the Celtics and Heat will keep battling at that part of the standings.

    With the duo of Jayson Tatum (26.5 points per game) and Jaylen Brown (24.7), Boston can be difficult to beat, and it has potential to make some noise in the playoffs. But there are still some things the Celtics need to do better to get into the playoffs, which includes bouncing back from off nights.

    "We need to just take the mindset of whether we won or lost, you can’t change that," Tatum said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).

    Having lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four seasons, the Celtics will be looking to make a deeper playoff run this year. However, they may end up having to start in the play-in tournament if they can't start moving up the standings over the next week or so.