NBA Standings 2021: Updated Playoff Picture, Bracket Heading into Final Games

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 8, 2021

NBA Standings 2021: Updated Playoff Picture, Bracket Heading into Final Games

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    NBA teams are sprinting through the final turn toward the last weekend of the 2020-21 NBA season.

    For clubs still jostling for postseason seeds and playoff spots, they have between now and May 16 to present their final arguments.

    The cut-off is coming at a great time for some and an awful one for others. After updating the current playoff bracket, we'll spotlight two teams trending in opposite directions.

Updated NBA Playoff Bracket

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Eastern Conference

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

    2. y-Milwaukee Bucks vs. play-in tournament winner

    3. x-Brooklyn Nets 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. y-Utah Jazz vs. play-in tournament runner-up

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

    3. x-Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers

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

    Play-in tournament field: 7. Los Angeles Lakers, 8. Golden State Warriors, 9. Memphis Grizzlies, 10. San Antonio Spurs

    *x-clinched playoff berth; y-clinched division

Stock Up: Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The East has witnessed three elites rise above the rest this season, a setup that was always bound to yield a photo finish.

    At least, that seemed to be shaping up until the Sixers went supernova on everyone.

    If Philadelphia knocks off a depleted (and not good to begin with) Detroit Pistons team on Saturday, that will be two full weeks with nothing but wins. For now, it's seven consecutive victories by an average of—wait for it19.0 points per game.

    Considering this came right on the heels of two potentially costly losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, this certainly feels like a championship-level response from a club determined to control its own destiny.

    Philadelphia has the proverbial unstoppable force in All-Star center (and MVP candidate) Joel Embiid. Friday marked his 16th outing with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. Giannis Antetokounmpo (16) and Nikola Jokic (14) are the only other players with at least 10 such performances.

    The Sixers might have three players vying for immovable-object honors. Embiid and Ben Simmons will factor into the Defensive Player of the Year race. Matisse Thybulle would if he played more minutes.

    Philadelphia has long intrigued with its impressive talent collection, but this is the first time this group qualifies as a full-fledged title contender. If it keeps this up, it might be the strongest squad in the entire field.

Stock Down: Brooklyn Nets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    It takes more than a four-game losing streak for the sky to start falling.

    In fact, the Nets see some growth potential in this process, since this revamped roster hasn't struggled like this all season.

    "It's about time we got tested in terms of having to think the game on a different level knowing that teams are shaping up for the playoffs," Kyrie Irving told reporters. "... It's been too easy at times."

    There probably are lessons to be learned here, especially if the Nets take this in stride and find a way out as a team.

    Saying that, the timing isn't great to go through something like this. You'd like to hit the playoffs on a high note. Brooklyn is down lower than it has been all season.

    The ball isn't moving. Irving leads all Nets in this stretch with only 4.5 assists per game. Kevin Durant's shooting is down (44.7 percent from the field, 53.8 on the season). Landry Shamet can't throw one in the ocean (27.6 percent overall, 30.4 from three). Consistent support scoring has been hard to find, and the Nets have needed it since James Harden remains sidelined by a hamstring injury.

    Brooklyn has the talent to figure this out in time to make a deep playoff push. But the Nets' stars will try creating chemistry on the fly, since they've only played seven games together and are running out of time to get more under their belt before the postseason.

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