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NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Play-In Standings, Predictions After May 9

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid looks to shoot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Monday, May 3, 2021, in Chicago. The 76ers won 106-94. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

We are coming down the homestretch of the 2020-21 NBA season. 

Most teams have anywhere from three to five games remaining in the regular season, as playoff berths and play-in spots remain up for grabs. Here's a look at the updated standings as of Monday morning:

In the West, the Utah Jazz hold a two-game lead over the Phoenix Suns for the No. 1 overall seed, with both teams having four games remaining. The Suns only need to finish in a tie with the Jazz to claim the top seed after sweeping the season series, but expecting the Jazz to drop two games down the stretch is a big ask. 

The Los Clippers and Denver Nuggets have each clinched playoff berths, with only seeding for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds left up in the air. 

And then it gets interesting. 

Three teams—the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers—are within two games of each other for the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds. At the moment, the Lakers are seventh in the West, meaning the defending champions would have to participate in the league's new play-in tournament. 

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Imagine being the Suns, ending a 10-year playoff drought, and your reward is a first-round matchup with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That remains a very real possibility. Then again, imagine being the defending champions and potentially having to face Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in a play-in game.

The Dubs and Memphis Grizzlies are likely to finish as the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds (in some order), while the San Antonio Spurs are 1.5 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the final play-in spot. 

In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers hold a commanding three-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets and 3.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks with four games remaining for the top overall seed. The Sixers hold the tiebreaker over the Nets but not over the Bucks, which means their magic number is one to guarantee they finish ahead of the Nets and two to finish over the Bucks. 

That top seed is important, as the Sixers would avoid facing either the Nets or Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals (and if the current standings hold, could avoid the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics as well). 

While the New York Knicks haven't yet guaranteed themselves a playoff berth, it's basically a foregone conclusion, which means Madison Square Garden will host a playoff game for the first time since the 2012-13 season. They remain in a fight for the No. 4 seed, with the Atlanta Hawks and Heat each a game behind them in the standings. 

The Celtics, meanwhile, are likely looking at being the No. 7 seed in the play-in tournament, as they trail Atlanta and Miami by two games. They would face either the Charlotte Hornets or the surging Washington Wizards in their first play-in game, while the injury-ravaged Indiana Pacers hold a 2.5-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the final play-in berth.  

So there's plenty up for grabs around the NBA. It should be a fun last week in the Association. 

           

Predictions for Eastern Conference Playoff Berths

1. Sixers

2. Nets

3. Bucks

4. Knicks

5. Hawks

6. Heat

7. Hornets

8. Celtics

                 

Predictions for Western Conference Playoff Berths

1. Jazz

2. Suns

3. Clippers

4. Nuggets

5. Mavericks

6. Trail Blazers

7. Lakers

8. Warriors

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