NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Updated Play-in Standings, Postseason Races to Watch

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 11, 2021

NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Updated Play-in Standings, Postseason Races to Watch

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Congrats are due to the NBA's middle class.

    This is your moment in the sun, courtesy of the polarizing-for-some play-in tournament.

    The format, which began in last season's bubble, sends teams seeded seventh through 10th to a three-game tournament to settle the last two playoff spots in each conference. The Nos. 7 and 8 seeds open tournament play with the winner advancing to the postseason. The loser faces the winner of the 9-10 matchup with that game rewarding the final playoff berth.

    With less than a week remaining on the 2020-21 schedule, there is still much to be determined with regards to the play-in participants. So, after updating the latest standings through Monday night's games, we'll spotlight two of the tightest races in the play-in field.

Latest NBA Play-In Standings

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Eastern Conference

    4. New York Knicks: 38-30 (+3)

    5. Atlanta Hawks: 38-31 (+2.5)

    6. Miami Heat: 37-31 (+2)

    7. Boston Celtics: 35-33

    8. Charlotte Hornets: 33-35

    9. Indiana Pacers: 32-36

    10. Washington Wizards: 32-37

    11. Chicago Bulls: 29-39 (-2.5)


    Western Conference

    5. Dallas Mavericks: 40-28 (+2)

    6. Portland Trail Blazers: 40-29 (+1.5)

    7. Los Angeles Lakers: 38-30

    8. Golden State Warriors: 36-33

    9. Memphis Grizzlies: 35-33

    10. San Antonio Spurs: 33-35

    11. New Orleans Pelicans: 31-38 (-2.5)

    12. Sacramento Kings: 30-38 (-3)

Three-Team Tussle for East's Eighth Seed

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards are all simultaneously in the fight of their lives and breathing relatively easy. Such is life in the funky world of the play-in tournament.

    The relative comfort comes from knowing they're all likely to snag a seat at the play-in table. It would take quite the collapse for any to fall beneath the Chicago Bulls, who needed a three-game winning streak just to come within 2.5 games of the 10th-seeded Wizards. Perhaps the Bulls can keep this up, but maybe they'll pull the plug yet in hopes of increasing their draft lottery odds.

    Either way, the Hornets, Pacers and Wizards seem like they'll head to the small dance, but their order upon arrival is still being decided. Only 1.5 games separate these teams, and they're all down to their final handful of games. Charlotte and Indiana each has four remaining, while Washington is down to its final three.

    The Hornets are in the driver's seat, but they also face the toughest remaining slate, per Tankathon. They'll host the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers before closing with a road back-to-back against the New York Knicks and Wizards.

    The Pacers are up next with three home games awaiting them against the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. Survive that stretch, though, and they'll close with a road stop against the already eliminated Toronto Raptors.

    The Wizards will play their second consecutive road game against the Atlanta Hawks, who squeaked out a one-point win over Washington on Monday. Then, Washington gets the Cleveland Cavaliers and Hornets at home.

    Please excuse the popping sound you might be hearing. We're just getting our popcorn ready for this final sprint.

The Fight for No. 6 Out West

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Never before has the sixth seed looked so inviting.

    While a first-round fight with the Clippers or Nuggets hardly sounds enjoyable, it sure beats the alternative. Miss out on the sixth seed that would set up one of those matchups, and you've got a one-way ticket to the play-in tournament, where playoff dreams can be dashed in a matter of 96 minutes.

    That's the reality facing the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, who are in a heated race for the West's No. 6 spot. Portland has tight-roped its way there for now behind an MVP-caliber effort from Damian Lillard, who has feverishly worked to help the Blazers overcome injuries to CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.

    It's a different story for L.A., as the defending champs wouldn't have dreamed of being in this position just a few months back. On Feb. 12, the Lakers were an absurd 21-6. On March 18, they held a 28-13 mark. But injuries to both Anthony Davis and LeBron James derailed the mighty Purple and Gold, who are sputtering through a 3-8 skid that has dropped their record to 38-30 and their seed line to the dreaded No. 7.

    James previously lambasted the tournament, telling reporters, "Whoever came up with that s--t needs to be fired." That sentiment is surely echoing through Laker Land right about now.

    If there's a consolation, though, it's that the Lakers close with the softer schedule of the two. After hosting the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, they'll finish with road tilts against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans. The Blazers, meanwhile, still have road stops against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns before closing with a home game against the Nuggets.

    As an impartial observer, this should be fun to watch.