NBA Playoff Standings 2021: Latest Play-In Picture and Predicting Final Seedings
The Los Angeles Lakers are running out of time to move back into the top six in the Western Conference. And the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks are doing their best to ensure the Lakers will be heading to the play-in tournament next week.
Portland and Dallas each picked up victories Wednesday. The Trail Blazers defeated the Utah Jazz 105-98, while the Mavericks beat the Pelicans 125-107. Both would have clinched a spot in the first round of the playoffs had the Lakers lost, but Los Angeles stayed alive in the race by holding on for a 124-122 victory over the Houston Rockets, keeping it one game behind both Portland and Dallas.
The NBA play-in tournament picture is coming into focus with five teams guaranteed to be playing in the tourney. But there are still seeding battles taking place, so some of these teams still have a bit to play for over the final few days of the regular season.
Here's a look at the current play-in tournament picture after Wednesday's action.
Latest Play-In Standings
7. x-Boston Celtics: 35-35
8. x-Charlotte Hornets: 33-36
9. x-Indiana Pacers: 33-36
10. Washington Wizards: 32-38
11. Chicago Bulls: 29-40 (2.5 games back)
7. Los Angeles Lakers: 40-30
8. x-Golden State Warriors: 37-33
9. x-Memphis Grizzlies: 36-33
10. San Antonio Spurs: 33-36
11. Sacramento Kings: 31-38 (2 games back)
x-clinched play-in tournament berth
Eastern Conference Prediction
The Celtics will have a lot to prove in the play-in tournament, and they'll need to start building momentum if they hope to make a run back to the Eastern Conference Finals (or even to the first or second round of the playoffs). Boston has lost four straight games, and Wednesday's 102-94 defeat at Cleveland ensured it will participate in the play-in tourney.
With the Hornets and Pacers not playing Wednesday, they remained in the eighth and ninth seeds, respectively, with identical 33-36 records. Each has three regular-season games still to play. Meanwhile, the Wizards remained in 10th after a 120-116 loss at Atlanta (which kept the Bulls alive in the race).
While Boston will remain in the No. 7 seed—it should bounce back with road matchups at Minnesota and New York—there's still time for a shake-up behind it.
The Pacers have won three of their past four games, and with shooting guard Caris LeVert heating up (20 or more points in seven of his past eight games), they should finish the regular season strong. Expect them to win at least two of their final three games (at home against the Bucks and Lakers, away against the Raptors), which will move them up to the No. 8 seed.
The Wizards can still move up to No. 9 after Wednesday's loss, and that's what will happen. They should beat the Cavaliers at home Friday, and then the duo of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal will be too much for the Hornets to stop in Sunday's regular-season finale in Washington.
The Hornets will fall to the No. 10 seed, as they have three difficult matchups to end the regular season. Having lost six of its past nine, Charlotte will face the Clippers, Knicks and Wizards.
The prediction here is that the Hornets' struggles will continue, with a loss at Washington on Sunday being the costliest.
Prediction: 7. Celtics; 8. Pacers; 9. Wizards; 10. Hornets
Western Conference Prediction
Don't expect much of a shake-up in the Western Conference play-in tournament picture during the final stretch of the regular season. There's a strong chance these four teams won't move at all, which will set up an exciting matchup between the No. 7 Lakers and No. 8 Warriors.
Los Angeles is playing better of late, having won three straight, even though LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to battle injuries (both missed Wednesday's game). The Lakers won't be able to avoid the play-in tourney (as the Trail Blazers and Mavs will each win at least one more game), but they'll finish as the No. 7 seed, as it's impossible for them to fall lower in the standings.
Golden State finishes the regular season with a pair of home games, both of which are winnable. The Warriors host the Pelicans on Friday and then play the Grizzlies on Sunday in a game that could be important for seeding.
Before Memphis takes on Golden State, it still has a pair of home games against Sacramento on Thursday and Friday. The Grizzlies should keep things interesting, but the Warriors' strong finish, which will feature a win over Memphis, will ensure Golden State remains the No. 8 seed and will leave the Grizzlies at No. 9.
Although the Spurs lost 128-116 to the Nets on Wednesday, they maintained their advantage for the No. 10 seed. The Pelicans were eliminated from play-in tournament contention with a 125-107 loss to the Mavericks, so the only team that could move past San Antonio is the Kings, who are two games back.
It's highly unlikely the Kings will reach the play-in tournament, especially considering they play two games against the Grizzlies and then host the Jazz on Sunday. Sacramento has stayed in the picture by winning six of its past seven games, but it will run out of time to catch San Antonio.
Expect the Spurs to win at least one of their final three games (one against the Knicks and two against the Suns), which is all they need to secure their spot in the play-in tournament.
Prediction: 7. Lakers; 8. Warriors; 9. Grizzlies; 10. Spurs