NBA Playoff Schedule 2021: Known Dates for Each Round of Bracket

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 13, 2021

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) gestures after scoring and being fouled against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The NBA did not change the number of playoff teams for the 2020-21 season, but it did make the postseason path more difficult for the seventh- and eighth-place franchises in each conference. 

The league held on to the play-in game format used in the bubble last summer and tweaked it to give us an elimination game right away. 

Teams that finish in seventh and eighth will face off for the No. 7 seed. The loser of that matchup will take on the winner of the matchup between the No. 9 and No. 10 sides. 

The No. 8 seed in each conference will be the team that wins the showdown between the No. 7-8 loser and No. 9-10 winner.

Entering Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics were among the squads ranked in the play-in positions. 

The play-in tournament is scheduled for May 18-21. The first true playoff game will take place on May 22. The NBA Finals are slated to begin July 8.


NBA Playoff Picture

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia (47-22)

2. Brooklyn (46-24)

3. Milwaukee (44-25)

4. Atlanta (39-31)

5. Miami (38-31)

6. New York (38-31)

7. Boston (35-35)

8. Charlotte (33-36)

9. Indiana (33-36)

10. Washington (32-38)

11. Chicago (29-40)


Philadelphia should wrap up the No. 1 seed in one of its next two games. The 76ers visit Miami on Thursday and then face Orlando at home on two occasions. 

The Sixers just need one win to clinch the top spot since they have a two-game advantage on Brooklyn entering Thursday's slate. 

Miami needs a victory on Thursday to try to secure home-court advantage and the No. 4 seed over Atlanta. The Heat do not have to worry about sliding down to the play-in tournament following their Tuesday win over Boston. 

Boston was doomed to the play-in tournament through its losses to Miami and Cleveland on back-to-back nights. The second of those defeats secure New York's position in the top six. 

The Celtics need to win once against either Minnesota or New York to hold on to the No. 7 seed. If not, Charlotte or Indiana could pounce for that position.

The Hornets close the regular season against the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Washington Wizards. Indiana ends with the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors. 

Washington needs to beat Cleveland or Charlotte to keep Chicago from surging into the No. 10 position. The Bulls must sweep Toronto, Brooklyn and Milwaukee to have a chance of landing that spot if Washington loses out. 


Western Conference

1. Utah (50-20)

2. Phoenix (48-21)

3. Los Angeles Clippers (46-23)

4. Denver (45-24)

5. Portland (41-29)

6. Dallas (41-29)

7. Los Angeles Lakers (40-30)

8. Golden State (37-33)

9. Memphis (36-33)

10. San Antonio (33-36)

11. Sacramento (31-38)  


The potential Lakers-Warriors play-in game has generated the most buzz in the Western Conference playoff race. 

It is hard to imagine a better scenario for the NBA than to have LeBron James and Anthony Davis go head-to-head with Stephen Curry in a one-game showdown for a playoff position. 

The Lakers sit one game back of the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 6 seed, but they need to finish with a better record. 

Dallas and the Portland Trail Blazers both hold tiebreakers over the Lakers, who barely beat the Houston Rockets on Wednesday without James and Davis. 

Golden State should beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, and then it faces the Memphis Grizzlies in the season finale. 

If the Warriors defeat the Grizzlies on Sunday, it will confirm their spot in the 7-8 game and put Memphis in the 9-10 contest, where San Antonio will likely await it. 

San Antonio needs one win against the Knicks, or in a back-to-back with the Phoenix Suns, to stave off the Sacramento Kings for the No. 10 spot. 

The good news for the Spurs is the Suns could have the No. 2 seed locked up by the time that two-game set begins. Phoenix is two games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and 1.5 games back of the Utah Jazz. 

Utah finishes with Oklahoma City and Sacramento, so the likelihood of it dropping down to the No. 2 seed is slim. 

The most important game on Sunday for seeding purposes in the top six involves Denver and Portland. The Nuggets are one game back of the Clippers, while the Blazers are level with Dallas. 

Denver may not move up to the No. 3 seed, but the contest with Portland could determine who it ends up playing in the first round since the Blazers and Mavericks are locked in the race for the No. 5 seed.