NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Standings, Play-in Predictions for Lakers, More
The path to the 2021 NBA title is getting clearer by the second.
Thursday's nine-game slate helped tie up some loose ends with the play-in tournament.
The San Antonio Spurs secured their spot. More accurately, they backed into one by way of the Sacramento Kings loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, a defeat that also extended Sacramento's playoff drought to a record-tying 15 years. The Chicago Bulls, meanwhile, remained mathematically alive in the East with a 114-102 win over the Toronto Raptors.
The Portland Trail Blazers closed the night by nearly snagging a top-six seed (and their sixth consecutive win) but ultimately falling to the Phoenix Suns on a pair of Devin Booker free throws with less than three seconds remaining.
With that, six of the eight play-in participants are set in stone. After updating the league standings, we'll make play-in predictions for both conferences.
Latest NBA Standings
1. x-Philadelphia 76ers: 47-23
2. x-Brooklyn Nets: 46-24
3. y-Milwaukee Bucks: 45-25
4. x-Atlanta Hawks: 40-31
5. x-Miami Heat: 39-31
6. x-New York Knicks: 39-31
7. p-Boston Celtics: 35-35
8. p-Charlotte Hornets: 33-37
9. p-Indiana Pacers: 33-37
10. Washington Wizards: 32-38
11. Chicago Bulls: 30-40
12. e-Toronto Raptors: 27-43
13. e-Cleveland Cavaliers: 22-48
14. e-Orlando Magic: 21-49
15. e-Detroit Pistons: 20-50
1. y-Utah Jazz: 50-20
2. x-Phoenix Suns: 49-21
3. x-Los Angeles Clippers 47-23
4. x-Denver Nuggets 46-24
5. y-Dallas Mavericks 41-29
6. Portland Trail Blazers: 41-30
7. Los Angeles Lakers: 40-30
8. p-Golden State Warriors: 37-33
9. p-Memphis Grizzlies: 37-33
10. p-San Antonio Spurs: 33-37
11. e-New Orleans Pelicans: 31-39
12. e-Sacramento Kings: 31-39
13. e-Minnesota Timberwolves: 22-48
14. e-Oklahoma City Thunder: 21-49
15. e-Houston Rockets: 16-54
*x-clinched playoff berth; y-clinched division; p-clinched play-in berth; e-eliminated from playoff
Eastern Conference Play-in Prediction
Considering it would take the Wizards losing out and the Bulls winning out to change this field, no one should expect a change in the standings.
Once the curtains drop on this campaign, it will be the Celtics, Hornets, Pacers and Wizards left fighting for the East's final two postseason spots.
Boston is backing into this event in a bad way, having dropped four straight and lost All-Star swingman Jaylen Brown for good. That could make the Shamrocks vulnerable, if not for the fact all four teams are stumbling into this tournament. None has a winning record in its last 10 games or a victory its last time out. Together, the four teams are on a combined 10-game losing streak.
The Celtics will be favored no matter who they're facing. They will think they have the best player in the series with Jayson Tatum, and they'll probably be right (though that conversation gets interesting if the Wizards ascend to No. 8). Our crystal ball sees the Pacers winding up at No. 8, and then not having enough to hang with the Celtics, despite the best efforts of Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert.
That leaves the Hornets and Wizards to lock horns in the 9-10 matchup, and this might be where an unexpectedly fun season in Buzz City comes to a close.
The Hornets, who are 3-6 in their last nine games, may not have Gordon Hayward (foot) and can only expect so much from freshman phenom LaMelo Ball. The Wizards get as much guard production as anyone between Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Advantage Washington.
That would have the Pacers hosting the Wizards in a do-or-die game for No. 8. Washington's guards would again be the difference-makers, as they were in the team's 133-132 road win over Indiana less than a week ago, when Beal had 50 points on 31 shots and Westbrook delivered a 33-point, 19-rebound, 15-assist triple-double.
Western Conference Play-in Prediction
Remember when the entire NBA used to be decided by Stephen Curry's annual championship-round tussles with LeBron James? To have these two potentially dueling in a win-and-you're-in contest surely shatters whatever best-case scenario the play-in tournament architects initially envisioned.
Those are mega-stars on a global scale. Each qualifies as the proverbial unstoppable force. Both has an expert co-star alongside him with Anthony Davis in L.A. and Draymond Green in Golden State. This would be epic.
The Warriors would go in having played perhaps their best basketball all season. Their four-game winning streak matches their season-high and features triumphs over the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. That they engineered both wins without Curry being anywhere near his best (38.3/16.7/94.4 slash line in the contests) suggests this supporting cast might be finding its way.
Saying all of that, our crystal ball can't go away from the champs. As long as James isn't too limited by his nagging ankle injury, he and Davis can do more damage than Curry and Green. It'll be close (and an instant classic), but L.A., which could still secure a direct path to the postseason, advances.
Once Memphis makes quick work of a free-falling San Antonio squad (2-7 in its last nine games), it's off to California for a winner-take-all collision with the Warriors. And it's almost impossible to imagine the Grizzlies pulling this off.
Their core hasn't made a playoff trip together; Curry, Green, Kevon Looney and coach Steve Kerr have celebrated three world titles together. Tack on Golden State's home-court advantage and superior star power with Curry, and this might get out of hand in a runaway Warriors' victory.