NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Standings, Predictions for Lakers, Warriors and More
Can the Los Angeles Lakers move up to the No. 6 seed and avoid going to the play-in tournament? Or will the Portland Trail Blazers hold them off, giving the defending NBA champions a longer path back to the postseason?
That's the biggest question remaining following Friday's action, as seven of the eight teams heading to the play-in tournament are now set. The Washington Wizards clinched their spot in the East with a 120-105 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, eliminating the Chicago Bulls from contention. Washington is currently the No. 10 seed, but it could move up as high as No. 8.
The Dallas Mavericks clinched a spot in the first round of the playoffs with a 114-110 win over the Toronto Raptors. That means only the Trail Blazers could potentially fall out of the top six in the West (and only the Lakers could move in).
At the top of the standings, the Philadelphia 76ers clinched the No. 1 seed in the East by defeating the Orlando Magic 122-97.
Here's a look at the latest NBA playoff picture, followed by several predictions for how the rest of the weekend will unfold.
1. z-Philadelphia 76ers: 48-23
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. p-Washington Wizards: 33-38
11. e-Chicago Bulls: 30-40
12. e-Toronto Raptors: 27-44
13. e-Cleveland Cavaliers: 22-49
14. e-Orlando Magic: 21-50
15. e-Detroit Pistons: 20-51
1. y-Utah Jazz: 51-20
2. y-Phoenix Suns: 49-21
3. x-Denver Nuggets 47-24
4. x-Los Angeles Clippers 47-24
5. y-Dallas Mavericks 42-29
6. Portland Trail Blazers: 41-30
7. Los Angeles Lakers: 40-30
8. p-Golden State Warriors: 38-33
9. p-Memphis Grizzlies: 38-33
10. p-San Antonio Spurs: 33-37
11. e-New Orleans Pelicans: 31-40
12. e-Sacramento Kings: 31-40
13. e-Minnesota Timberwolves: 22-48
14. e-Oklahoma City Thunder: 21-50
15. e-Houston Rockets: 17-54
*x-clinched playoff berth; y-clinched division; z-clinched No. 1 seed; p-clinched play-in berth; e-eliminated from playoff
Lakers Will Be Unable to Avoid Heading to Play-in Tournament
If the Lakers are going to avoid the play-in tournament, it's going to take a perfect weekend and a bit of luck. In order to do so, they'll have to win road matchups at Indiana on Saturday and New Orleans on Sunday, while also hoping Portland loses to Denver on Sunday.
That's unlikely to happen. The Lakers may be playing better of late, having won three in a row despite dealing with numerous injuries, and they could potentially beat both the Pacers and Pelicans. But the Trail Blazers should win on their home court with the stakes raised on Sunday.
But Los Angeles' time in the play-in tournament may be brief. The Lakers are guaranteed to be the No. 7 seed if they end up there, which means they'll host the No. 8 seed (currently the Warriors). The winner will advance to face the No. 2 seed in the first round, while the loser will play the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder are all nearing returns, coach Frank Vogel told reporters on Friday. And that should provide the necessary boost that Los Angeles needs to finish the regular season strong and carry that momentum into the play-in tourney.
Expect the Lakers to win the first game of the play-in tournament, then look to pull off an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Warriors Will Secure No. 8 Seed in West
With the Warriors and Grizzlies each winning Friday and improving to 38-33, either team could still end up as the No. 8 seed. That will be decided Sunday, when Golden State hosts Memphis. The winner will be the No. 8 seed, while the loser will fall to No. 9 and host No. 10-seeded San Antonio in the play-in tournament.
Expect the Warriors to secure the No. 8 seed with a victory, and then they'll have to head to Los Angeles to face the Lakers. And while Golden State won't win that game (despite keeping it close), it will take down either Memphis or San Antonio, whichever team ends up advancing from the matchup between the Nos. 9 and 10 seeds.
The Warriors are dangerous in this type of format, as point guard Stephen Curry is capable of taking over a game on any given night. The chances of them losing two straight games with the possibility of advancing to the first round on the line are low.
Could Golden State pull off a first-round upset? It'll be unlikely, as it will be going up against the No. 1 seed in the West, which will likely be Utah. But never count out Curry and the Warriors once the postseason arrives.
Hornets Will Fall to No. 10 Seed in East
Currently, the Hornets and Pacers have identical 33-37 records, which has them as the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively. However, the Wizards are only a half-game back after their win over the Cavs on Friday, so there could still be a shakeup for the play-in tournament field behind the No. 7-seeded Celtics.
Charlotte has a difficult two-day stretch to end the regular season, playing at New York on Saturday and at Washington on Sunday. If the Hornets lose both games, they could fall to the No. 10 seed. And the prediction here is that's how things will unfold.
With Charlotte losing both games, Washington will pass it in the standings. It's also possible the Wizards could move up to the No. 8 seed in this scenario, unless the Pacers win each of their final two games (home against the Lakers on Saturday and on the road against the Raptors on Sunday). And Indiana may have trouble doing so with a tough matchup against the Lakers.
The Wizards, who could be difficult to beat in the play-in tournament if Bradley Beal returns from a hamstring injury, will head to Boston to face the Celtics. Meanwhile, the Pacers and Hornets will face off in Indiana after Charlotte ends the regular season on a five-game slide to fall to the No. 10 seed.