NBA Playoffs 2021: Known Schedule, Bracket Format and Dangerous Teams
The 2020-21 NBA season hasn't gone quite as most would have expected. The Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers lead their respective divisions, while the Brooklyn Nets superteam came together as a legitimate threat with relative ease.
The vaunted—and defending champion—Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, has had their season derailed by injuries. That's a real issue for LeBron James and Co., as there are dangerous teams at the back end of the playoff field that should worry some teams at the top.
Los Angeles is likely headed to the play-in tournament, where best-of series are out the window.
Here, you'll find a look at the format and early schedule for the play-in tournament, along with some of those aforementioned dangerous teams.
In some aspects, the playoffs will be a familiar event. The No. 1 seed in each conference will play the No. 8 seed to start, while the No. 2 seed will play No. 7 and so on. It's determining the final two seeds in each conference that is different.
While Seeds No. 1-6 in each conference will be in, Seeds No. 7-10 will engage in a three-game play-in tournament to finalize the seventh and eighth seeds for the playoffs proper.
In Game 1, the seventh seed will host the eighth seed with the winner moving on and the loser getting another chance in Game 3. In Game 2, the ninth seed will host the 10th seed with the loser going home and the winner moving to Game 3.
In Game 3, the two remaining play-in teams will battle to earn the final playoff spot.
In other words, the seventh and eighth seeds will have two chances to win one game, while the ninth and 10th seeds will need to win back-to-back games to push into the postseason.
Early Known Schedule
The schedule for the play-in tournament, according to NBA Communications, is as follows:
Tuesday, May 15: East ninth place vs. East 10th place - TNT
Tuesday, May 15: East eighth place vs. Boston Celtics - TNT
Wednesday, May 19: San Antonio Spurs vs. West ninth place - ESPN
Wednesday, May 19: West eighth place vs. West seventh place - ESPN
Thursday, May 20: Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 - TNT
Friday, May 21: Winner of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 - ESPN
Los Angeles Lakers
While the Lakers have fallen toward the back of the Western Conference field, discounting them would be a major mistake. James may not get back to 100 percent at any point this season, but when he and Anthony Davis are both on the court, Los Angeles is a tough team to knock off.
According to Broderick Turner of Yahoo Sports, James Davis and Dennis Schroder may all be healthy enough to play Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.
"We want to see how he feels in response to today's work, like always," coach Frank Vogel said of James, per Turner. "But there’s a chance that he plays if things go well."
There's still a slim chance that the Lakers can overtake the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 6 seed, but even if they're a play-in team, they should have two chances to win one game. This could leave the Jazz or the Phoenix Suns having to beat Los Angeles in an opening-round series, a prospect neither team should feel great about.
Golden State Warriors
While the Lakers can be dangerous when it gets to traditional playoff time, the Golden State Warriors are a scary team for the play-in tournament. The absence of Klay Thompson means that Golden State probably isn't a title contender. However, in a single game with elimination on the line, no one should want to face the Warriors.
Stephen Curry is healthy, and as we've seen at various points this season, he can get hot and completely take over a game.
Curry, who is averaging 31.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists, is playing at a near MVP level. If he gets going, he could easily drop 40 or more and put a team like Los Angeles or the Memphis Grizzlies out of the postseason.
Along with Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green, Curry rested against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, and Golden State still picked up the win. Golden State and Memphis will face off on Sunday in a pivotal game that will determine who gets eighth place before the play-in.