NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Play-in Bracket, Seeding Scenarios for Last Day

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up high to dunk the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

There's just one day of regular-season basketball left on the NBA schedule.

That used to mean teams at the bottom of the standings would battle fiercely for the No. 8 and final spot in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, for the right to compete in the playoffs.

Now, though, with the condensed 72-game season and the new play-in tournament format, teams that finish ranked No. 7 through No. 10 will contend for the final two spots in the postseason for each conference.


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The seventh- and eighth-place teams in each conference will play each other in the "Seven-Eight Game," with the winner earning its respective conference's No. 7 playoff seed.

Meanwhile, the ninth- and 10th-place teams will go at it in the "Nine-Ten Game," with the loser going home. The Nine-Ten winner will visit the Seven-Eight loser, and that game's victor will earn the No. 8 playoff seed.

One of the more interesting scenarios for the last day of action is where the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, who are tied for sixth place, will ultimately land.

If the Lakers beat the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets, L.A. will sneak into the No. 6 spot and avoid the play-in.

But if the Blazers win and L.A. loses, the Lakers will enter the play-in tournament.

That's not an ideal situation for LeBron James to be in considering the fact that he blasted the tournament earlier this month.

"Whoever came up with that s--t needs to be fired," James told reporters earlier this month.

Now that he's faced with the reality of needing the tourney to make it to the playoffs to defend the Lakers' championship, James is less aggrieved by the idea.

"Let the chips fall where they may," James told Mark Medina of USA Today. "Simple as that. We’re ready to go."

If Portland and L.A. both win, the former locks in the sixth seed, and the latter goes on to play either the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies.

The Dubs and Grizz will be closing their regular season against each other Sunday, with the winner earning the No. 8 spot and a road date with Portland or L.A. in the Seven-Eight Game. The loser will host the San Antonio Spurs in the Nine-Ten Game.

If the Blazers, Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks all finish with the same 42-30 record, the Mavericks still finish fifth, Portland will take sixth and James and the Lakers will still have to face off against the Warriors or Grizzlies in the play-in.

At the start of the season, when Klay Thompson went down, no one thought the Warriors would accomplish much with just Curry at the helm, leading a band of very young players.

But if they are able to come out of the play-in and into the playoffs, it will have been quite the turnaround from having the worst record (15-50) in the league last year.

And it will all be due to Curry, who is having another MVP-caliber year, averaging a league-best 31.8 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.

"Well, Steph is obviously leading the league in scoring," Draymond Green told The Athletic's Sam Amick. "But look at his value. Look at what he’s done to take a team that won 15 games last year and to have us right there in the hunt for the playoffs."

The play-in table is not set in the East either.

The Boston Celtics have locked in seventh place and will be hosting a to-be-determined team in the Seven-Eight Game for the right to go to the playoffs.

Entering Sunday, the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets are all tied for eighth place at 33-38.

Charlotte just so happens to be playing at Washington on Sunday, and like the Dubs vs. Grizz matchup, this also is a game to determine the eighth-place team.

The loser will fall to 10th if the Pacers beat the Toronto Raptors or ninth if the Raps take down Indiana. Either way, Indiana needs to win twice to move onto the playoffs, as the Pacers don't own tiebreakers versus Charlotte or Washington. Therefore, they can't finish eighth.

For the Phoenix Suns, who have not made the playoffs since 2010, there are some serious bragging rights and postseason positioning at stake on Sunday.

While the Suns can't finish any lower than No. 2, they can finish with the No. 1 seed if they beat the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz falls to the Sacramento Kings.

Regardless of what happens, that is an incredible turnaround for Phoenix.

They are playing inspired basketball, and a rejuvenated Chris Paul is one of the major reasons why.

"We are not satisfied. We are not settling," Suns head coach Monty Williams told Gina Mizell of NBA.com. "We feel like we're just scratching the surface as far as the way we want to play, the way we can play. But this is a huge moment for our organization."

For Utah, holding on to the first spot by beating Sacramento will give them the best record in the league for the first time in franchise history.

That, too, would be a great bookend to the tumult of last year, when Rudy Gobert caused a rift with Donovan Mitchell because of his cavalier attitude towards COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic.

"I think the conversation we had before camp was very important," Gobert told The Athletic's Tony Jones. "We decided that we were going to grow up and do what’s best for the team. At the end of the day, we all wanted to win. That’s all we wanted, was to win. It was a test for us."

Both players assured fans that they'd moved on and mended fences and they were rewarded with max contracts.

Looks like that was money well spent.


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