NBA Playoff Bracket 2021: Round-by-Round Guide to the Postseason

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2021

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward James Johnson (16) and center Willy Hernangomez (9) in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Derick Hingle/Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers are used to participating in the NBA Finals, but to even get into the eight-team playoff field they must go through the play-in tournament. 

The Lakers and Warriors will square off on Wednesday in the Western Conference play-in round. The winner of that contest will secure the No. 7 seed and the loser will take on the winner of the clash between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. 

Another legendary franchise, the Boston Celtics, will have to go through the play-in round to secure a position in the Eastern Conference first round. 

The Celtics and Lakers are in the best position to win the No. 7-versus-No. 8 clashes, but they will face tough challenges from the Washington Wizards and the Warriors, respectively. 

The 12 teams locked into the playoff brackets will have a week off to prepare for the first round. Eight of those squads are aware of their first-round opponent. 


NBA Playoff Bracket

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Round-by-Round Guide

Play-In Tournament

The play-in tournament is a revised version of what we saw in the Orlando bubble last summer, when Portland beat Memphis in a play-in game.

In this iteration of the play-in tournament, the No. 7 seeds in each conference will play the No. 8 seeds, while the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds square off. 

The winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup will earn the No. 7 seed and a first-round matchup with the second seed. The loser will go into an elimination game with the winner of the other contest. 

The Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers will kick off the play-in action on Tuesday with an elimination game. Boston and Washington will follow. The second elimination game in the East will take place on Thursday. 

San Antonio and Memphis will play first on Wednesday, and they will be followed by the Lakers and Warriors. The West's final elimination contest will take place on Friday. 


First Round

Since the play-in tournament games are not considered official playoff contests, the postseason will begin on Saturday. 

Philadelphia is the top seed in the East and will play the winner of Thursday's elimination game. Brooklyn is second and plays the Boston-Washington victor. 

The New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks are drawn against each other in the No. 4-versus-No. 5 matchup, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat face off in the No. 3-versus-No. 6 series. 

Utah secured the No. 1 seed in the West through its Sunday victory over the Sacramento Kings. The Jazz will take on Friday's winner in the West play-in round. 

Phoenix sits on the opposite side of the bracket and awaits either the Lakers or Warriors in the opening round. 

The Los Angeles Clippers suffered back-to-back defeats to the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder to drop to the No. 4 seed, meaning they will face the Dallas Mavericks. 

The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, who played each other on Sunday, are locked into a first-round matchup. Portland won Sunday's meeting easily after Denver rested its starters in the second half. 


Second Round and Beyond

Each round typically takes around two weeks to complete. 

While we do not have the exact schedule past the first round, we can speculate on which teams will hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy. 

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Nets have the best odds to win the NBA Finals at +210. 

Despite their play-in tournament status, the Lakers are the second favorite at +500. They are followed by the Clippers at +600.

The top two seeds in each conference carry some futures value, as the Jazz sit at +600 and the 76ers are at +800.

The Sixers may have the easiest path to the conference finals because they will avoid Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Philadelphia will face New York or Atlanta in the second round, both of whom are making their first ventures into the postseason with the current squads. 

Washington, Indiana, San Antonio and Charlotte carry the longest NBA title odds into the play-in tournament.


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