As the regular season comes to a close, each team has something to play for: seeding or draft picks. With the addition of play-in games to the 2021 NBA playoffs, the scramble for seeding is wilder — and more important — than ever, with almost every game down the stretch having significant postseason implications.
Play-in matchups after Saturday’s games
Play-in games to be held May 18-21.
Game 3: Wizards/Pacers winner at Celtics/Hornets loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Game 3: Grizzlies/Spurs winner at Lakers/Warriors loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Here’s a breakdown of the matchups and what the results will mean:
While the Indiana Pacers can no longer finish in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday afternoon, a win against the tanking Toronto Raptors on Sunday will ensure that Indiana hosts the 9-10 game in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament on Tuesday night. However, a loss will mean that Indiana will either be traveling to Charlotte or Washington as the 10th seed in the East. — Tim Bontemps
Miles Bridges picks off a Knicks pass and takes it to the other end where he throws down a highlight-reel dunk.
After Washington beat Cleveland on Friday night, and the Charlotte Hornets lost in overtime to the New York Knicks on Saturday, the game between the Wizards and Hornets on Sunday afternoon has become the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The winner will become the eighth seed and the loser will likely become locked into the 10th seed, assuming a Pacers victory over the Raptors. — Bontemps
Devin Booker sinks a step-back 3-pointer and on the next possession, Chris Paul drains a 3-pointer of his own.
In a rematch of Saturday’s contest, the Suns will look once again to topple the Spurs as they continue their quest for the No. 1 seed. The Suns will also need another victory and have to hope Utah slips up against the Sacramento Kings in a later game in order to overtake the Jazz for the top spot. Phoenix cannot fall any lower than second.
Win on Sunday and they can try to claim the seventh seed in the play-in tournament. The loser of The loser of Sunday’s game must win two straight games in order to qualify for the postseason. — Nick Friedell
The simplest path to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference is for Brooklyn to win both of their games this weekend. Brooklyn took care of the first half of that equation with their win over the Bulls on Saturday afternoon.
Now, the Nets will watch and see what happens between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The outcome of that game not only affects the Nets’ playoff seeding — if the Bucks lose on Saturday, it secures the No. 2 seed for Brooklyn — but it has an effect on who Steve Nash may elect to hold out of Sunday’s contest with the Cavaliers. Nash said he prefers not to play — James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant — all who have a history of injury — on Sunday. If the Nets’ can lock up their seeding on Sunday night, the decision to rest those players becomes easier. — Malika Andrews
The Dallas Mavericks know they’ll face either the Denver Nuggets or LA Clippers in the first round, but they won’t have any clarity before tip-off on how the result of their regular-season finale will determine their playoff matchup. A win over the Timberwolves will clinch the fifth seed for the Mavs, but the Clippers will be the fourth seed if they manage to lose to the Thunder or if the Nuggets beat the Trail Blazers. Dallas could also lose and see the Clippers in the 3-6 matchup. A Mavs win, Clippers win and Nuggets loss would result in a Denver versus Dallas 4-5 matchup.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, whose pick goes to the Golden State Warriors if it doesn’t land in the top three, are currently tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fifth-worst record, one loss less than the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. — MacMahon
Dennis Schroder lobs to LeBron James in transition, and James finishes with a thunderous one-handed jam.
The Los Angeles Lakers can play their way out of the play-in tournament with a little help from the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. If L.A. beats the New Orleans Pelicans and the Nuggets beat the Blazers, L.A. will end up as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. If they lose, they’ll host a play-in game Wednesday against either Golden State or Memphis.
New Orleans will be without their young superstar Zion Williamson, who has missed the last five games with a fractured left index finger. The Pelicans have already been eliminated from postseason contention. — Dave McMenamin
Sunday night’s game between the Clippers and Thunder is shaping up to be a ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ (about winning), but for very, very different reasons.
After the Clippers sat virtually every member of their rotation and lost to the league’s worst team, the Houston Rockets, Friday night, the Clippers can lock up the fourth seed in the West — and likely avoid their cross-the-hall rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, until the Western Conference finals — with a loss to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder, on the other hand, are going to be desperate to lose once more in order to ensure it finishes no worse than tied for third with Orlando in the lottery standings. Oklahoma City has gotten quite good at losing over the past several weeks, going 1-23 since April 1. — Bontemps
For the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s not complicated: Beat the Denver Nuggets, get a top six seed. A loss opens the door for the Los Angeles Lakers to grab it (should they beat the Pelicans), which would be a crushing finish to what has been a solid two week run for Portland.
A win, though, also keeps the door open to move up to fifth. The Blazers need the Dallas Mavericks to lose to Minnesota, but with the tiebreaker in hand, Portland could jump into that matchup. Who they would play is complex, and it involves the Nuggets.
If the Blazers beat Denver, the Nuggets would fall to fourth, but that’s only if the Thunder beat the LA Clippers. If the Clippers win, they’re the three and the Nuggets are fourth no matter what. And with the Lakers potentially looming as the 6-seed, moving to the three may not seem that appealing. — Royce Young
After Philadelphia beat Orlando Friday night, the Sixers enter Sunday’s game with nothing to play for, having already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Magic, on the other hand, have everything to lose for, as dropping Sunday’s game will ensure Orlando finishes no worse than in a tie for the third spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery next month with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Orlando is one of several teams at the bottom of the standings that may be trying their best to lose one final time before heading home for the summer. — Bontemps
It’s simple for the Utah Jazz: A win over the Sacramento Kings claims the West’s top seed, regardless of the Suns’ result against the Spurs. It would also give the Jazz the outright best record in the league for the first time in franchise history. (Utah tied for the NBA’s best record in 1997-98 and 1998-99.) The Jazz will finish at least tied for the NBA’s best record no matter what, but the Suns own the tiebreaker over them, so a loss to the Kings could cause Utah to slip to the second seed.
The Kings, currently tied with the Pelicans for the ninth-worst record, will land between eighth and 10th in the lottery odds. — Tim MacMahon