NBA Power Rankings: Big Questions Remain As Season Winds Down

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Sports Illustrated 11 May, 2021 - 09:44am 8 views

When is the NBA play in tournament?

When is it? The Play-In Tournament begins Tuesday, May 18 and concludes Friday, May 21. The playoffs will then continue as normal on May 22. The second half of the regular season will be followed by the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament, May 18-21! Sky SportsNBA Play-In Tournament: Everything you need to know

What is the play in tournament NBA?

The play-in tournament is a new -- and hopefully exciting -- way for the league to determine the eight playoff teams from each conference. CBSSports.comNBA play-in tournament explained: What to know about league's playoff format change, and why it's so important

Heading into the league’s final week, big questions remain about who will compete in next week’s play-in tournament (will the Lakers remain at No. 7?) and what will happen at the top of each conference (will Utah hold on to the No. 1 seed in the West? Will the Bucks catch the Nets for No. 2 in the East?). With the playoffs within arm’s reach, let’s dive into one final week of regular season power rankings.

No, the Thunder will not finish the 2020–21 season with the league’s worst record, but Oklahoma City enters Tuesday night’s game with the Kings riding a seven-game losing streak. Each of the Thunder’s last three losses have been by more than 20 points, and they’ll finish the season with the Kings, Jazz and Clippers, all of whom are still trying to compete for a playoff berth (Sacramento) or seeding (Los Angeles and Utah). The Thunder also should finish the year with a league-worst net rating and a league-worst offense. They’ve been outscored by more than 20 points per 100 possessions since the start of April.

While the Rockets’ front office continues hoping that Houston snags the league’s top pick as a function of having the NBA’s worst record, the current roster continued showing some competitive fight in recent games. The Rockets trailed the Bucks by just a single point at halftime of their May 7 game and would outscore Milwaukee by seven in the fourth quarter, to fall by just eight points. Kenyon Martin Jr. has taken particular advantage of the team’s recent string of games, recording 20-point performances against Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Utah.

The Cavaliers entered Monday night’s game against the Pacers having lost 10 consecutive games. The losing streak continued on Monday night as the Cavs were outscored by 16 in the second half vs. Indiana. It was a fitting mark for the league’s third-worst team in terms of overall net rating and worst in terms of net rating in the second half of games. Cleveland’s backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland showed flashes of promise this season, but the Cavs have a long way to go in their quest back to sustained NBA relevance.

The Pistons will finish the year with the second consecutive sub-25 win season in Dwane Casey’s tenure with the team. But Detroit’s season will be remembered more for Jerami Grant’s jump in production, the sustained high-level play of rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart and flashes of excellence from fellow rookie Killian Hayes.

As my colleague Michael Pina wrote last week, the Magic currently possess several members of an “intriguing, talented and flawed youth movement,” in Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, R.J. Hampton and Mo Bamba. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz also still factor into the team’s long-term plans. A future top-five pick would potentially go a long way in helping the Magic rebuild following a trade deadline teardown. However, a lot of work has to be done to improve the NBA’s second-worst offense and third-worst defense since the start of April.

Anthony Edwards’s 42-point explosion last Wednesday vs. Memphis made him the third-youngest player ever to record a 40-point game, and just the second 19-year-old or younger to do it more than once in a season. Since the All-Star break, Edwards has been a stat-stuffer for the T-Wolves, averaging 23.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. The question in future seasons will be if his production will translate into more team success for a franchise that has made just one playoff appearance since 2003–04.

Toronto’s unusual season is coming to a close later this week with the franchise set to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012–13. Questions loom about Kyle Lowry’s future with the team, but the Raptors do still possess a roster with a number of intriguing young pieces. Some lottery luck could go a long way in helping the Raptors return to their perennial playoff status.

Chicago enters the final week of the regular season still holding a puncher’s chance at getting into the play-in turn tournament. They’ve played better of late, winning three straight games, but two games against the Nets and one against Milwaukee make the chances of a play-in tournament berth highly unlikely.

The Kings have a chance to beat the Thunder for the third time in five games when the two teams meet yet again Tuesday night. The string of success against one of the league’s bottom-feeders, coupled with impressive wins over the Mavericks and Lakers have allowed the Kings to at least throw their name into the play-in tournament conversation. Still, elimination could come any day, marking the team’s 15th straight year without a playoff appearance. Yet one of the team’s foundational pieces still remains hopeful. “The competitors that we are, we want to win right now,” star guard De’Aaron Fox told Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck. “But we know that we’re building for something in the future.”

The Pacers are projected to make the play-in tournament, but a looming cloud of uncertainty hovers over the franchise. Last week, ESPN reported that head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s future with the team is uncertain as the season comes to an end. Per ESPN, Bjorkgren has significant work to do with his relationship among players throughout the team and with some members of the organization.

The Spurs had lost six of their last seven games heading into Monday night, but their drubbing of the Bucks helped extend a gap between San Antonio and the Pelicans for the West’s final play-in spot. Even with Monday night’s surprise result, it’s hard to imagine this particular Spurs team going on a deep postseason run.

The Hornets have not had a winning record since the 2015–16 season and recent losses to the Pelicans and Bulls haven’t made this year’s team’s quest to snap that streak any easier. Terry Rozier has scored 73 points in his last two games, but the Hornets have a brutal four-game stretch to end the season and are hanging on to the No. 8 seed by a thread.

Jaren Jackson Jr. recorded his first start of the season on Saturday against the Raptors, scoring points and grabbing four rebounds in 26 minutes of action. He’ll look to build on that performance in Memphis’s playoff chase this coming week. A Game 72 meeting with the Warriors could end up being the deciding factor in determining what the Grizzlies’ play-in tournament situation looks like.

Wizards star Bradley Beal is dealing with a hamstring strain, causing a little bit of pause for one of the NBA’s hottest teams. But credit Washington for putting itself firmly in the play-in tournament draw so that Beal’s late-season injury isn’t entirely catastrophic. The Wizards have won 15 of their last 20 games with Beal and backcourt Russell Westbrook excelling down the stretch of the season. Westbrook also made history on Monday night, surpassing Oscar Robertson for most triple doubles in league history.

According to Basketball Reference, the Celtics enter the final week of the regular season the most likely team to finish No. 7 and, in turn, compete in the play-in tournament. A late-season ankle injury by Jaylen Brown (and a subsequent torn ligament in a wrist that will end his year) and a toe injury by Robert Williams III seem to be fitting ways to cap off what has been a very uneven season for the C’s.

Stephen Curry scored 49 points in 29 minutes in Saturday’s win over the Thunder as the Warriors gear up for the postseason. A convincing win over Utah on Monday night further showed that on any given night the Warriors are capable of hanging with the league’s best teams. A possible play-in tournament game with the Lakers seems very much on the table and would surely make for a must-watch affair.

The Hawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Heat and will likely be preparing for a first-round series with the Knicks in one week’s time. Another game against the Wizards coupled with games against the Magic and Rockets give Atlanta a very realistic chance of climbing as high as No. 4 in the East.

Since April 1, the Heat have the league’s sixth-best offense, scoring nearly 116 points per 100 possessions. They showcased that high-powered attack on Sunday as all five Miami starters scored in double figures in a 130–124 win over the Celtics. That win gave them a two-game cushion over the seventh-seeded C’s, but Wednesday’s game in Boston could draw the play-in tournament back into play for Miami. If the Heat do fall, midweek meetings with Philadelphia and Milwaukee will prove even more pivotal.

Anthony Davis backed up a 36-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance against the Blazers with a 42-point, 12-rebound, five-assist, three-block, three-steal game against the Suns. It was much-needed as the latter statline helped the Lakers pick up a key win against Phoenix. Major reinforcements are reportedly on the way, with LeBron James expected to return either Tuesday against the Knicks or Wednesday vs. the Rockets. A broader question remains, however: Will James’s return be enough to keep L.A. out of the play-in tournament?

The Blazers couldn’t have picked a better time to welcome fans back into the Moda Center with Friday night’s win over the Lakers, making Portland the favorite to finish as the West’s No. 6 seed, according to Basketball Reference. Upcoming games against Utah, Phoenix and Denver give Portland a difficult final week of games, but Damian Lillard’s continued success makes the Blazers fully capable of hanging on to the No. 6 seed.

Kristaps Porzingis has missed nine of the last 10 games, but coach Rick Carlisle says he anticipates Porzingis returning before the postseason gets underway. The Mavs haven’t exactly missed the No. 4 pick of the 2015 NBA draft in that span, winning 10 of their last 12 with both losses coming vs. the Kings.

The Knicks picked up what was arguably their best win of the season Sunday, defeating the Clippers in Los Angeles, 106–100. The stout New York defense held Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in relative check and saw key contributions from Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, R.J. Barrett and Derrick Rose. Earlier in the season, the Knicks seemed like just a fun story. But the their top-five defense makes them a legitimate threat to knock off any team on any night.

While the Nuggets were initially able to sustain the loss of guard Jamal Murray, they have slipped up of late, losing to the Jazz, Lakers and Nets in a span of four games. Games against Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit and Portland make for a lighter closing stretch, however, and will hopefully allow Nikola Jokić’s surrounding core to get healthier ahead of the playoffs.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have now played together in four straight games and the rest of the roster is slowly getting healthier. With Denver holding the tiebreaker, the Clippers need to stay ahead of the Nuggets to keep the No. 3 seed in the West, which could help them avoid a possible first-round matchup with the Lakers.

The Bucks entered Monday night’s game with the Spurs having won straight games and playing some of their best basketball of the season. While they laid a dud against San Antonio, since the start of April, they operate the league’s second-best offense, scoring 117.1 points per 100 possessions and are fourth in net rating. Games this week against Orlando, Indiana, Miami and Chicago give Milwaukee a legitimate chance to hold the No. 2 seed when the postseason gets underway.

It’s increasingly hard to draw major conclusions from any of the Nets’ games at this point in the season. Their 125–119 win over the Nuggets was surely impressive, but it followed a stretch of four straight losses, all to playoff teams. James Harden remains out with a hamstring injury, though, he is “very confident” he’ll be able to return ahead of the postseason. So much of the Nets’ season will be evaluated based on how they perform when the games count most.

Phoenix enters the final week of the regular season as one of just three teams in the league that ranks in the top seven on both ends of the floor. While the Suns have lost two of their last three games—falling to the Lakers and to the Hawks in a rare, blowout defeat—their consistent production all season long should bode well when postseason action gets underway.

Yes, the 76ers’ eight-game winning streak doesn’t feature any wins against the NBA’s top teams, but credit to Philadelphia for acting like a legit No. 1 seed and handling its business against teams it should beat. During their winning stretch, the 76ers are allowing just 101.4 points per 100 possessions, by far the best mark in the NBA in that span. They’ve all but clinched the top spot in the conference and in doing so, have made their potential path to the NBA finals significantly easier by likely having to face just one of the Nets or Bucks.

Despite the Jazz’s starting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley dealing with an ankle and hamstring injury, respectively, the Jazz had won five straight games heading into Monday night, and in turn took back first place in the Western Conference. The under-manned group had the win-streak snapped on Monday at the hands of the Warriors, but it still saw encouraging performances from Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has starred of late, averaging more than 27 points in his past eight games and being named the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week for last week. They remain No. 1 in the NBA in net rating, with both a top three offense and defense. The Jazz are far from a lock to win, or even make, the finals, but they’ve been the NBA’s best regular season team for practically the entire season.

Read full article at Sports Illustrated

NBA League Pass games to watch entering the final week of the 2020-21 regular season

Sporting News AU 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

Heading into the final week of the 2020-21 season, a lot is at stake for plenty of teams with respect to the playoff spots and seeding. 

With that in mind, here's a collection of must-see games from the final week that have the most at stake and are sure to provide entertaining action:

The league's leading scorer vs. a top-three defence in the league. 

The Jazz come into this one having won five straight, despite missing both of their starting guards in Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr. This run has not only helped them snatch the best record in the league from the Phoenix Suns but the Jazz have also given their role players more confidence with the extra minutes. 

Heading into the final week, Utah holds a two-game lead for the top seed while the Warriors are in the eighth seed but hold just a half-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. There will be plenty on the line.

With four games to go in the final week, the sixth-seeded Heat lead the Celtics by two games but Boston can slice the deficit with a win on Tuesday.

A win would give them the crucial tiebreaker, giving them the advantage if they were to tie with the Heat for the sixth seed. Thus, avoiding the Play-In Tournament. 

Those stakes aside, the two previous Miami-Boston games this season have had a playoff atmosphere to them with the combined winning margin being only eight points. 

Fresh of their win against the LA Clippers, the Knicks will look to strengthen their hold on the fourth seed in the East as they currently hold a one-game lead over the Hawks. Meanwhile, the Lakers are coming off their first statement win as they defeated the Phoenix Suns behind a season-high 42 from Anthony Davis.

This game is extremely crucial for Los Angeles, which will be looking to win all of its remaining games while hoping the Mavericks or Trail Blazers slip up. The Lakers have lost the tiebreaker to both teams. 

The Knicks and Lakers, two of the top three most valuable NBA franchises, enter this contest with identical records of 38-30 - a rarity given the vastly different trajectories that both franchises have been on, especially over the last two decades.

The race to avoid the Play-In Tournament in the Western Conference includes Dallas (fifth), Portland (sixth) and Los Angeles (seventh), with the lowest finisher of the three teams forced to participate in the Play-In Tournament. 

Going into the final seven days of the season, the Trail Blazers hold a one-game lead over the Lakers, and this game begins a tough three-game stretch to close the season, followed by games against top playoff seeds in the Nuggets and Suns. 

Injuries have had a major hand in it but the Pacers' inconsistent form and failure to build momentum or rhythm have them in 10th and final Play-In seed in the East. They are just 2.5 games ahead of the Chicago Bulls, who have won three straight with Zach LaVine returning to the line-up. 

After Milwaukee, which has won five straight, Indiana is also set to face Philadelphia, which has won eight straight. Despite their mini-revival, the opponents don't get easy for the Bulls either as they play the Nets twice and the Bucks once in their remaining four games. Who will clinch that final Play-In spot? 

On the other hand, the Bucks, who seem to be peaking at the right time, will look to use this contest to build momentum heading into the postseason. 

The second of two games the Bulls and Nets will play in the span of four days.

This could be a big game for both teams as the Nets have lost four of their last five heading into the final week with their Big 3 only playing in five games together this season. They'll look to build momentum while the Bulls will look to pull off an upset and complete the unlikely rise to the 10th seed in the East. 

Will LaVine be able to make it to his first career postseason? It would also be the Bulls' first appearance since 2017. 

Each of the 30 teams takes the floor on the final day of the 2020-21 regular season. Here are the biggest games to watch out for: 

An additional storyline to watch is the race for the league's scoring title. Prior to Tuesday, Curry (31.9) leads Bradley Beal (31.4) by the slightest of margins. Who will finish out on top? 

If it ends as is, this would be Curry's second scoring title and first since 2016, while it would be Beal's first-ever. It will also snap a streak of three straight-scoring titles won by James Harden from 2018 to 2020. 

Analysis: Thankfully, hectic final days await in the NBA

San Francisco Chronicle 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

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There was no frantic final few days of the NBA regular season, replete with all the jostling for playoff positioning as well a scoring race that might go down to the wire. And there's never been the added layer of eight teams going to a play-in tournament, which, given its popularity, can already be considered a success before it even starts.

A year ago, there only was something called seeding games that a few teams chose to sleepwalk through, in a bubble, without fans, with eight teams already home for the summer — or spring, summer and fall, as it turned out.

This year, things are much closer to normalcy.

Welcome back, chaos. Welcome back, drama. You were missed.

Here’s a short list of just some of the things that the final six days of the regular season will decide, in no particular order: the No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 playoff matchups in both the Eastern and Western Conferences; the four opening matchups for the play-in tournament that is now just a week away; the scoring race between Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Washington’s Bradley Beal; and home-court advantage throughout the entirety of the NBA playoffs.

Oh, and all that is happening in the same week that NBA legends Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan finally go into the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich and five others — Kim Mulkey, Tamika Catchings, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann.

Much is happening, indeed. A compressed NBA season that seemed in jeopardy so many times this winter because of virus-related issues is on the cusp of being completed, in full, 72 games for all 30 teams.

It's pretty much a lock that Philadelphia will be the No. 1 seed in the East playoffs, and Utah has the inside track on the No. 1 seed for the West playoffs as well as the top overall spot going into the postseason. And realistically, there are 11 teams in each conference vying for 10 spots in either the postseason or the play-in round, so it’s not like there’s going to be a surprise team that gets onto the brackets that will be set when the curtain comes down on the NBA’s 75th regular season on Sunday.

But there is still much to decide. A look at some of what’s left:

The reason this is already a success is because it’s one of the few things that is dominating conversations within the league right now, with the exception of Russell Westbrook’s run to triple-double history and if the Los Angeles Lakers will have enough time to get themselves together for a title defense.

Imagine this: LeBron James and the Lakers vs. Stephen Curry and Golden State in a play-in game.

Yes, ratings will be just fine if that happens.

Or how about another possible play-in game: Gordon Hayward and Charlotte (if he’s back from injury) vs. Kemba Walker and Boston. Probably safe to say such a matchup might mean something to those guys if they face their former clubs with so much at stake.

Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Milwaukee will all be home for Game 1 of Round 1 of the playoffs in the East, and Utah, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers are assured of doing so in the West. Denver would need to absolutely collapse in the final week to not grab the last home-court spot over Dallas out West for Round 1.

The last East home-court race may get very interesting.

New York likely has the best chance, though Atlanta held off Washington on Monday to close within a half-game of the Knicks. If they finish tied, the Knicks own that tiebreaker by sweeping the Hawks. The Knicks might start the playoffs with a home game for just the second time in the last 20 seasons.

Washington’s Bradley Beal won’t play again until late this week, at minimum, because of a hamstring injury so Stephen Curry’s target score for the scoring crown might be set.

Beal is averaging 31.41 points per game. Curry is the leader, averaging 31.93 through Monday. And don't think this doesn't matter to those guys — Curry needed 22 points on Saturday night to keep the scoring lead after learning that Beal had just scored 50; he went out and got 49.

The potential is there for the closest scoring race in years. If the final difference in average is one point or less, that will mark just the second such instance in the last eight seasons — Russell Westbrook edged James Harden by 0.7 points for the crown in 2014-15.

It wasn’t so long ago that a close scoring race was common: Carmelo Anthony beat Kevin Durant by 0.6 points in 2012-13, Durant beat Kobe Bryant by 0.1 in 2011-12, Durant beat LeBron James by 0.98 points in 2010-11 and 0.4 points the preceding year.

The other stat per-game champions are pretty much clinched: Atlanta’s Clint Capela will likely win the rebound title, Westbrook will claim the assists crown, Miami’s Jimmy Butler will win the steals title and Utah’s Rudy Gobert will finish atop the blocks category in part because Indiana’s Myles Turner will not play in the minimum number of games needed to qualify.

This year, the race between Beal and Curry might go down to the wire.

Fitting, in a season where so many other races might do the same.

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

© 2021 www.azcentral.com. All rights reserved.

Los Angeles Lakers: Why the play-in could be a blessing in disguise

Lakeshow Life 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 08: Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers talks to his team during a timeout in the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 8, 2021 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers

As it currently stands, the Los Angeles Lakers are the seventh seed in the Western Conference and will be forced to play in the newly-implemented play-in games for the seventh and eighth seed in the NBA Playoffs.

Assuming they stay as the seventh seed, the Lakers would essentially play in a double-elimination tournament. The Lakers would play the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors with the winner being named the seventh seed. The loser has to go on and play the winner of the ninth and tenth seed to earn the eighth seed.

There is a reality in which the Lakers play two ugly games and miss the playoffs altogether, as unlikely as that sounds.

The team could climb out of the seventh seed but there is not much time remaining. The Lakers are only one game back of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers but do not own the tiebreaker, essentially making it a two-game cushion for Portland.

It is tough to make up two games when both teams only have four games remaining. Thus, the play-in might end up being the reality.

While it might seem less than ideal, if we look at the glass-half-full, it is easy to see the positives of the Los Angeles Lakers playing in the play-in games for the seventh and eighth seed rather than climbing out of the bottom two into the sixth seed.

Part of the thinking has to do with the current standings and any potential movement could change the line of thinking. However, with the Phoenix Suns two games back of the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers three games back of them, it is safe to say that the top two teams are at least locked in.

Let’s get into the reasons why this could be a blessing in disguise for the Los Angeles Lakers.

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2021 NBA playoff picture: Standings, play-in tournament start, remaining games, how Jaylen Brown's injury...

The Athletic 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

2021 NBA playoff picture: Standings, play-in tournament start, remaining games, how Jaylen Brown’s injury impacts East

What are the biggest storylines heading into the final week of the 2020-21 NBA season?

NBA CA 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

With just one week remaining in the 2020-21 NBA regular season, there are still plenty of scenarios to play out in deciding the playoff picture and Play-In Tournament.

Take a look at some of the biggest storylines heading into the final week of the season.

Just as we all expected, the Los Angeles Lakers are sitting on the outside looking in on a solidified playoff spot as the final week of the season approaches.

The Lakers currently own a 38-30 record, good for seventh place in the Western Conference as the Play-In Tournament becomes a legitimate destination for the defending champions. Trailing the Portland Trail Blazers by one game for the No. 6 seed in the West, Los Angeles has its work cut out for itself as the Blazers own the tiebreaker in the season series.

But help is reportedly on the way for the Lakers, as LeBron James is expected to return to action for either of the team's first two games of the week after missing 24 of the last 26 games with a high ankle sprain.

Chasing the No. 6-seed Blazers and No. 5-seed Dallas Mavericks, take a look at how the remaining schedule shapes up for each of these teams.

As you can see, Portland has the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams by far. Despite that, FiveThirtyEight's NBA predictions model still projects the Mavericks to finish fifth, with the Lakers and Blazers closing with the same record (41-31), giving Portland the edge by way of tiebreaker, sending Los Angeles to the Play-In Tournament.

Will the return of James and the recent emergence of Anthony Davis looking like his healthy self be enough to get the Lakers a top-six seed?

The middle of the Eastern Conference standings has been a log jam all season, so it's safe to this was expected coming into the final week.

Only three games separate the No. 4 seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs from the first team in the Play-In Tournament. With that being said, there are only four games remaining in the season, so the No. 4-seeded New York Knicks have all but guaranteed themselves a solidified spot in the playoffs.

That leaves us with the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks and No. 6 seed Miami Heat, who are currently tied by record but the Hawks own the season-series tiebreaker, and the No. 7 seed Boston Celtics, who are two games back from the two teams ahead of them.

The Heat and Celtics face off in a rematch of Sunday's contest, where a win from Miami would almost certainly have Boston destined for the Play-In Tournament. If the Celtics can pull off a win, that's where things get interesting, because their remaining schedule is much easier than the Heat's.

Again, using FiveThirtyEight's NBA predictions model, the Hawks are actually expected to jump the Knicks and take the No. 4 seed (via tiebreaker). From there, it goes New York at No. 5, Miami at No. 6 and then Boston as the No. 7 seed in the Play-In Tournament.

The race for third place in the West has the potential to be a damning result depending on how things shake out between the seeds below.

Typically, the reward for landing in third place means two things - home court advantage in the first round and avoiding the No. 1 seed in the second round. This year, it could mean an unexpected first-round matchup against LeBron and the Lakers, if Los Angeles claims the No. 6 seed.

And even if the Lakers don't claim the No. 6 seed and fall into the Play-In Tournament, the No. 3 seed may still have to cross the defending champions if they land in seventh, win their Play-In Game and first-round series.

That's a lot of if's, and's or but's, but the fact of the matter is this - history shows that you want to wait as long as possible to see a LeBron James-led team in the playoffs.

With that being said, the Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers aren't going to let that affect their pursuit of a top seed. The Clippers currently own a one-game lead over the Nuggets, but Denver holds the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record.

The Clippers have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, facing off against three teams that are out of the playoff picture with the fourth being the Charlotte Hornets. The Nuggets schedule isn't all that tough either, but they do close the season against the Blazers, who will almost certainly still be fighting for seeding in that final game.

This race will be fun to monitor alongside the three-team race between the Lakers, Mavericks and Blazers.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the NBA is planning to have an NFL Sunday-esque conclusion to the regular season on Sunday, May 16.

The reported plan is to have all 30 teams in action - 15 games total - all in between the times of noon and 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. With all of the aforementioned storylines and then some, this should shape up to be a hectic day that should be reminiscent of a traditional NFL Sunday 1 o'clock kick-off.

With every team in the league on the slate, just about every game will hold some sort of meaning toward the playoff and Play-In picture, but these head-to-head matchups, in particular, will have a playoff-like atmosphere to them.

All game times are still to be determined, but it will certainly be a banner day for all NBA League Pass owners, giving off the whip-around feeling of NFL RedZone.

Wednesday, May 12 – NBA scores, updates, news, stats, highlights and top fantasy performers

Sporting News AU 11 May, 2021 - 10:00pm

We'll have you covered with live updates, highlights and more from all the action.

Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic led the way with 30 points for Denver, while Devonte' Graham had 31 off the bench for Hornets.

Facundo Campazzo is putting on a passing clinic!

Facu's passing >>> pic.twitter.com/D3PWN8pPKF

Karl-Anthony finished with 28 points, while Anthony Edwards added 22 as the T-Wolves cruised in Detroit.

DLO ON A DIME 🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/ey0S1bYnI3

The Heat have clinched another postseason appareance with the win over Boston.

Tyler Herro top scored with 24 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, while Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson each had 22 points. 

The Clippers faced a shorthanded Raptors squad cruised to a big win. Kawhi Leonard and Terance Mann top scored with 20 points.

The Pacers have taken down the Sixers without Joel Embiid. Indiana were led by Caris LeVert, who continued his strong offensive play to finish with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Ben Simmons skys for the emphatic jam.

When he tweeted "😤" pregame, he meant it.@BenSimmons25 | #HereTheyCome pic.twitter.com/gqi5kNsgqQ

Kevin Durant finished with 21 points to lead eight Nets in double-digit scoring.

The masked man Bruce Brown giving the Bulls all types of problems in Chicago.

the man's got a mask, now all he needs is a cape@BruceBrown11 | #BrooklynTogether pic.twitter.com/Fgb5GzyZjN

Ja Morant poured in 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and eight assists in the big win for Memphis.

Morant with a sweet behind-the-back dime to Xavier Tillman Sr.

dime droppa 🥽@JaMorant | @Rookiedunker pic.twitter.com/EYYICx0OGX

Bucks lead 59-48 at the half. Giannis Antetokounmpo has 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks.

The reigning DPOY for a reason. pic.twitter.com/IBpfn5MVnQ

The best game of the night. Stephen Curry trying to hold the Warriors' Play-In seed versus the No. 2 seed in the West.

The Kings aren't mathematically eliminated yet, but with a loss, they would be one step closer. Can Sacramento keep its slim playoff hopes alive versus OKC?

The Knicks have the chance to clinch their first playoff spot since 2013 with a win and a Celtics loss, while the LeBron James-less Lakers are trying to claw their way out of the Play-In Tournament range.

The NBA play-in tournament rules and format, explained

SB Nation 11 May, 2021 - 07:00am

This is everything you need to know about the NBA play-in tournament.

The top eight teams in each conference have historically qualified for the NBA playoffs, but not anymore. Now the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds need to earn their way into the postseason via the play-in tournament, while the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds will also have a chance to crash the playoff party.

Here’s a graphic explaining how the tournament works, via NBA.com:

The league wanted to make the end of the regular season more meaningful while also creating a ‘Game 7’ atmosphere with early elimination games heading into the playoffs. The play-in tournament was also seen as a way to deter tanking.

The introduction of the play-in tournament has unquestionably created more drama during the final stretch of the regular season. The No. 6 seed has now become a hotly contested battle in each conference as teams try to avoid needing to qualify for the playoffs through the play-in tournament. The No. 7 and No. 8 seeds have also become contested because it provides more margin for error in the play-in tournament that the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds don’t have as they face an elimination game to start the tournament.

You can find updated standings here, plus projected matchups for the play-in tournament and NBA playoffs.

James’ ankle injury has put the Lakers in jeopardy of needing to go through the play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs. James has gone on the record saying he doesn’t the idea of the play-in tournament.

LeBron James on the play-in tournament: "Whoever came up with that s--- needs to be fired"

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has also been critical of the play-in tournament. Here’s what he told ESPN earlier this year:

“The worst part of this approach is that it doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game to either get into or stay in the top 6 since the consequences, as Luka said, are enormous. So players are playing more games and more minutes in fewer days.”

“In hindsight, this approach was an enormous mistake,” Cuban told ESPN.

Yes. The teams that qualify for the play-in tournament but fail to reach the playoffs will be included in the NBA draft lottery. You can find full odds for every spot in the lottery at Tankathon.

The play-in tournament begins on May 18 and concludes on May 21.

The playoffs begin on May 22. Game 7 of the 2021 NBA Finals is scheduled for July 22, if necessary.

NBA play-in tournament prediction and schedule for Eastern Conference

Republic World 11 May, 2021 - 02:15am

There will be a total of six games, involving eight teams as part of the play-in tournament, split up between the two conferences. The teams that finish between 1-6 in each conference will be guaranteed playoff spots, while teams that finish 7-10 in the standings will enter the play-in. Any team that finishes worse than No. 10 will be in the lottery. After the play-in tournament is over, it’s the normal 16-team format with seeds 1-8 facing each other in each conference.

Since there is a chance for teams to finish with an uneven number of games played because of COVID-19 complications, the NBA will use winning percentage to determine the standings. The NBA previously implemented the play-in tournament to give more teams a fair shot at reaching the postseason in the Orlando Bubble in 2020. Due to its success, the play-in tournament is set to continue into the 2020-21 season, but the NBA play-in tournament bracket format is a bit different.

The NBA play-in tournament will begin on May 18 and conclude on May 21 — the 2021 NBA playoffs will then start the day after on Saturday, May 22.

East 7 (Celtics) vs. East 8 (Hornets) | Winner gets No. 7 overall seed

East 9 (Pacers) vs. East 10 (Wizards) | Loser is eliminated

Loser 7/8 vs. Winner 9/10 | Winner gets No. 8 overall seed

The Boston Celtics are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and are tipped as the favourites to make it to the postseason from the play-in tournament. As things stand, they are expected to square off against the Charlotte Hornets and our prediction is a win for the Celtics. The Celtics have won 35 games so far while the Hornets have come out victorious in 33 of their games this campaign. 

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook has seemed to have found form at the right time and has been sensational for the Washington Wizards over the last few weeks. The 32-year-old will now be hoping to guide his team to the postseason through the play-in tournament. Our prediction is that the Wizards will join the Celtics in the postseason through the play-in tournament. 

So far, the Sixers, Nets, and Bucks have all qualified for the postseason from the Eastern Conference. 

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