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 following Monday’s games
Play-in games to be held May 18-21
• How the play-in tournament will work
• Current NBA standings
Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte at No. 7 Boston — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs
Game 2: No. 10 Washington at No. 9 Indiana — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated
Game 3: Washington/Indiana winner at Boston/Charlotte loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Game 1: No. 8 Golden State at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs
Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio at No. 9 Memphis — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated
Game 3: Memphis/San Antonio winner at Lakers/Golden State loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Teams that have clinched
Miami Heat have clinched a playoff spot
Charlotte Hornets have clinched a play-in berth
Indiana Pacers have clinched a play-in berth
Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Tuesday and what the results mean for the seedings:
Heat 129, Celtics 121
The Boston Celtics are all but guaranteed to be in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament.
After losing for a second straight time at Boston’s TD Garden to the Miami Heat in the span of three days – in what also was Boston’s fourth loss in its last five games – the Celtics are now either one more loss or one Knicks victory (which could come as soon as later tonight in Los Angeles against the Lakers) from being locked into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
Miami, on the other hand, kept pace with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, its rivals in the race for the fourth, fifth and sixth spots in the East standings — a battle that could go right down to the final day of the season. The win leaves the Heat tied with the Hawks, and a half-game back of the Knicks — again, pending New York’s game later tonight in Los Angeles. If the Knicks lose, all three teams will have identical 38-31 records with three games to go, setting up a frenetic race to the finish to see who will avoid getting either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
Adding to the confusion is the jumbled-up tiebreaker scenarios in play, as the Heat have the tiebreaker over the Knicks, Atlanta has the edge over Miami and New York has the tiebreaker with Atlanta.
If all three finish the season with the same record, Atlanta would finish fourth by virtue of winning the Southeast Division, followed by Miami in fifth and New York in sixth. — Tim Bontemps
Nuggets 117, Hornets 112
Clippers 115, Raptors 96
The Denver Nuggets kept the pressure on and took care of the Charlotte Hornets, but the LA Clippers still maintain a one-game lead over the Nuggets for third seed in the West.
The Clippers still aren’t playing their best basketball yet as they continue to find their rhythm as the postseason nears but they didn’t need to against a Toronto team playing without Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam, among others.
Ty Lue cares more about developing his team’s chemistry than seeding at this point. Both the Clippers and Nuggets, who own the tiebreaker against LA, have three games remaining in the season. It’s not even clear who the Clippers or Nuggets will play, whether at third or fourth.
The Clippers handled Dallas in the postseason last year and they swept the Blazers in three games this regular season. They’ve held Damian Lillard in relative check this season.
But, of course, the entire Western Conference will be watching to see where the Lakers end up and if they can somehow move up to six which could make things very interesting for the Clippers or Nuggets. – Ohm Youngmisuk
Grizzlies 133, Mavericks 104
The Dallas Mavericks slipped to sixth in the West with a 133-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, snapping a four-game winning streak. Dallas dropped to even with the Trail Blazers in the standings with 40-29 records, but Portland owns the tiebreaker between the teams.
The Grizzlies temporarily pulled even with the Warriors for eighth place in the West, pending Golden State’s late game against the Suns.
The eighth and ninth spots in the West – the difference between having two chances in the play-in tournament to win a playoff bid and needing two wins to do so – could be determined when Memphis and Golden State meet on the final day of the regular season Sunday. The teams split their first two meetings, so that game in San Francisco determines the tiebreaker if the Grizzlies and Warriors wind up with the same record. –Tim MacMahon
Pacers 103, 76ers 94
With a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t close on the road against the Indiana Pacers, leaving Thursday against the Heat as a potential clincher.
Their situation is solid, though, with two games up on the Nets in the loss column with three to go, two of which are against Orlando. And the 1-seed isn’t just about history (it would be the first time in 20 years the Sixers had it) or the home court advantage throughout (which is big, of course). It’s about the bracket and how one side is considerably tilted. Being the 1-seed puts you on the opposite side of the Nets and Bucks, leaving a matchup against one of them for the conference finals. It opens the door to a 4-5 second round series against (currently) either the Hawks or Knicks.
For the Pacers, it’s a massive win as they officially have clinched a play-in spot. Where is yet to be determined as they’re tied with the Hornets for 8th. They close with the Bucks, Lakers and Raptors, so it won’t be easy to move up, but getting to 8 is significant as removes the win-or-go home nature of the 9-10 matchup.
The Hornets own the tiebreaker with Indiana, so to lock down the 8 spot, the scenarios are straightforward: 3-0, they’re the 8 if Charlotte loses once; 2-1, they’re 8 if Charlotte loses twice; 1-2, Charlotte needs to lose all three. And if you’re wondering, the Hornets close with the Clippers, Knicks and Wizards. — Royce Young
Tuesday’s key games
Nuggets at Hornets, 7 ET
Heat at Celtics, 7:30 ET
Clippers at Raptors, 7:30 ET
Sixers at Pacers, 8 ET
Nets at Bulls, 8 ET
Mavericks at Grizzlies, 8 ET
Magic at Bucks, 9 ET
Suns at Warriors, 10 ET
Knicks at Lakers, 10 ET
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