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 Thursday’s games
Play-in games to be held May 18-21
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 clinched Thursday
Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Thursday and what the results mean for the seedings:
The Portland Trail Blazers were four seconds away from officially locking in a spot in the top six, but two free throws by Devin Booker gave the Phoenix Suns a one-point win and kept Portland from celebrating a playoff spot for at least another day.
The Blazers close their season on Sunday against the Nuggets, but if the Los Angeles Lakers lose on Saturday to the Indiana Pacers, it would guarantee Portland no worse than sixth. But if the Blazers lose their finale, and the Lakers win their last two games, it would drop Portland into the play-in spot and boost the Lakers to sixth.
The Blazers had been on a roll to get to this spot, winning their past five and nine of their past 10.
The loss does complicate the Blazers’ push for the 5-seed, though. They fall a game behind the Dallas Mavericks, and while they have the tiebreaker with Dallas in hand, they need a Mavs loss to either the Raptors or Timberwolves in one of their last two games. — Royce Young
The Hawks took a big step toward securing that fourth seed with an emphatic win over the hapless Orlando Magic. The win leaves Atlanta with one final game on Sunday against the league-worst Houston Rockets. If Atlanta wins that game, and the Knicks and Heat win out, the Hawks will win the Southeast Division and clinch the fourth seed.
The Miami Heat, meanwhile, blew out the Philadelphia 76ers, keeping the Heat in line to finish fifth. Miami owns the tiebreaker over the Knicks, so if all three teams remain tied until the end of the regular season, Miami would get the fifth seed. The Heat have two games left — at Milwaukee on Saturday and at Detroit on Sunday.
New York picked up a victory, as well, though it was a far more difficult one to get, as the Knicks outlasted the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden.
If two of the trio of Atlanta, New York and Miami are tied at the end of the season, here is how the tiebreaker scenarios break out:
Atlanta wins the tiebreaker with Miami
Miami wins the tiebreaker with New York
New York wins the tiebreaker with Atlanta
Losses by Charlotte and Indiana Thursday night also officially lock the Celtics into the seventh seed in the East, and they will host the 7-8 game in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament next Tuesday. Charlotte and Indiana are tied with 33 wins, while the Washington Wizards have 32. — Tim Bontemps
With the Chicago Bulls beating the Toronto Raptors Thursday night, Chicago still has very slim hopes of making the play-in tournament. It would still require a lot — the Wizards losing their final two games and the Bulls winning their final two — but that’s better than having no chance at all. — Bontemps
Unlike the Bulls, the Sacramento Kings don’t have a chance at all after losing to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night. The Kings needed to win out and have the Spurs lose out, but Thursday’s loss will officially extend Sacramento’s league-leading playoff drought to 15 years. The Spurs, meanwhile, backed into the No. 10 slot in the West.
Memphis kept itself in the running for the chance to finish with the eighth seed in the Western Conference with the win. Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors will be, essentially, a one-game playoff for the eighth playoff spot in the West, which means the difference between having to win one of two games to make the playoffs, or having to win two in a row. — Bontemps
Nic Batum enjoyed his return to Charlotte.
With help from Batum, the Clippers played better than they have of late and continue to hold on to the third seed ahead of Denver with two games remaining at Houston and Oklahoma City.
For the Hornets, this was a game they needed. They remain tied with the Indiana Pacers. Charlotte, which owns the tiebreaker for the No. 8 seed over Indiana, has lost three straight and can use Miles Bridges back for the final two games of the season against the Knicks and Wizards. — Ohm Youngmisuk
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