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 key games from Saturday and what the results mean:
The Indiana Pacers control their own destiny Sunday afternoon — sort of. While Indiana can no longer finish in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday afternoon, a win in Tampa, Florida against the tanking Toronto Raptors Sunday will ensure that Indiana hosts the 9-10 game in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament Tuesday night. A loss to Toronto, however, will mean that Indiana will either be traveling to Charlotte or Washington — whoever loses the game between those two teams Sunday — 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 Friday night, and the Charlotte Hornets lost in overtime to the New York Knicks Sunday, the game between the two teams in Charlotte Sunday afternoon has become the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, with whoever wins between the Wizards and Hornets Sunday being locked into the eighth seed — and the loser likely being locked into the 10th seed, assuming an Indiana victory over the Raptors. Both teams should be highly motivated to get to the eighth seed, as it means having two chances to win one game to make the playoffs. Finishing ninth or 10th means having to win two games — including at least one on the road — to make it to the postseason. — 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, Phoenix will look to once again topple the Spurs as they continue their quest for the No. 1 seed. The Suns 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.
The winner of this game becomes the eighth seed in the Western Conference. That is a major difference because either the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies head to a road game against the seventh seed with an automatic playoff berth on the line.
The key is even if the winner of this game loses against the seventh seed, they would guarantee themselves a home game against the winner of the 9 seed versus 10 seed game. The loser of Sunday’s game must win two straight games in order to qualify for the postseason. The path into the playoffs becomes much easier for the winner of Sunday’s showdown. — 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
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