Less than thirty days remain in the 2020-21 NBA Regular Season, and things could not appear to look anymore exciting in terms of the playoff race.
This year, with the regular season having to be condensed due to its later-than-usual start date because of last year’s issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, every NBA team will play 72 games as opposed to the typical-season’s 82. Because of the unprecedented scheduling situation this season, and playing through the ongoing pandemic, the league decided this year to finally try out a new concept that has been teased for several years now— The ‘Play-In Tournament’.
The idea of the Play-In Tournament is to try to keep games more interesting toward the end of the season, and give the teams that are on the very fringe of the playoffs a chance to will themselves into the postseason. In a typical season, teams in seed numbers 1-8 make the playoffs, period, that’s it. But now, this year, for the first time in league history, teams in seeds No. 9 and 10 will have a chance to play against seeds 7 and 8 to try to make it into the playoffs. This being said, teams ranked in seeds 1-6 of both conferences will have earned their privilege of avoiding participation in the Play-In tournament.
At the conclusion of all games played on May 16 (last day of reg. season), the teams ranked in seeds 7-10 in the standings of both conferences will participate in this play-in tournament. The No. 7 seed will take on the No. 8 seed, while the 9 seed will square off against the 10 seed.
The winner of the 7 vs. 8 game will have officially earned the 7th seed in the playoffs. Then, the loser of the 7 vs. 8 game will take on the winner of the 9 vs. 10 game to determine who gets the 8th and final playoff spot.
April 19, 2021 playoff picture update- (all standings info accurate only as of morning, 4/19/21):
As of how the playoff picture is today, things look to be very exciting and very entertaining. Still with the final 4 weeks of regular season games remaining, the standings can undoubtedly shift pretty dramatically. If one team goes on a substantial winning streak and another team goes on a losing streak, the standings will obviously get altered. As of all games played after April 18, the Eastern Conference is still essentially wide open. In fact, it’s actually quite unbelievable just how truly close the playoff picture is when we take a look at the current standings.—
The current No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks are only 4.5 games ahead of the No. 9 seed Indiana Pacers. The Celtics, in the No. 5 seed, share an identical record with the Hawks, but Atlanta has the tie-breaker in its favor. Then, at seeds 6, 7, and 8, the NY Knicks, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Hornets sit, respectively, literally separated by a split of a hair. It’s so close that simply one Charlotte win and one Miami loss would flip the Heat and Hornets between the 7-8 seeds. However, now on a six-game winning streak, the 6-seed Knicks have drawn a slight bit of distance between themselves and the 7-seed Heat, who New York currently leads by 1.5 games.
As for the very top of the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are in a very tight race for the No. 1 seed. The Sixers currently hold the top spot, just 1.5 games ahead of the Nets, after beating Brooklyn in a matchup on Wednesday Apr. 14. However, obviously with just one Sixers loss and one Nets win, the teams would again draw even closer in terms of their records. Additionally, one extremely important thing to note is that in the case of a tied-record once the reg. season concludes, the 76ers will take the 1-seed due to their better inter-division record and their 2-1 season-series victory over the Nets.
The only team that really has any chance of even potentially catching the Nets and Sixers at the top of the standings is the Milwaukee Bucks, who currently sit in the 3rd seed, exactly 4.0 games back of the first-place Sixers. At this No. 3 seed, the Bucks do have quite a significant bit of distance between themselves and the 4-seed Hawks, who are still a full 4 ½ games behind Milwaukee.
But as for the Play-In Tournament’s final qualifying 10th seed, that too is still totally and completely up for grabs. The Toronto Raptors currently hold that No. 10 spot, but they only lead the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards simply due to the fact that TOR has played an additional two games than CHI and WSH just due to the way scheduling has been. The Bulls just held this 10-spot just the other day, and it keeps swinging back and forth between them and the Raptors, so it’s too difficult to tell which team even has the edge right now. Believe it or not, somehow, even being in the No. 13 spot of the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers are technically still in the race for the 10th seed, only 3 games back of that No. 10 spot.
At the top of the NBA’s Western Conference, it is pretty much a three-team race for the No. 1 seed between the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz currently hold the top spot, with Phoenix just a game-and-a-half (1.5) behind them. Then, just 1.5 GB of Phoenix is where the Clippers currently sit. Both the Suns and Clippers are relatively hot teams right now, as both squads have won 8 of their last 10 games respectively.
Then, just a glance downward, the Denver Nuggets and L.A. Lakers are in a close competition for the No. 4 seed. Denver currently holds it, leading L.A. by 1.5 games. The 6-seed Portland Trail Blazers lead the 7-seed Dallas Mavericks by 2 full games, and Dallas leads 8-seed Memphis by only a half-game (0.5).
Then, in at the No. 9 and 10 spots for the play-in tournament are the Golden State Warriors at No. 9 and the San Antonio Spurs in at 10. However, these two teams are very much likely to shift back and forth for the next several weeks, with their records separated by just a hair. The New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings sit at seeds 11 and 12, respectively, but are both more than 3 games back of the 10th seed.
Therefore, technically speaking, both the current No. 11 and 12 seeds are in the running for the coveted 10th seed needed to participate in the Play-In. However, unless San Antonio takes a very sharp turn for the worse and the Pelicans start winning a lot more consistently, I don’t foresee New Orleans getting into the No. 10 spot. However, it is certainly not out of the question, nor is it by any stretch impossible that the Pelicans sneak in there over either the Spurs or Warriors.