Towards the end of the regular season, each team has something to play: seeding or draft picks. With the addition of play-in games to the 2021 NBA playoffs, the seeding puzzle is wilder – and more important – than ever, as almost every game on the track has a significant post-season impact.
Play-in matchups after the games on Saturday:
Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte Hornets at No. 7 Boston Celtics – Winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs; The loser continues in the play-in
Game 2: No. 10 Indiana Pacers at No. 9 Washington Wizards – Winner Continues Play-In; Loser is eliminated
Game 3: Wizards / Pacers Winner at Celtics / Hornets Losers – Winner is number 8 in the playoffs
Play-in games take place Tuesday through Friday.
Here is a breakdown of Sunday’s matchups and what the results will mean:
Who will reach the top 6 in the west?
Lakers at Pelicans, 9 p.m. ET
With a little help from the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers can play their way out of the play-in tournament on Sunday. If LA beats the New Orleans Pelicans and the Nuggets at the top of the Portland Trail Blazers, LA will be number 6 in the Western Conference playoffs. If the Lakers lose, they’ll host a play-in game against Golden State or Memphis on Wednesday.
New Orleans will have to do without its young superstar Zion Williamson, who has missed the last five games with a broken left index finger. The pelicans have already been excluded from the postseason. – Dave McMenamin
Clippers at Thunder, 9 p.m. ET
After the LA Clippers sat practically every member of their rotation and lost to the Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Clippers may remain in the fourth seed of the west with a loss in Oklahoma City on Sunday. The fourth seed would almost guarantee that the Clippers and Lakers would not meet until the conference finals – if both teams advanced that far.
On the flip side, the Thunders will be desperate to lose one more time to make sure they don’t do any worse than third place with the magic in the lottery standings. Oklahoma City has lost pretty well in the past few weeks, losing 1-23 since April 1st. – Tim Bontemps
Nuggets at Blazers, 9 p.m. ET
It’s not complicated for the Portland Trail Blazers: Beat the Denver Nuggets and get a top 6 seed. The Blazers can even move up to fifth if the Dallas Mavericks in Minnesota lose to a tiebreaker in hand. Who Portland would play in the first round is complex and it’s about Denver.
If the Blazers win on Sunday, the Nuggets will drop to fourth place, but only if the Thunder beats the Clippers as well. If the clippers win, the clips will be the 3-seed and the nuggets will be the fourth, no matter what. And since the Lakers may stand out as 6 seeds, the switch to 3 seeds doesn’t seem as appealing. – Royce Young
The battle for the 8 seeds in the west
Grizzlies at Warriors, 3:30 p.m. ET
The winner becomes the eighth seed in the Western Conference – a big difference as the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies would have two chances of a playoff spot.
Sunday’s winner can try to finish seventh in the play-in tournament. The loser of the Sunday game must win two games in a row to qualify for the postseason. – Nick Friedell
Colonize the import seeds in the east
Pacers at Raptors, 1 p.m. ET
While the Indiana Pacers can no longer end up in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday afternoon, a win against the fueling Toronto Raptors on Sunday will ensure that Indiana the 9-10 game in the opening game of NBA hosts -in tournament on Tuesday night. A loss, however, means Indiana will be either the 10th Seed to travel east to Charlotte or Washington. – Bontemps
Miles Bridges picks up a Knicks Pass, takes it to the other end, and then throws a dunk on the highlight reel.
Hornets in wizards, 1 p.m. ET
After Washington defeated Cleveland on Friday night and the Charlotte Hornets lost to the New York Knicks in extra time on Saturday, the game between the Wizards and Hornets on Sunday afternoon became the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The winner will be the eighth seed, and the loser will likely be included in the tenth seed, assuming a Pacers win over the Raptors. – Bontemps
Who will make the top six in the east?
Celtics at Knicks, 1 p.m. ET
The Knicks don’t have to win until Sunday at Madison Square Garden to get the fourth seed in the east. With a tiebreaker over Atlanta, a Knicks win means they can’t finish worse than a draw with the Hawks, so the first round of the playoffs will begin for them next weekend. Trapped in the seventh seed, Boston is waiting to see who his opponent will be at TD Garden on Tuesday night. – Bontemps
Missiles at Hawks, 7 p.m. ET
A win for the Hawks could mean a first-round home advantage – but only if they get a little help. If Atlanta ends in a tie with New York, the Knicks would own the tiebreaker and send the Hawks to fifth place. With New York playing earlier on Sunday, Atlanta has a good idea of whether the 4-seed is achievable. The Rockets have nothing to play but pride, as they already have the worst record in the secured league. – Andrew Lopez
Heat on flask, 8 p.m. ET
Miami’s loss to the Bucks on Saturday night means the heat is now on the right track for the sixth seed and a rematch with the same Milwaukee team they beat in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals. The Heat sits a game behind the Knicks and Hawks, who are tied for fourth place. The heat owns the tiebreaker over the Knicks, but not over the Hawks. If the Knicks beat the Celtics and the Hawks deal with the Rockets on Sunday, the outcome of the Heat against the Pistons final doesn’t matter to the seed. – Friedell
Who will win number 1 in the west?
Sunbathing at Spurs, 2 p.m. ET
Devin Booker sinks a step-back 3-pointer, and Chris Paul empties his own 3-pointer the next time he has possession.
In a competition rematch on Saturday, the Suns will attempt to topple San Antonio again as they continue their quest for the # 1 seed. The Suns must also hope that Utah will slip in a later game against the Sacramento Kings to overtake Jazz for the top spot. Phoenix cannot fall any lower than the second.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are in tenth place, so they can choose to rest the players again, as was the case with DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl on Saturday. – Lopez
Jazz at Kings, 9 p.m. ET
For Utah Jazz, it’s simple: A win over the Sacramento Kings is the best seed in the West, regardless of the Sun’s outcome against the Spurs. It would also give jazz the absolute best record in the league for the first time in franchise history. (Utah was tied for the NBA’s best record in 1997-98 and 1998-99.) The jazz is equated at least for the NBA’s best record, no matter what, but the Suns own the tiebreaker over them, making a loss to that Kings possible is causing Utah to slip to the second seed.
The kings who have the ninth worst record with the pelicans will fall from eighth to tenth place in the lottery. – Tim MacMahon
See other fascinating matchups
Cavaliers in Nets, 7 p.m. ET
The easiest route to number 2 in the Eastern Conference is for Brooklyn to win both games this weekend. Brooklyn took care of the first half of that equation with its victory over the cops on Saturday afternoon.
Now the networks will see and see what happens between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The outcome of that game will not only affect the networks’ playoff seeding – if the bucks lose on Saturday it will secure number 2 for Brooklyn – it will also affect who Steve Nash will be kicking out of the competition on Sunday could with the cavaliers. Nash said he preferred not to play against James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant on Sunday, all of whom have histories of injuries. If the nets can finish their sowing on Sunday night, the decision to rest these players will be easier. – Malika Andrews
Mavericks at Timberwolves, 9 p.m. ET
The Dallas Mavericks know they will face either the Denver Nuggets or the LA Clippers in the first round, but the Mavs will have no clarity on how the outcome of their regular season finals will determine their playoff matchup prior to being advised . A win over the Timberwolves will get the fifth seed for the Mavs, but the Clippers will be fourth seed if they manage to lose to the Thunder or if the Nuggets beat the Trail Blazers. Dallas could lose on Sunday too, seeing the Clippers in the 3-6 matchup. A Mavs win combined with a Clippers win and a Nuggets loss would result in a 4-5 match between Denver and Dallas.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, elected to the Golden State Warriors if they don’t finish in the top three, are tied to the Cleveland Cavaliers for fifth worst record, one defeat less than the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. – MacMahon
Dollars at Bulls, 9 p.m. ET
Giannis Antetokounmpo makes a mean face and, after receiving the inside pass, bends over and rises through contact to force a dunk for the bucks.
Milwaukee should have a good idea if he can still claim the second seed at the time of the game. Brooklyn’s matchup against Cleveland ends two hours earlier, and if the Nets lose, a win over the Bulls will give the Dollars 2 place in the east. Meanwhile, the cops alone hold eighth place in the lottery. A win over Milwaukee would potentially put Chicago in a three-way relationship with New Orleans and Sacramento. – Bontemps
Sixers at Magic, 7 p.m. ET
After Philadelphia beat Orlando on Friday night, the Sixers will start with nothing to play on Sunday, having already secured first place in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Magic, on the other hand, has everything to lose. Losing the competition on Sunday will ensure Orlando does no worse than a third-place tie against Oklahoma City in the NBA draft lottery next month. The Magic is one of several teams at the bottom of the ladder trying their best to lose one last time before heading home for the summer. – Bontemps