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
Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Monday and what the results mean for the seedings:
Grizzlies 115, Pelicans 110
Memphis clinched a spot in the play-in tournament with the victory, but the fight for seeding continues. The race for the No. 8 spot in the West — and the safety net of having to win just one of two games to make the playoffs — could come down to the regular season’s final day, when Memphis and Golden State meet. The good thing for the Grizzlies is they don’t have to leave home until that matchup as they have games against Dallas and two against Sacramento before the finale.
The Pelicans’ play-in tournament hopes are now hanging by a thread. With three games left on their schedule (at Dallas, at Golden State, vs. Los Angeles Lakers), New Orleans would have to win out and hope the San Antonio Spurs, who blew out the Bucks Monday, lose out the rest of the way. Oh, and the Pelicans still don’t have Brandon Ingram (left ankle sprain) back and Zion Williamson (fractured left ring finger) also is out. — Andrew Lopez
Warriors 119, Jazz 116
The Golden State Warriors put together one of their most complete games of the season on Monday night — and then almost watched it disappear. The good news for the Warriors is that, as usual, Stephen Curry showed up when it mattered most in a 119-116 win over the Utah Jazz. Curry finished with 36 points, including the 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left that gave his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
With the win, the Warriors clinched a play-in spot and stay a half-game ahead of the Grizzlies for the eighth slot in the Western Conference. With the loss, the Jazz are just one game ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the loss column for the top seed in the West.
“It’s great to check a box,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of clinching a play-in berth. “And now we got to keep going and just try to finish as strongly as possible. Obviously, Memphis is right with us and San Antonio’s right behind us so we’ve got to keep winning.”
While the Warriors again needed Curry’s late heroics, unlike the last couple of months, it wasn’t just Curry who did damage against the Jazz. Curry’s teammates pitched in offensively in a variety of ways, taking the pressure off the two-time MVP throughout much of the game. Jordan Poole finished with 20 points, Kent Bazemore had 19, Draymond Green had 10 points in the first quarter. Curry’s 36 set the tone as always, but it was important for the Warriors to know that they can win even on nights when Curry doesn’t put the whole team on his back — at least until the end. — Nick Friedell
Trail Blazers 140, Rockets 129
After a 50-point first quarter that featured 12 3-pointers, it looked like the Trail Blazers were going to cruise to a win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, but it took some finishing to get the job done. Where the win puts the Blazers, though, is firmly in control of the 6-seed in the West. They control their own destiny and while they’re only one game better than the Lakers in the loss column, the win over Houston puts Portland two ahead in the win column.
With three games to go, Portland needs to go 2-1 to guarantee the 6-seed, which of course means avoiding the play-in. But while Monday’s game didn’t present too much of a challenge, the final three will. Portland goes to Utah, to Phoenix and closes at home against Denver — all teams with some motivation to close out their seasons strong and secure seeding. If the Blazers go 1-2, it means the Lakers could overtake them for the No. 6 spot with a 4-0 finish.
The Blazers have straightened things out after a rough spot a couple of weeks ago, are riding a four-game winning streak and have won eight of their last nine. They have control of their path forward, but it won’t be any easy finish. — Royce Young
Hawks 125, Wizards 124
Russell Westbrook made history but he couldn’t add the storybook ending when he missed a 3-pointer at the end in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks’ win was a big one. It pulled Atlanta (38-31) a half-game behind the Knicks for fourth in the East and half a game ahead of the Heat (37-31) for the fifth spot.
Washington (32-37) now trails Indiana (32-36) by a half-game for the ninth spot. The Wizards own the tiebreaker over the Pacers, but they will have to play without Bradley Beal (hamstring strain) for at least another game. And that next game is Wednesday in a rematch against the Hawks in Atlanta. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Pacers 111, Cavaliers 102
Indiana swapped spots with the Wizards, moving into the No. 9 slot in the East, and reduced its magic number for clinching a play-in berth to two with four games remaining.
The Pacers have a tough closing stretch, with home games against the Sixers, Bucks and Lakers before finishing on the road against Toronto.
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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