The end of the NBA regular season is just about a week away and the race to the playoffs is really heating up. This year, things are a bit different, however. The play-in tournament has changed everything. Stars seeing their teams slip into the play-in buffer have clearly voiced their concerns about the concept. Both the Eastern and Western Conferences have several teams fighting for their playoff lives. The picture still isn’t clear but this next week will certainly be crazy. Let’s get into it.
Before we can start, we have to discuss those who are already in. In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched the playoffs. Every other team from the fourth seed to the 10th is all jockeying for position. In the West, the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers have all clinched. These seven teams will get to avoid the dreaded play-in tournament and now will battle for the one seed in their respected conferences.
Related: May NBA Power Rankings
Teams on the Bubble
The way the play-in tournament works, the nine and 10 seeds will play each other and the seven and eight seeds will play each other. What this basically means is that the 10 seed constitutes a technical playoff berth. In the East, the Washington Wizards hold the 10 seed currently, and they are pretty comfortable in this spot. The Chicago Bulls are three games behind them and the Toronto Raptors are four games behind. This spot is the Wizards’ to lose and they cannot be expected that they will lose it.
In the West, there is a bit trickier situation. The Spurs currently hold the 10 seed but are only a game back from the Memphis Grizzlies and two games from the Golden State Warriors. Looking in, we have the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. The Pelicans are two games back and just lost star Zion Williamson to injury. The Kings and three games back but have two games against a weak Thunder team and two against the Grizzlies. The battle for the 10th seed in the West will be an intense one between now and the end of the season.
Teams Looking to Avoid the Play-In
As the race for the 10 seed, the play-in race is very intense as well. In the East, the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks are all within two games of each other. The Celtics are currently holding that seventh spot and are staggering to the finish line. They will need to pump it up over the next week to get out of the play-in position. Something to keep an eye out for is that the Heat and Celtics play each other twice in the next week. It seems whoever wins that series will more than likely get out of the play-in line.
In the West, there is a three-team race. The Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trailblazers, and Los Angeles Lakers are all battling for the seven spots here. Like the East, these teams are all within two games of each other. To everyone’s surprise, the Lakers are the ones in danger of being in the play-in. They do have a relatively easy schedule, however, and should be able to get out of this situation. The Trail Blazers have the hardest schedule of the three. Their last four games involve playing three of the clinched teams. Expect the Trail Blazers to be in the play-in when it’s all said and done.