What to Expect in the NBA's Final Week

Basketball May 10, 2021

There's only one week remaining in the 2021 NBA regular season, which has been packed with injuries, controversies, and several surprises.

We previously wrote about motivation being the biggest factor in NBA wagering this time of year.  Betting on all the "in-the-mix" teams (those fighting for the last four seeds in each conference has gone 14-6-2 ATS in just the last week, since this article was published – so the angle apparently works.  READ HERE

As of Monday, here’s a breakdown of the current NBA playoff picture. Commentary is based on the thoughts of Kurt Helin, basketball analyst at NBC Sports.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Utah Jazz (50-18)

The Jazz current hold a slim two-game lead over Phoenix for the top seed in the West (and the NBA).  However, the Suns also have the tiebreaker advantage, so there is a little motivation left for Utah in this final week of games.  That said, picking up a couple of wins against a schedule which includes the rival Warriors, Trail Blazers, Thunder, and Kings is probably a foregone conclusion.  The main motive for the Jazz is to be fully healthy for the postseason.

2. Phoenix Suns (48-20)

The second-seeded Suns could catch the Jazz (just two games back, but a look at Phoenix’s schedule this week all versus teams in the playoff/play-in mix with something to play for — and that seems unrealistic.  Phoenix seems destined for the 2 seed.

3. Los Angeles Clippers (45-23)

Locked in a battle with Denver for the 3 seed/4 seed, the Clippers have four very winnable games — Raptors, Hornets, Rockets, Thunder — but all on the road. The bigger long-term question with the Clippers is their health, with Kawhi Leonard playing through a sore hand and ankle, plus Serge Ibaka still missing in action. This team needs that week off during the play-in games to get into shape.

4. Denver Nuggets (44-24)

Ranked just one game behind the Clippers for the 3 seed, the Nuggets are going to need help to climb up to that spot. Denver closes the season out with four games on the road this week: Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit, Portland.  That seems a big task to leap into the 3 seed given this challenge.

5. Dallas Mavericks (40-28)

Dallas needs a few wins this week to hold on to the 5 seed in the West – ranked one game ahead of Portland.  But the Trail Blazers do hold the tiebreaker.  So, that keeps the heat on the Mavericks who can't let up.  The Mavs close out the season with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves.  Winning 3/4 of those games probably locks Dallas into this spot.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (39-29)

The Trail Blazers enter the regular season's final week just one game back of moving up to the 5 seed and just a game up on the Lakers and falling back to the seven seed.  The good news is Portland has the tiebreakers over both Dallas and Los Angeles. After playing the Rockets tonight, things get tough this week for Portland with games against the Jazz, Suns, and Nuggets.  That's a brutal stretch of games, unless those seeds are set and the top teams rest starters.

7. Los Angeles Lakers (38-30)

LeBron James is expected to play this week, but how many and when are unknown. Things appear headed for a Lakers vs. Warriors 7/8 play-in game. Los Angeles is just one game back of Portland and avoiding the play-in, but the Blazers have the tiebreaker, so are really two games back (however, given Portland's schedule, who knows?) The Lakers face the Knicks who have been playing great lately, but have a chance to gain ground because they close with three soft teams -- facing the Rockets, Pacers, and banged-up Pelicans.

8. Golden State Warriors (35-33)

The Warriors need to hold off the rising Grizzlies, which are just half-a-game back and tied in the loss column — those two teams face off on the final day of the season and it could decide who gets the 8 seed (and who only has to win one-of-two play-in games to make the playoffs, rather than both of them). Tough week for the Warriors, who also face the Jazz and Suns, and need to find a win or two to secure the 8 seed.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (34-33)

They have a chance at the 8 seed but first have to close the season with a brutal gauntlet of five games in just seven days (admittedly, two of those are against the banged-up Kings). The hope for the Grizzlies is to win enough to set up a final-day showdown with the Warriors on Sunday, and the winner gets the 8 seed.

10. San Antonio (32-35)

Here's one the teams with no business in the playoff conversation, but here we are. The Spurs appear destined for the 10 seed. They would need help to catch the Grizzlies in ninth. The Spurs have a solid lead over the Pelicans, two up in the loss column, and the Spurs have the tiebreaker, but San Antonio has five games in seven days to close out the season and the lineup is brutal: Bucks, Nets, Knicks, and Suns twice. The Spurs need to find a couple of wins in there.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (31-37)

More garbage.  Two games back in the loss column from the Spurs, San Antonio has the tiebreaker, and no Zion Williamson due to a fractured finger. Still, there is a slim chance for the Pelicans (because of how tough the Spurs schedule is), but New Orleans needs wins going against the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Warriors, and Lakers. Yeah. Good luck with that.

12. Sacramento Kings (30-38)

Mathematically alive, realistically not.


EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Philadelphia 76ers (47-21)

With a three-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets with four still to play, the 76ers are on their way to the top seed in the East and home court through the Eastern playoffs (the magic number over the Bucks is two). That’s huge because Philadelphia is 27-7 at home this season, plus it forces Brooklyn and Milwaukee into the other side of the bracket. The Sixers have the tiebreaker over the Nets but not the Bucks, however, that only matters if they tank this week.

2. Brooklyn Nets (44-24)

Losers of four in a row, Brooklyn has a half-a-game lead over Milwaukee (the teams are tied in the loss column), and the Bucks have the tiebreaker. The Nets have clinched a top-three seed and have a soft schedule this week: Bulls twice, Spurs, and Cavaliers.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (43-23)

Five games in seven days to close out the season, they have the tiebreaker over the Nets but a couple of games that could trip them up: Miami and always-feisty San Antonio. The Bucks have clinched a top-three seed; they mathematically could catch the 76ers but would need a lot of help (the Sixers magic number is two).

4. New York Knicks (38-30)

Big win against the Clippers on Sunday, but they have a tough schedule this week: Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Celtics. New York is one game up on Atlanta, but the Knicks have the tiebreaker, so it might as well be two). However, New York is also just one game up on Miami and the Heat have that tiebreaker. The Knicks are two games in the loss column up on Boston, but their showdown on the final day of the regular season could be huge.


5. Atlanta Hawks (37-31)

Atlanta has a chance to jump the Knicks into the 4 seed because of the softer schedule, but because the Knicks have the tiebreaker Atlanta may have to win out to do just that and hold off the Heat. Atlanta has the tiebreaker over both Miami and Atlanta, which means it likely stays a top-six seed. Atlanta plays a hot Wizards team twice this week, but finishes the season with the Magic and Rockets.

6. Miami Heat (37-31)

Miami’s win over Boston on Sunday gives them a two-game cushion over the Celtics with four to play to avoid the play-in (not a lock but close to it). Those two teams face off again Tuesday, a Heat win and that race is over, and Miami can focus on trying to climb past Atlanta to the five seed (and avoid facing Milwaukee or Brooklyn in the first round). Even if the Celtics win on Tuesday, the Heat should be able to hold them off, but the rest of the week still features games against the 76ers and Bucks.

7. Boston Celtics (35-37)

With the loss to Miami on Sunday, the wildly inconsistent Celtics seemed destined for the 7 seed (even with one more game against the Heat Tuesday). A win Tuesday against the Heat would keep the door open to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in, but Boston would need a lot of help. As poor a team as Boston has been, it’s possible but not likely Charlotte passes them and the Celtics fall to eighth, but they have locked up at least a play-in berth. After the Heat on Tuesday it’s the Cavaliers, Timberwolves, then Knicks in the final three games.

8. Charlotte Hornets (33-35)

Keeping the 8 seed matters — then the Hornets would only have to win one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs, fall to ninth and they have to win both — and the red-hot Wizards are now just one game back of the Hornets (Indiana is 1.5 back but doesn’t feel like a threat the way it has played of late). The good news is Charlotte has the tiebreaker over Washington, making it essentially a two-game lead. The bad news is a tough final four games: Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks, then a potential showdown with the Wizards on the last game of the season.

9. Washington Wizards (32-36)

Here's the team no one wants to play right now.  Technically one game back of the Hornets for the eighth seed, but Charlotte has the tiebreaker, so they are really two games back (but the teams face each other in the final game of the season). The Wizards may have to play this last week without Bradley Beal, who tweaked his hamstring and may not return until the play-in games. Washington has to play Atlanta twice this week, likely without its leading scorer.

10. Indiana Pacers (31-36)

Freefalling and having lost 5-of-7, they have five games in seven days to close out the season, including facing the 76ers, Bucks, and Lakers. The Pacers are tied with the Wizards in the loss column, but Washington has the tiebreaker. Chicago is three games back but the Bulls do have the tiebreaker over Indiana, so the Pacers need to win a game or two this week to secure their play-in spot.

11. Chicago Bulls (29-39)

Chicago is 2.5 games out of the play-in but does have the tiebreaker over stumbling Indiana. The problem is the Bulls basically have to win out, and they face the Nets twice plus the Bucks this week.

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