2021 NBA playoff picture, standings with one week to go: Lakers vs. Warriors play-in?


There is one week left in this condensed, injury-filled, money grab of an NBA season before we move on to the playoffs (and the pace of games actually slows down for teams).

Here’s a breakdown of the NBA playoff picture — there is a lot still to be decided. We’ve got commentary on every team in the race, and for a lot of them this playoff picture isn’t as pretty as they imagined when the season tipped off back in December.


1. Philadelphia 76ers (47-21)

With a three-game lead over the Nets with four to play, the Sixers 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 Philly is 27-7 at home this season, fans or no fans, 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. Brookly 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 will their showdown on the final day of the regular season matter?

5. Atlanta Hawks (37-31)

Atlanta has a real chance to jump the Knicks into the four 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 Celtics seem destined for the seven 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 inconsistent as Boston has been — and now without Jaylen Brown for the rest of the season —  it’s possible but not likely Charlotte passes them and the Celtics fall to eighth. Boston has 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 eighth 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)

Technically one game back of the Hornets for the eighth seed, but Charlotte has the tiebreaker, so it is effectively 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.


1. Utah Jazz (50-18)

The Jazz have a two-game lead over the Suns for the top seed in the West (and the NBA), but the Suns have the tiebreaker so there is a little work left for Utah. Utah’s magic number to clinch the top seed is three (wins or Suns losses), and picking up a couple of wins against a schedule of the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Thunder, and Kings is very doable. Then, hopefully, the Jazz are fully healthy and back together for the postseason.

2. Phoenix Suns (48-20)

Technically they could catch the Jazz (just two games back, and the Suns have the tiebreaker), but then you look at Phoenix’s schedule this week — all teams in the playoff/play-in mix with something to play for — and realize how hard that would be. Phoenix seems destined for the two seed.

3. Los Angeles Clippers (45-23)

Locked in a battle with Denver for the 3/4 seed, the Clippers have four winnable games — Raptors, Hornets, Rockets, Thunder — but all on the road. Denver has the tiebreaker so nothing is decided. The bigger long-term question with the Clippers is just 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.

4. Denver Nuggets (44-24)

Just one game back of the Clippers for the three seed, and the Nuggets have the tiebreaker, but Denver is going to need a little help to climb up to that spot. Denver closes the season out with four games on the road this week: Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit, Portland.

5. Dallas Mavericks (40-28)

Just for the entertainment factor, a lot of us are rooting for Dallas to finish fifth, setting up a Luka Doncic/Nikola Jokic first-round showdown. Dallas needs a few wins this week to hold on to the five seed, it is one game ahead of Portland, but the Trail Blazers have the tiebreaker. The Mavs close the season with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (39-29)

The Trail Blazers enter the final week just one game back of moving up to the five 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 things get tough this week for Portland with games against the Jazz, Suns, and Nuggets.

7. Los Angeles Lakers (38-30)

LeBron James is expected to play some games this week, but how many and when are unknown. Things appear headed for a Lakers vs. Warriors 7/8 play-in game — which would get serious ratings but put one of these teams at real risk of missing the playoffs entirely. Los Angeles is just one game back of Portland and avoiding the play-in, but the Blazers have the tiebreaker, so in practice it is two games back. The Lakers face the Knicks but can finish strong thanks to three soft games, facing the Rockets, Pacers, and banged-up Pelicans.

8. Golden State Warriors (35-33)

To keep the eighth seed, the Warriors need to hold off the 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 eighth 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 in a back-to-back, and need to find a win or two to secure the eighth seed.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (34-33)

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

10. San Antonio (32-35)

The Spurs appear destined for the 10 seed. They would need a lot of help to catch the Grizzlies in ninth. The Spurs have a 1.5 game 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)

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. Good luck with that.

12. Sacramento Kings (30-38)

Mathematically alive, realistically not.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?


There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs


Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’


DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.