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

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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.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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.

Kings active before trade deadline, looking to add defense

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Sacramento Kings will make their first playoff appearance since a Bush was in the White House (2006).

If the 29-22, third-seeded Kings will do damage in the postseason, their bottom 10 defense has to be better. The Kings are being active at the trade deadline with the focus being on a defensive upgrade, sources told NBC Sports. As bait, they are dangling their reserve bigs — Richaun Holmes and/or Alex Len — but the problem is the backup big market is busy at the trade deadline.

The Kings have been linked to the 76ers’ Matisse Thybulle, with Marc Stein confirming those talks are still ongoing (but the Hawks are chasing Thybulle, too). Stein added a new rumor, as well.

Sources say Sacramento has inquired about the availability of Charlotte’s Mason Plumlee.

Charlotte is selling and Plumlee would be an upgrade behind All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

One way or another, expect the Kings to try and make a move at the deadline.

Latest on Kyrie Irving trade request: He’d prefer to land with Lakers

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Kyrie Irving requesting a trade out of Brooklyn before the Feb. 9 trade deadline has the entire league buzzing.

That doesn’t mean it has the entire league leaping into action — the Lakers, Suns and Mavericks are interested, but beyond that the market is thin. And even those teams have some reservations. That said, this trade could come together fairly quickly so all the teams involved can make other moves before next Thursday’s deadline (there is no perfect deal out there).

A lot is going on, here is the latest on an Irving trade from reports around the league.

• As it was over the summer, Irving’s preferred landing spot is with the Lakers, according to multiple reports (Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports and Marc Stein most prominently).

• Unsurprisingly, sources tell NBC Sports that the Lakers are interested, with the core of the trade being Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029) going back to Brooklyn. From there, putting together a Lakers trade gets complex (which is why it didn’t get done over the summer when the sides talked): The Lakers want to put lottery protections on the 2027 pick; the Nets want to stay competitive and want players back, not just picks; Brooklyn wants to send out Joe Harris in the trade (reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic) and get back either Austin Reaves or Max Christie (the Lakers don’t want to include those players); and, if the Nets take on Westbrook they would add $58 million to their luxury tax bill (and they get worse in the process). There likely is a third team involved in any trade between the Lakers and Nets, Brooklyn wants to stay competitive and will need more considering the drop-off between where Irving and Westbrook are in their careers.

• Irving is playing the long game and wants to get paid, something Brooklyn was hesitant to do. However, does that change in a new setting? Both the Lakers and Mavericks are reportedly reluctant to give Irving the four-year, $198.5 million max extension he wants, Adrian Wojnarowski reports at ESPN

• A Dallas trade with the Nets would involve Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith heading to Brooklyn, but the Mavericks may also want to unload other contracts in there. However, it’s not unanimous in the Nets front office that they should add Irving, some have concerns about how Luka Dončić and Irving would mesh off the court, reports Tim Cato of The Athletic.

• Don’t bet on the Clippers getting involved, despite their need for a point guard and to make things work with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, something sources told NBC Sports and was reported by ESPN’s Zach Lowe on his podcast.

• Irving’s trade demand caught the Nets and Kevin Durant off-guard, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his podcast.

• Irving was set off and demanded a trade after the Nets extension offer had incentives tied to the Nets winning a championship to get all four years, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. Now Irving will not accept any offer from Brooklyn — including the full max — and wants out.

• The max extension any team that trades for Irving can offer is two years, $78.6 million. To get Irving the four-year max he wants, a team would have to use its Bird rights this offseason to re-sign him.

• A number of teams — hello Miami! — are more interested in how the Irving demand impacts Kevin Durant’s future in Brooklyn than acquiring Irving.

Mo Bamba comes off bench to fight Austin Rivers, five players ejected

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Well, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

Friday night saw a rare true punches-thrown brawl in the NBA. The Timberwolves Austin Rivers — who was in the game — had missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench a few possessions previously and there had been a lot of trash talk. He came over and confronted the Magic’s Mo Bamba and the fight started when Bamba came off the bench and threw punches at Rivers. And then it was on, with other players jumping in.

After the officials watched the tape, five players were ejected: Rivers, Jaden McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Jalen Suggs from the Magic.

Before the media, Rivers took a conciliatory tone postgame, at least at first.

“This isn’t like a cool moment for me,” Rivers said, via the Associated Press. “I feel embarrassed. I’m the oldest on the team. I consider myself the leader of the team, or one of the leaders of the team. It was a weird game, and I don’t think that helped at all. If anything right now, I’m just (ticked off) that we lost, and that I had (something) to do with that. It doesn’t make me feel good.”

However, on social media the punches continued.

All this comes a couple of days after Dillon Brooks and Donovan Mitchell got into a fight (Brooks was suspended for a game). Maybe guys need the All-Star break to get away from it all for a few days.

Expect suspensions (plural) and fines to be handed down over the weekend by the league.

The Magic went on to win the game 127-120.

Five teams most likely to trade for Kyrie Irving before deadline

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Kyrie Irving wants a trade out of Brooklyn. Now. Before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

It’s no sure thing a massive trade like this comes together in less than a week, but it has spiced up what was a relatively flavorless trade deadline to this point (with all due respect to Rui Hachimura).

Irving’s trade request asks some tough questions of the team’s interested in him. The incentive to make a deal is obvious — landing one of the game’s biggest names and an elite shot creator averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 37.4% from 3. On the other hand is the long list of disruptions he has caused the Nets and other teams he’s been on, combined with the fact he is asking out in Brooklyn partly because they would not give him a four-year max contract extension. Does a team trading for Irving look at his track record and want to lock him up for that long? (To be clear, a team that trades for him is limited two a two-year, $78.6 million extension; he might want to re-sign with the team as a free agent, a risk for the team acquiring him.)

What may best sum up the trade market for Irving: Teams calling are more interested in what this means for Kevin Durant than Irving (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN).

Still, teams will be interested. Here are the top five worth watching.

1) Los Angeles Lakers

When reaching out to league sources in the wake of the Irving bombshell, the Lakers were the first name off everyone’s lips. Which makes sense because the sides discussed the idea last summer but never pulled off the trade. Now, more than halfway through the season, with the Lakers three games below .500 and sitting outside even the play-in tournament, there is a sense of desperation to do something so as not to squander an All-NBA season from LeBron James. Is that enough to get a deal done?

LeBron is trying to add some pressure.

The trade would, at its core, involve Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029), likely unprotected (although Wojnarowski reports the Lakers “privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving”).

That doesn’t mean Westbrook is headed to Brooklyn, the sides likely will engage a third team in the deal (San Antonio has cap space, and the Lakers have talked to the Jazz) to take on Westbrook in exchange for draft compensation. However, putting together a trade that works for everyone gets difficult, which is why one never happened this summer.

It’s obvious why the Lakers want to do this trade. Irving playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis makes the Lakers potential contenders in a West where nobody has run away with the conference (even if Denver is trying).

It’s less obvious why this is the best option for the Nets.

In a direct swap, Westbrook — even with the added depth of a quality young role player — is a dramatic drop-off from All-Star starter Irving. Plus, in a straight-up Westbrook for Irving deal the Nets take on more salary, adding $56 million to a luxury tax bill already at $109 million (numbers via Bobby Marks of ESPN). Whether the Nets would be more enticed by a three-team trade depends on the other team and players involved, but if the Nets are going to hold on to Durant they need to find a way to stay a contender, and that won’t be easy to do in any trade with the Lakers.

2) Phoenix Suns

The Suns can make a trade work in a couple of different ways, but they all center around Chris Paul heading to Brooklyn — a big name but a player whose game has fallen off this season at age 37. The trade likely would involve either Jae Crowder or Cameron Johnson — both of whom need to be paid after this season — plus some picks headed to Brooklyn.

The Suns need half-court scoring, and an Irving and Devin Booker backcourt would be a force that could get Phoenix back in the mix at the top of the West. Would soon-to-be new owner Matt Ishbia be willing to pay big and go into the tax for Irving in future years? Would the Nets consider CP3 and some depth at the four enough to pull the trigger?

3) Dallas Mavericks

It’s no secret the Mavericks are desperate to find a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić, who is wearing himself out carrying this team. It’s also no secret that coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. Is that enough?

A trade can be constructed by sending former Net Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn along with just made available Dorian Finney-Smith, plus draft picks (there are reports the Mavericks are also hesitant to go heavy on draft picks in an Irving trade). Marc Stein reports that Dallas might want to unload one of its longer contracts in a trade, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dāvis Bertāns.

Would some combination of those players plus a few picks be enough to interest Brooklyn? Is Dallas interested in signing Irving for the long-term, a four-year deal this offseason? Those questions could hold up the deal.

4) Miami Heat

Miami was on Irving’s leaked “places I would be willing to be traded” list last summer. Considering the Heat have struggled this season (despite the better play of late) and their struggles at point guard, it’s easy to see Miami’s interest.

However, it’s difficult to make a trade work. The Heat would want to send back Kyle Lowry, but there likely is little interest from Brooklyn in taking him on (he has a fully guaranteed $29.7 million on the books for next season). The Nets might want Tyler Herro, but he is in the poison pill year between signing his extension and it kicking in (the trade numbers going out and coming back are different for Herro under the CBA, making a trade very difficult to pull off).

Would the Heat want to sign Irving long-term? Is he a fit with the Heat culture? What makes more sense for Miami is to wait to see if Irving’s actions push Kevin Durant to again ask for a trade out of Brooklyn after the season, then jump into those trade talks.

You know Pat Riley will make the call, he’s always aggressive and wants to win now. But he’s not putting a player over the franchise, and he won’t give up too much to get a deal done.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are always aggressive as a front office, they need point guard help (someone who can create in the backcourt), and the owner is more than happy to spend if it means winning. The Clippers are loaded with mid-level salaries — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged to make a deal work. They also have good young players to temp the Nets, such as Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Is another high-priced mercurial star prone to missing time what the Clippers need right now? They will make calls, but it feels like a long shot.