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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 after Thursday’s games
Play-in games to be held Tuesday through Friday of next week
Game 3: Wizards/Pacers winner at Celtics/Hornets loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Game 3: Grizzlies/Spurs winner at Lakers/Warriors loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs
Teams that clinched Friday
Play-in spots (seeds 7-10): Celtics, Hornets, Pacers
Play-in spots: Warriors, Grizzlies, Spurs
Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Friday and what the results mean for the seedings:
The top seed in the East is officially settled, and it belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers. With a win over the Magic on Friday, the Sixers have clinched home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and maybe more importantly, positioned themselves on the opposite side of the bracket from the Nets and Bucks.
It’s the first time the Sixers have been the top seed since 2001, when Allen Iverson led them throughout the playoffs to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
Who Philly plays in the first round will be determined through the play-in, with the Celtics, Hornets, Pacers and Wizards all in play for the 8-seed.
Taking the top seed is a boost, but not necessarily an accomplishment for the Sixers, with coach Doc Rivers downplaying its importance earlier in the week.
“I don’t look at the No. 1 seed as being this great achievement,” Rivers said. “I just think it’s great to have because of home-court [advantage]. The achievement is winning [the championship].” — Royce Young
It has been a striking turnaround for the Wizards, who on April 5 were 17-32 and outside the East’s playoff picture. Since then, they’ve gone 16-6, which featured a seven-game winning streak, boosting them into the top 10.
With a game to go, there’s still more to play for as the Wizards are a game behind the Hornets and Pacers for the eighth and ninth spots. The difference between No. 8 and No. 9 is huge, obviously, going from a possible one-and-done game to needing to lose two games to be eliminated.
And guess what? The Wizards close the regular season against the Hornets on Sunday, while the Pacers finish with the Lakers (in what is a near must-win for L.A.). The Wizards hold the tiebreaker on the Pacers, which would bump them ahead if Washington closes with a win and the Lakers beat Indiana. The Hornets play the Knicks on Saturday, and with a win, lock up a higher spot than the Wizards by virtue of a 2-1 season series tiebreaker. But should the Hornets lose, it sets up a massive seeding game between Washington and Charlotte. — Young
The Clippers lost to the worst team in the NBA — and it actually isn’t a bad thing.
They fell out of third place with their 122-115 loss to the Rockets and Denver’s 104-91 win over Detroit. The Clippers’ loss also clinched the Pacific Division for the Phoenix Suns.
The Clips used this game against Houston as a rest game (second of a back-to-back), sitting Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Patrick Beverley (hand), Reggie Jackson (Achilles) and Terance Mann (personal) did not play. Serge Ibaka, the final rotation player to return from injury, made his return after missing 30 straight games with a back issue and looked good with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes.
Denver owns the tiebreaker over the Clippers for the third seed heading into the final day of the regular season on Sunday. But the fourth seed actually could end up being the better spot because it means avoiding the Lakers, who could still move into sixth. The fourth seed will face either Dallas or Portland; both teams own the tiebreaker over the Lakers.
The Clippers would enter a matchup against Dallas or Portland with confidence. L.A. handled Dallas in the postseason last year and swept Portland this year.
The Clippers finish the season at Oklahoma City while Denver faces Portland on Sunday. — Ohm Youngmisuk