Playoff Race Update » All The Potential Scenarios On The Last Day Of The Season

by Casey Holdahl
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The NBA got what they exactly what they wanted when they instituted the play-in tournament for the 2020-21 season.

By expanding the number of teams that could potentially qualify for the postseason from eight to 10 in each conference, the number of teams losing on purpose to improve their chance of a higher draft pick diminished while games at the end of the season for those still able to qualify for the play-in tournament took on an added significance. For example, Saturday's game between the Lakers and Pacers was important for both teams -- the Lakers won 122-115 -- which would not have been the case, at least to the same extent, without the play-in, as Indiana would have already been eliminated from postseason contention and the Lakers would have already clinched a spot in the postseason. 

So between the play-in keeping the bottom of the playoff table engaged and the race among the top four seeds being so close -- the Suns could still catch the Jazz for the top overall seed and the Nuggets and Clippers are tied with one game to play -- all the matchups for the first round of the 2021 Western Conference Playoffs and the play-in tournament will be decided on the last day of the season. So if the goal of the play-in was to make the end of the season more interesting, mission accomplished. 

As for the Trail Blazers, they currently sit a tie for sixth, the last guaranteed playoff spot, with the Lakers with one game to play. Portland owns the tiebreaker, so if they finish tied, the Blazers get a week off to prepare for the three-six matchup while the Laker will have to host either the Warriors or Grizzlies in the seven-eight play-in tournament matchup. But if the Lakers win their last game of the season versus the Pelicans, the Trail Blazers will have to defeat the Nuggets in their season finale in order to avoid the play-in. 

And then there's the issue of matchups. If the playoffs started today, the Blazers would face the Nuggets in the three-six matchup. But if the Lakers defeat the Pelicans in the final game for both teams, the Blazers would have to beat the Nuggets in their finale in order to avoid the play-in. But by defeating the Nuggets, they potentially push them to fourth while elevating the Clippers, arguably Portland's worst matchup, into third. However, after losing their game to the Rockets, presumably on purpose and with the intent of avoiding a first-round matchup versus the Lakers, on Friday, the Clippers might try to recreate that outcome in their finale versus the Thunder. But the Thunder, currently tied for the third-worst record in the league with the Magic, might prefer to lose in order to improve their chances of a better pick. And considering that all three of those games start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, no team will have a sense of what they need to do in order to assure their preferred matchup, at least until halftime, and maybe not even then. 

So to bring this back around to the Trail Blazers, it seems very likely that the Trail Blazers will need to win Sunday's finale versus the Nuggets at the Moda Center to secure the six-seed and avoid the play-in tournament. And if the Clippers laid down versus the Rockets, would they do the same versus the Thunder? Would they rather play the Mavericks than the Trail Blazers? All of this is unknowable. 

But we can map out which seeds and matchups teams will end up with in every potential scenario on the last day of the regular season. That's probably more useful than the typical Playoff Race digest, but I've included both for the sake of posterity. 

DALLAS MAVERICKS, 5TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE (CLINCHED PLAYOFFS, DIVISION)

Overall record: 42-29 | Conference record: 21-20 | Division record: 7-5
Home record: 21-15 | Away record: 21-14 | Games back from 1st: 9 

Remaining home games: 0 
Remaining road games: 1 (5/16 @ Timberwolves)

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 0  
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 1 (0 home, 1 away)

Tiebreaker: The Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker versus the Mavericks by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. 

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS, TIED FOR 6TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Overall record: 41-30 | Conference record: 22-19 | Division record: 4-8
Home record: 19-16 | Away record: 22-14 | Games back from 1st: 10 | Games back from 5th: 1

Remaining home games: 1 (5/16 vs. Nuggets)
Remaining road games: 0 

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 1 (1 home, 0 away) 
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 0

LOS ANGELES LAKERS, TIED FOR 6TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Overall record: 41-30 | Conference record: 24-17 | Division record: 4-8
Home record: 21-15 | Away record: 20-15 | Games back from 1st: 10 | Games back from 6th: 0

Remaining home games: 0 
Remaining road games: 1 (5/16 @ Pelicans)

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 0  
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 1 (0 home, 1 away)

Tiebreaker: The Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker versus the Lakers by virtue of winning the season series 2-1.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, TIED FOR 8TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE (CLINCHED PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT)

Overall record: 38-33 | Conference record: 24-17 | Division record: 5-7
Home record: 24-11 | Away record: 14-22 | Games back from 1st: 13 

Remaining home games: 1 (5/16 vs. Grizzlies)
Remaining road games: 0 

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 3 (1 home, 0 away) 
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 0 

Tiebreaker: The Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker versus the Warriors by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. 

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, TIED FOR 8TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE (CLINCHED PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT)

Overall record: 38-33 | Conference record: 17-23 | Division record: 6-6
Home record: 18-18 | Away record: 20-15 | Games back from 1st: 13 

Remaining home games: 0 
Remaining road games: 1 (5/16 @ Warriors)

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 1 (0 home, 1 away) 
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 0

Tiebreaker: The Grizzlies own the tiebreaker versus the Trail Blazers by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. 

SAN ANTONIO SPURS, 10TH IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE (CLINCHED PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT)

Overall record: 33-38 | Conference record: 17-24 | Division record: 6-6
Home record: 14-21 | Away record: 19-17 | Games back from 1st: 18 

Remaining home games: 1 (5/16 vs. Suns)
Remaining road games: 0 

Remaining games versus teams over .500: 1 (1 home, 0 away) 
Remaining games versus teams under .500: 0 

Tiebreaker: The Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker versus the Spurs by virtue of winning the season series 2-1. However, with five games to play, the Spurs cannot finish the season tied with the Trail Blazers. 

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