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NBA League Pass Free Trial: Matchups with playoff implications

With NBA League Pass offering a free trial this weekend (Friday through Sunday), here is a look at five of the best games with playoff implications to watch.

Brian Martin, for NBA.com

The Pelicans, currently 11th in the West, are trying to break into the Play-In Tournament field.

We are exactly one month from the close of the 2020-21 regular season on May 16, which means there are games with playoff implications taking place every night as teams look to cement their spot in the Playoff or Play-In picture.

Be sure to check out the latest standings heading into this weekend’s action and also check out this Play-In Tournament FAQ to answer any questions about the new format.

Note: All records and stats through games played on Thursday, April 15

Friday, April 16

New Orleans (25-30) at Washington (21-33)
7 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

This is a matchup of two teams currently on the outside looking to break into the Play-In Tournament field in their respective conference. New Orleans currently sits 11th in the West, two games back of 10th ranked San Antonio for the final Play-In spot in the West. The Spurs have gone just 4-11 in their last 15 games, so the door may be open for the Pelicans. But New Orleans has to close that gap ahead of its third and final meeting of the regular season with the Spurs on April 24 as it will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker between the teams.

Washington currently sits 12th in the East, in a virtual tie with Toronto (ahead by only .004 in win percentage), with both teams one game back of 10th ranked Chicago for the final Play-In spot in the East. The Wizards have won two straight and four of their last five; if they can keep that momentum going against the Pelicans on Saturday they can continue to close that gap and try to sneak into the Play-In field.

Memphis (27-26) at Chicago (22-32)
8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

Memphis currently sits eighth in the West, 2.5 games back of Dallas for seventh and 3.5 games back of Portland for sixth. Memphis and Portland met last year in the NBA’s first ever Play-In with the Grizzlies being eliminated in a single game by the Blazers, so obviously Memphis would like to avoid the Play-In again this year if possible. While a 3.5 game deficit is a lot to make up in a month’s time, the Grizzlies and Blazers have yet to play one another this season. In fact, their entire three-game season series will be played over a six-day period from April 23-28.

But before they can try to take advantage of that opportunity, the Grizzles must face the Bulls – a team looking to hold the 10th seed in the East and have a chance at a securing a playoff berth for the first time since 2016. The good news for the Bulls is that they own the head-to-head tiebreakers with the two teams currently chasing them – Toronto (Bulls lead season series 2-0 with one game to play) and Washington (Bulls won series 2-1).

Portland (31-23) at San Antonio (26-27)
8:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

As mentioned earlier, Portland participated in last year’s Play-In with Memphis, and while the Blazers came out on top, they would rather avoid the Play-In this year and finish in the top six to secure a guaranteed playoff berth. Sixth is currently where the Blazers stand; they trail the Lakers by two games for fifth place and a have one-game lead over Dallas for seventh place, which comes with the Play-In. The Blazers have lost two straight and four of their last five games to put themselves in this tenuous position. Ideally, the Blazers would use this time with LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined to climb past the Lakers, and try to chase the Nuggets for fourth place and home court. But even if they are unable to climb, at the very least they need to hold their current position for a guaranteed spot.

While Portland is looking to avoid the Play-In, San Antonio is trying to hold off New Orleans and keep ahold of the 10th and final spot in the Play-In Tournament. The Spurs lead the Pelicans by two games (three up in the loss column) and the two teams have one final meeting to determine the head-to-head tiebreaker should it be needed. In addition to keeping the Pelicans at bay, the Spurs could look to move up and secure a spot in the Seven-Eight game in the Play-In and give themselves two chances to secure a playoff berth. San Antonio trails Golden State by just a half game for ninth and trails Memphis by one full game for eighth.

Saturday, April 17

San Antonio (26-27) at Phoenix (40-15)
10 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

The schedule does not let up for the Spurs as they have to follow a matchup with No. 6 Portland with a game against No. 2 Phoenix just 24 hours later. The Suns have been the hottest team in the league after opening the season 8-8 through the first month of action (since Jan. 28, Phoenix is a league-best 32-7). While many of the games we have spotlighted have looked at teams surrounding the Play-In, the Suns are in contention for not only the top seed in the Western Conference, but the top record in the entire NBA, which would bring home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Think about that turnaround for a minute. The Suns have not made the playoffs in a decade (their last appearance came in 2009-10) and now they are in contention for the top overall seed. Phoenix trails Utah by just one game and already owns the head-to-head tiebreaker by winning the first two games of the three-game season series. The Suns enter this weekend having won four straight as they continue to put pressure on the Jazz and maintain their two-game lead on the No. 3 Clippers, who have won seven in a row.

Sunday, April 18

Indiana (26-28) at Atlanta (30-26)
1 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass

The Pacers enter this weekend ranked ninth in the East and are a near-lock to do no worse than the Play-In Tournament as they are up five games on the 11th and 12th seeds. But Indiana does have a chance to improved their standing – to either get into the Seven-Eight Game of the Play-In or climb out of the Play-In altogether and lock up a top six playoff berth. The Pacers are game back of Charlotte for eighth, 1.5 games back of Miami for seventh and two games back of New York for sixth. If Indiana can go on a run – they enter the weekend having won four of their last five games – they can challenge the teams ahead of them and try to reach the top six.

The Hawks currently sit in fourth in the East thanks to owning the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Celtics as the two teams enter the weekend with matching 30-26 records. However, the Celtics have won five straight games so they do present a serious challenge for the Hawks’ goal of holding the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Neither team will likely challenge Milwaukee, which has a 5.5 game lead on both teams and just got the two-time reigning MVP back in the lineup. Instead, the Hawks need to keep winning to keep the teams right behind them in their rearview. In addition to being tied with Boston, the Hawks are up only one game on New York for sixth and 1.5 games up on the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat for seventh.

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