2021 State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament

Play-In Picture: Lakers, Blazers tied heading into Friday showdown

The Play-In picture got remixed again as L.A. and Portland face a crucial showdown in the chase for No. 6 in the West.

Matthew Petersen

State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament: Status as of games played through May 6.

The Lakers’ 2020-21 season feels like a reversal of a popular arena rock standard: they get up, but they get knocked down again.

Anthony Davis, who had played in just 30 games entering Thursday night, exited after only nine minutes of action due to an initially sprained ankle and, ultimately, back spasms. The Lakers immediately fell apart in what should have been a critically acclaimed game against their crosstown rivals. The Clippers led by as many as 25, and never less than 15 after halftime.

And while the outcome was significant for the Clippers (who jumped back to third place in the West), the microscope is fully extended and focused on the defending champs. LeBron James did not play Thursday, and wasn’t even in the building — simply because “he’s just not here,” per Lakers coach Frank Vogel. That raised eyebrows everywhere, as well as L.A.’s desperation entering Friday’s enormous game at Portland (10 ET, ESPN).

It has taken the perfect twist of fate and ankles to get to this point — a must-win, nationally televised battle between two teams tied on the line that separates the playoffs from the State Farm Play-In Tournament. Neither wants anything to do with the latter, where a bad game or two (or an injury) can spell postseason death before it’s allowed a real chance to live.

The Lakers will try to avoid that scenario without James, and possibly Davis depending on how his back responds after a flight to the Northwest.

Portland’s momentum is the polar opposite: They are finally getting healthy, and the results are already showing. The Blazers’ ideal starting five of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Jusuf Nurkic owns a whopping plus-13.8 net rating over 250 minutes played — sixth-best among all lineups with at least 200 minutes.

Yet Portland’s defense still disappears far too frequently, and even a slightly hobbled Anthony Davis could be enough to break it.

Whether that happens or not could determine everything. The winner will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, which could in turn determine which team gets a guaranteed seven-game playoff series — leaving the other to face a far slimmer margin for error.

 

If the State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament started today:

Eastern Conference

  • East 7 (Heat) vs. East 8 (Hornets) | Winner gets No. 7 overall seed
  • East 9 (Pacers) vs. East 10 (Wizards) | Loser is eliminated
  • Loser 7/8 vs. Winner 9/10 | Winner gets No. 8 overall seed

Western Conference

  • West 7 (Trail Blazers) vs. West 8 (Warriors) | Winner gets No. 7 overall seed
  • West 9 (Grizzlies) vs. West 10 (Spurs) | Loser is eliminated
  • Loser 7/8 vs. Winner 9/10 | Winner gets No. 8 overall seed

Playoff picture | Current standings | Play-In Tournament FAQ | NBA playoff history


EASTERN CONFERENCE

5. Atlanta Hawks (–)

Atlanta Hawks LogoRecord: 37-31
Games Ahead (7th): 1.0
*Holds tiebreaker vs. BOS, MIA
Games Back (5th): —

Last Result: 133-126 L @ IND
Next Opponent: vs. WAS on Monday

Atlanta had a chance to create some real cushion over its pursuers on Thursday, but Indiana’s own Play-In desperation proved too strong. The Hawks’ defense — third-worst in the league over the last 10 games — was porous enough to allow 133 points to the Pacers. Atlanta may study that film over a surprising three days off before hosting the Wizards on Monday.

 

6. Boston Celtics (–)

Boston Celtics logo Record: 35-31
Games Ahead (11th): 8
Games Back (6th): —
* Holds tiebreaker vs. MIA

Last Result: 132-96 L @ ORL
Next Opponent: @ BOS on Friday

 

The Celtics are clinging to the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot by a slim tiebreaker margin. They can give themselves some breathing room with a win over Chicago on Friday (7:30 ET, ESPN).


 

7. Miami Heat (–)

Miami Heat logoRecord: 35-31
Games Ahead (11th): 8
Games Back (6th): —
*BOS holds tiebreaker

Last Result: 127-113 L vs. DAL
Next Opponent: vs. MIN on Friday

Dropped back into the Play-In places after the Celtics’ near-40-point beatdown of Orlando, the Heat travel to Boston for a pair of games this week that could decide who sits at home watching the Play-In and who spends the week on edge.

8. Charlotte Hornets (–)

Charlotte Hornets logoRecord: 32-34
Games Ahead (11th): 5.0
Games Back (6th): 3.0

Last Result: 120-99 L vs. CHI
Next Opponent: vs. ORL on Friday

 

The Hornets have faltered despite the return of LaMelo Ball, and now they’re in real danger of sliding into the one-loss-and-you’re-out threat that comes with ninth or 10th place. Charlotte’s lack of interior scoring — the Hornets are a bottom-10 team in paint points — was glaring in Thursday’s loss to Chicago: the Hornets shot just 42.9% in the paint.

 

9. Indiana Pacers (–)

Indiana Pacers logoRecord: 31-35
Games Ahead (11th): 4.0
Games Back (6th): 4.0

Last Result: 133-126 W vs. ATL
Next Opponent: vs. WAS on Saturday

 

Indiana desperately needed good basketball vibes. The team’s lone All-Star and recent acquisition each answered the call. Domantas Sabonis nearly logged a triple-double and Caris LeVert scored however he wanted. That’s a solid formula for Saturday’s crucial matchup against the Wizards, who are nipping at the Pacers’ heels.

 

10. Washington Wizards (–)

Washington Wizards logoRecord: 31-36
Games Ahead (11th): 3.5
Games Back (6th): 4.5

Last Result: 131-129 W @ TOR
Next Opponent: @ IND on Saturday

 

Washington nearly lost its first consecutive games in a month, but survived Pascal Siakam’s 44-point special in overtime. Russell Westbrook’s looming passing of Oscar Robertson in career triple-doubles is running parallel with the Wizards’ Play-In push, which could see them climb as high as eighth place if things break right.

 


 

11. Chicago Bulls (🔼)

Chicago Bulls logoRecord: 27-39
Games Back (10th): 3.5

Last Result: 120-99 W @ CHA
Next Opponent: vs. BOS on Friday

 

 

Chicago is no doubt disappointed Washington pulled out an overtime win over Toronto, but the Bulls can only control their own outcomes. They engineered a refreshing victory over the Hornets on Thursday — that’s easier to do with both their All-Stars available. Nikola Vucevic (29 points, 14 rebounds) was especially dominant, something Chicago needs to be overall to keep their fading Play-In chances alive.

 

11. Toronto Raptors (🔽)

Toronto Raptors logoRecord: 27-40
Games Back (10th): 4.0

Last Result: 131-129 L vs. WAS
Next Opponent: vs. MEM on Saturday

 

 

When you need to make up ground, nothing is more valuable than beating the team you’re trying to chase down. Toronto nearly pulled it off on Thursday after sending the game to overtime. But even Pascal Siakam’s 44 points weren’t enough in the end, and Toronto’s Play-In pulse beats faint at best.

 


WESTERN CONFERENCE

5. Dallas Mavericks (–)

Dallas Mavericks logoRecord: 39-28
Games Ahead (7th): 1.0
*Hold tiebreaker vs. POR
Games Back (5th): —
*Hold tiebreaker vs. LAL

Last Result: 113-109 W vs. BKN
Next Opponent: vs. CLE on Friday

Every win over better teams feels especially huge for these squads, and it’s hard to get bigger than Dallas’ nationally televised victory over the Nets. Tim Hardaway continued to prove why he’s an X-factor for the Mavericks, scoring 23 points on 50% shooting. Dwight Powell is also making more of an impact off the bench, giving Dallas some much-needed punch in the middle. If Kristaps Porzingis returns, the Mavericks — winners of eight of their last 10 — just might begin peaking at the right time.

6. Los Angeles Lakers (–)

Los Angeles Lakers logoRecord: 37-29
Games Ahead (7th): —
*Holds tiebreaker vs. POR
Games Back (5th): 1.0
*DAL holds tiebreaker

Last Result: 118-94 L @ LAC
Next Opponent: @ POR on Friday

Anthony Davis played just nine minutes on Thursday before exiting with back spasms. With LeBron James’ status (sore right ankle) also up in the air, the Lakers could enter their most important game of the season without their two best players. The winner of Friday’s game at Portland (10 ET, ESPN) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker between those two teams, which could mean the difference between the playoffs and the Play-In — quite the fall for the defending champs.

 


 

7. Portland Trail Blazers (–)

Portland Trail Blazers logoRecord: 37-29
Games Ahead (11th): 7.0
Games Back (6th): —
*DAL, LAL hold tiebreakers

Last Result: 141-105 W @ CLE
Next Opponent: vs. LAL on Friday

Portland will have little sympathy for the Lakers’ injury woes after surviving their own. Jusuf Nurkic might be their most important return from the injured list, as he offers the only semi-effective low-post defense the team has. That’s key not just for the Lakers and Anthony Davis, but for almost any matchup they draw in the postseason. The Blazers boast a net rating of plus-5.8 when Nurkic plays — and minus-0.1 when he sits.

 

8. Golden State Warriors (🔼)

Golden State Warriors logoRecord: 34-33
Games Ahead (11th): 3.5
Games Back (6th): 4.5

Last Result: 118-97 W vs. OKC
Next Opponent: vs. OKC on Saturday

 

The Warriors took care of business against Oklahoma City on Thursday, but the most encouraging development for them is a late-season resurgence by Draymond Green. The former Kia Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 8.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks since April 13. A Saturday rematch against the rebuilding Thunder gives Green and the Warriors another opportunity for even more momentum, though they’re likely too far behind seventh place to move up.

 

9. Memphis Grizzlies (🔽)

Memphis Grizzlies logoRecord: 33-33
Games Ahead (11th): 3.0
Games Back (6th): 4

Last Result: 111-97 L @ DET
Next Opponent: @ TOR on Saturday

 

Just as Dallas’ victory over Brooklyn felt like two wins in one, Memphis’ stunning loss at East-worst Detroit weighs more than a normal loss. The Grizzlies’ defense ranked 7th through April 1. It has been 20th since then. Dillon Brooks’ worst shooting performance (nine points, 4-for-16 FG) since March 20 didn’t help. Again, eighth place only needs to win once in the Play-In, while the ninth and 10th-place teams must win two out of two.

 

10. San Antonio Spurs (–)

San Antionio Spurs logoRecord: 31-34
Games Ahead (11th): 1.5
Games Back (6th): 5.5

Last Result: 126-94 L @ UTA
Next Opponent: @ SAC on Friday

 

San Antonio held a commanding lead for 10th at one point, but that cushion has shrunk dramatically thanks to a five-game losing streak. That slide has let the Pelicans close to within two games in the loss column. There is no easy way to fend them off. San Antonio’s remaining games: Sacramento, Portland, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, New York, and Phoenix twice. The Spurs next face the No. 12-seeded Kings on Friday (10 ET, NBA League Pass).

 


 

11. New Orleans Pelicans (–)

New Orleans Pelicans logoRecord: 30-36
Games Back (10th): 1.5

Last Result: 108-103 W vs. GSW
Next Opponent: @ PHI on Friday

 


New Orleans, after a career performance from Lonzo Ball helped close the gap, picked up another half-game with the Spurs’ loss to Utah. A tough matchup with the East-leading Sixers looms Friday (7 ET, NBA League Pass), and the Pelicans will likely have to do it without Brandon Ingram, who left in the third quarter of the win against Golden State on Tuesday with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss the next game.

 

12. Sacramento Kings (–)

Sacramento Kings logoRecord: 29-37
Games Back (10th): 3.5

Last Result: 104-93 W @ IND
Next Opponent: vs. SAS on Friday

 

 

A win over the Pacers on Wednesday has pushed the Kings’ streak to four straight and seven of their last 10, which suddenly puts a premium on Friday’s head-to-head with the Spurs (10 ET, NBA League Pass). Add a victory at that point and things get interesting fast.

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