What’s at stake on the NBA season’s final day?


As the regular season comes to a close, each team has something to play for: seeding or draft picks. 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 Saturday’s games

Play-in games to be held May 18-21.

How the play-in tournament will work

Current NBA standings


Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte Hornets at No. 7 Boston Celtics — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs; loser moves on in play-in

Game 2: No. 10 Washington Wizards at No. 9 Indiana Pacers — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated

Game 3: Wizards/Pacers winner at Celtics/Hornets loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs


Game 1: No. 8 Golden State Warriors at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs; loser moves on in play-in

Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio Spurs at No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated

Game 3: Grizzlies/Spurs winner at Lakers/Warriors loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs

Here’s a breakdown of the matchups and what the results will mean:

While the Indiana Pacers can no longer finish in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday afternoon, a win against the tanking Toronto Raptors on Sunday will ensure that Indiana hosts the 9-10 game in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament on Tuesday night. However, a loss will mean that Indiana will either be traveling to Charlotte or Washington as the 10th seed in the East. — Tim Bontemps

After Washington beat Cleveland on Friday night, and the Charlotte Hornets lost in overtime to the New York Knicks on Saturday, the game between the Wizards and Hornets on Sunday afternoon has become the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The winner will become the eighth seed and the loser will likely become locked into the 10th seed, assuming a Pacers victory over the Raptors. — Bontemps

In a rematch of Saturday’s contest, the Suns will look once again to topple the Spurs as they continue their quest for the No. 1 seed. The Suns will also need another victory and have to hope Utah slips up against the Sacramento Kings in a later game in order to overtake the Jazz for the top spot. Phoenix cannot fall any lower than second.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are set in the 10th spot so they could once again opt to rest players, as they did with DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl on Saturday. — Andrew Lopez

The winner becomes the eighth seed in the Western Conference. That is a major difference because the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies would end up with two chances at a playoff berth.

Win on Sunday and they can try to claim the seventh seed in the play-in tournament. The loser of The loser of Sunday’s game must win two straight games in order to qualify for the postseason. — Nick Friedell

The simplest path to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference is for Brooklyn to win both of their games this weekend. Brooklyn took care of the first half of that equation with their win over the Bulls on Saturday afternoon.

Now, the Nets will watch and see what happens between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The outcome of that game not only affects the Nets’ playoff seeding — if the Bucks lose on Saturday, it secures the No. 2 seed for Brooklyn — but it has an effect on who Steve Nash may elect to hold out of Sunday’s contest with the Cavaliers. Nash said he prefers not to play — James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant — all who have a history of injury — on Sunday. If the Nets’ can lock up their seeding on Sunday night, the decision to rest those players becomes easier. — Malika Andrews

The Dallas Mavericks know they’ll face either the Denver Nuggets or LA Clippers in the first round, but they won’t have any clarity before tip-off on how the result of their regular-season finale will determine their playoff matchup. A win over the Timberwolves will clinch the fifth seed for the Mavs, but the Clippers will be the fourth seed if they manage to lose to the Thunder or if the Nuggets beat the Trail Blazers. Dallas could also lose and see the Clippers in the 3-6 matchup. A Mavs win, Clippers win and Nuggets loss would result in a Denver versus Dallas 4-5 matchup.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, whose pick goes to the Golden State Warriors if it doesn’t land in the top three, are currently tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fifth-worst record, one loss less than the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. — MacMahon

The Los Angeles Lakers can play their way out of the play-in tournament with a little help from the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. If L.A. beats the New Orleans Pelicans and the Nuggets beat the Blazers, L.A. will end up as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. If they lose, they’ll host a play-in game Wednesday against either Golden State or Memphis.

New Orleans will be without their young superstar Zion Williamson, who has missed the last five games with a fractured left index finger. The Pelicans have already been eliminated from postseason contention. — Dave McMenamin

After the Clippers sat virtually every member of their rotation and lost to the Houston Rockets, on Friday night the Clippers can lock up the fourth seed in the West — and likely avoid their cross-the-hall rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, until the Western Conference finals — with a loss to Oklahoma City. The fourth seed would all but guarantee the Clippers and Lakers would not meet until the conference finals — if both teams advance that far.

On the other hand, the Thunder are going to be desperate to lose once more in order to ensure they finish no worse than tied for third with the Magic in the lottery standings. Oklahoma City has gotten quite good at losing over the past several weeks, going 1-23 since April 1. — Bontemps

For the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s not complicated: Beat the Denver Nuggets, get a top six seed. A loss opens the door for the Los Angeles Lakers to grab it (should they beat the Pelicans), which would be a crushing finish to what has been a solid two week run for Portland.

The Blazers can even move up to fifth if the Dallas Mavericks lose to Minnesota, by virtue of a tiebreaker in hand. Who Portland would play in the first round is complex, and it involves Denver

If the Blazers win on Sunday, the Nuggets would fall to fourth, but only if the Thunder also beat the Clippers. If the Clippers win, they’re the three and the Nuggets are fourth no matter what. And with the Lakers potentially looming as the six-seed, moving to the three may not seem that appealing. — Royce Young

After Philadelphia beat Orlando on Friday night, the Sixers enter Sunday’s game with nothing to play for, having already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Magic, on the other hand, have everything to lose for. Losing Sunday’s game will ensure Orlando finishes no worse than in a tie for third in the NBA’s Draft Lottery next month with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Magic are one of several teams at the bottom of the standings that may be trying their best to lose one final time before heading home for the summer. — Bontemps

It’s simple for the Utah Jazz: A win over the Sacramento Kings claims the West’s top seed, regardless of the Suns’ result against the Spurs. It would also give the Jazz the outright best record in the league for the first time in franchise history. (Utah tied for the NBA’s best record in 1997-98 and 1998-99.) The Jazz will finish at least tied for the NBA’s best record no matter what, but the Suns own the tiebreaker over them, so a loss to the Kings could cause Utah to slip to the second seed.

The Kings, currently tied with the Pelicans for the ninth-worst record, will land between eighth and 10th in the lottery odds. — Tim MacMahon

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