NBA playoff watch – Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers clinch berths

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 following Monday’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 at No. 7 Boston — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs

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

Game 3: Washington/Indiana winner at Boston/Charlotte loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs


Game 1: No. 8 Golden State at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs

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

Game 3: Memphis/San Antonio winner at Lakers/Golden State loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs

Teams that have clinched

Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Tuesday and what the results mean for the seedings:



Goran Dragic drains three straight 3-pointers to build the Heat’s lead over the Celtics.

The Boston Celtics are all but guaranteed to be in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament.

After losing for a second straight time at Boston’s TD Garden to the Miami Heat in the span of three days — in what was also Boston’s fourth loss in its last five games — the Celtics are now either one more loss or one Knicks’ victory from being locked into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference standings.

Miami, on the other hand, kept pace with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, its rivals in the race for the fourth, fifth and sixth spots in the East standings — a battle that could go right down to the final day of the season. The win leaves the Heat having clinched a playoff berth, tied with the Hawks, and a half-game back of the Knicks — again, pending New York’s game later tonight in Los Angeles. If the Knicks lose, all three teams will have identical 38-31 records with three games to go, setting up a frenetic race to the finish to see who will avoid getting either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

Adding to the confusion is the jumbled-up tiebreaker scenarios in play, as the Heat have the tiebreaker over the Knicks, Atlanta has the edge over Miami and New York has the tiebreaker with Atlanta.

If all three finish the season with the same record, Atlanta would finish fourth by virtue of winning the Southeast Division, followed by Miami in fifth and New York in sixth. — Tim Bontemps

If the rest of the season goes anything like Tuesday night did for the Lakers, then maybe they will avoid the play-in tournament after all.

The Lakers fought back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime on a Wesley Matthews putback with 3.1 seconds to go in regulation, and then Talen Horton-Tucker‘s go-ahead 3 with 25.1 seconds left in OT clinched it.



Talen Horton-Tucker drains a 3-pointer late in overtime, and the Knicks don’t have an answer as the Lakers prevail.

L.A. is currently in the No. 7 spot and can still move up, trailing the No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers and No. 6 Dallas Mavericks by a game each. Since Portland and Dallas both own the tiebreaker over the Lakers, L.A. will have to win two more games than either of those teams do over the final three to take over the spot. If the Lakers go 3-0 versus Houston, Indiana and New Orleans while Portland goes 1-2 or worse versus Utah, Phoenix and Denver or Dallas goes 1-2 or worse versus New Orleans, Toronto and Minnesota, they can overtake the No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in round.

Meanwhile, the New York Knicks will have to wait to become officially playoff bound. New York could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2013 with a win over Lakers, but are now No. 6 in the Eastern Conference with three games left to play. The Knicks have an identical record to the No. 4 Miami Heat and No. 5 Atlanta Hawks, however.

The thought of Madison Square Garden hosting Game 1 of a playoff series again — even if the arena is operating far below capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions — is still in play. And oh what a sight that would be.

The Denver Nuggets kept the pressure on and took care of the Charlotte Hornets, but the LA Clippers still maintain a one-game lead over the Nuggets for third seed in the West.

The Clippers still aren’t playing their best basketball yet as they continue to find their rhythm as the postseason nears, but they didn’t need to against a Toronto team playing without Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, among others.

Ty Lue cares more about developing his team’s chemistry than seeding at this point. Both the Clippers and Nuggets, who own the tiebreaker against LA, have three games remaining in the season. It’s not even clear who the Clippers or Nuggets will play, whether at third or fourth.

The Clippers handled Dallas in the postseason last year and they swept the Blazers in three games this regular season. They’ve held Damian Lillard in relative check this season.

But, of course, the entire Western Conference will be watching to see where the Lakers end up and if they can somehow move up to six which could make things very interesting for the Clippers or Nuggets. – Ohm Youngmisuk



Dillon Brooks fleeces the ball from Luka Doncic and takes it to the hoop for a slam.

The Dallas Mavericks slipped to sixth in the West with a 133-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, snapping a four-game winning streak. Dallas dropped to even with the Trail Blazers in the standings with 40-29 records, but Portland owns the tiebreaker between the teams.

The Grizzlies temporarily pulled even with the Warriors for eighth place in the West, pending Golden State’s late game against the Suns.

The eighth and ninth spots in the West — the difference between having two chances in the play-in tournament to win a playoff bid and needing two wins to do so — could be determined when Memphis and Golden State meet on the final day of the regular season Sunday. The teams split their first two meetings, so that game in San Francisco determines the tiebreaker if the Grizzlies and Warriors wind up with the same record. –Tim MacMahon



Caris LeVert nails a step-back 3-pointer in the final minute of the Pacers’ win over the 76ers.

With a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t close on the road against the Indiana Pacers, leaving Thursday against the Heat as a potential clincher.

Their situation is solid, though, with two games up on the Nets in the loss column with three to go, two of which are against Orlando. And the 1-seed isn’t just about history (it would be the first time in 20 years the Sixers had it) or the home court advantage throughout (which is big, of course). It’s about the bracket and how one side is considerably tilted. Being the 1-seed puts you on the opposite side of the Nets and Bucks, leaving a matchup against one of them for the conference finals. It opens the door to a 4-5 second round series against (currently) either the Hawks or Knicks.

For the Pacers, it’s a massive win as they officially have clinched a play-in spot. Where is yet to be determined as they’re tied with the Hornets for 8th. They close with the Bucks, Lakers and Raptors, so it won’t be easy to move up, but getting to 8 is significant as it removes the win-or-go home nature of the 9-10 matchup.

The Hornets own the tiebreaker with Indiana, so to lock down the 8 spot, the scenarios are straightforward: 3-0, they’re the 8 if Charlotte loses once; 2-1, they’re 8 if Charlotte loses twice; 1-2, Charlotte needs to lose all three. And if you’re wondering, the Hornets close with the Clippers, Knicks and Wizards. — Royce Young



Andrew Wiggins spins in for a clutch floater as Draymond Green celebrates with a mean mug.

Andrew Wiggins put together the type of performance on Tuesday night that the Warriors were confident he could have when they acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Wiggins poured in 38 points in 40 minutes in a 122-116 win over the Phoenix Suns.

It was a win the Warriors needed to stay a half game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the West after they rolled over the Dallas Mavericks — but it was the way in which the Warriors did it that will give the group even more confidence heading into the final two regular season games of the season. Not only did the Warriors come from 16 points down, they did so on a night when superstar guard Stephen Curry went just 7-for-22 from the field and 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

For the second night in a row, the Warriors got balanced scoring up and down the roster with Jordan Poole dropping in 20 points for the second straight game and Kent Bazemore having another solid game with 17 points. Draymond Green registered his sixth triple-double of the season and continues to play some of his best basketball of the season. On a night when Curry appeared a little tired and in need of a lift — his teammates were there to provide it for him.

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