NBA

NBA Play-In Tournament: Guide to the closest races in the Eastern and Western Conference

After the 2020-21 NBA season ends on May 16, the NBA Play-In Tournament begins on May 18 and will last through May 21, with the 2021 NBA Playoffs beginning on May 22.

For more on how the Play-In Tournament works, we've got you covered here.

MORE: Who is the most dangerous potential Play-In team?

As the regular season winds down, we take stock of the races in each conference through the lens of a few important metrics outside of their record.

The remaining strength of schedule (SOS) is calculated by the cumulative win percentage of the opponents that remain on their schedule, per Tankathon. Tiebreakers are more important than ever in a year where teams are only meeting three times, as each season series will have a winner. The winner of the season series will serve as the tiebreaker should two teams finish with identical records.

Now, onto the playoff races…

Eastern Conference | Western Conference

Through games played on Tuesday, May 11.

Eastern Conference

7. Boston Celtics

Record: 35-35

Remaining SOS: .435

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Hawks, 2-1 vs. Hornets, 1-2 vs. Heat, 1-1 vs. Knicks

In what has been an up and down season plagued by injuries and health and safety protocols for the Celtics, they find themselves hovering around .500. With the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and New York Knicks clinching a spot in the playoffs, however, the Celtics are heading to the Play-In Tournament, where they'll face at least one of the following teams.

Key games: May 16 vs. Knicks

8. Charlotte Hornets

Record: 33-37

Remaining SOS: .558

Tiebreakers: 2-1 vs. Hawks, 1-2 vs. Celtics, 2-1 vs. Pacers, 2-1 vs. Heat, 1-1 vs. Knicks

Injuries have taken a toll on the Hornets, who were without two top performers in LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward for some time. Ball has made his return to action, but it is still unknown when Hayward will retake the floor.

Still, Charlotte has fended for itself, hovering around .500 as the regular season comes to a close.

Key games: May 15 at Knicks

9. Indiana Pacers

Record: 33-37

Remaining SOS: .534

Tiebreakers: 2-1 vs. Hawks, 1-2 vs. Celtics, 1-2 vs. Hornets, 2-1 vs. Heat

The Pacers have had ups and downs this season but seem to have created enough distance to be a Play-In team, if nothing else. Injuries have caused for somewhat of a freefall in the standings but Indiana has gotten some timely wins to remain in the picture.

Key games: May 16 at Raptors

10. Washington Wizards

Record: 32-38

Remaining SOS: .396

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Bulls, 1-2 vs. Raptors

After a rough start to the season, the Wizards have come on strong thanks in large part to the play of their backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.

With a relatively easier schedule than Chicago, Washington could benefit from their strong finish to the season. They'll need to, having lost the season series with Chicago who they're contending with for the final Play-In spot.

Key games: May 16 vs. Hornets

11. Chicago Bulls

Record: 40-40

Remaining SOS: .562

Tiebreakers: 2-0 vs. Raptors, 2-1 vs. Wizards

The Bulls went all-in on becoming a playoff team by acquiring All-Star Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline but things haven't exactly gone as planned. Not only has the team struggled to get going, but it has also been forced to play without its other All-Star in Zach LaVine, who entered the league's health and safety protocols in the middle of April.

LaVine returned following an 11-game absence in Chicago's recent win over the Hornets, scoring 13 points in 27 minutes.

Chicago is benefitting from the fact that it took care of business and owns the tiebreaker over Washington, meaning it has yet to be mathematically eliminated.

Key games: All of them

Western Conference

5. Dallas Mavericks

Record: 41-29

Remaining SOS: .355

Tiebreakers: 2-1 vs. Warriors, 2-1 vs. Grizzlies, 1-2 vs. Trail Blazers

Dallas is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth but the Play-In Tournament still looms as a possibility as they hold a slight lead over the Lakers - the first team in a Play-In seed in the West. With the season drawing to a close, the Mavericks are a win away from solidifying themselves in a top-six spot.

Key games: May 16 at Timberwolves

6. Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 41-30

Remaining SOS: .674

Tiebreakers: 2-1 vs. Mavericks, 2-1 vs. Lakers, 1-2 vs. Grizzlies

Portland has one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league. The Blazers decreased their likelihood of falling to the Play-In Tournament after picking up a huge win over the Lakers to take the season series.

Key games: May 16 vs. Nuggets

7. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 40-30

Remaining SOS: .460

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Mavericks, 1-1 vs. Trail Blazers

The defending champs as a Play-In team? A free fall in the West standings resulting from injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James means it's a realistic outcome.

With just two games remaining, the Lakers' focus should be on getting healthy and ready for whatever will come their way in the postseason.

Key games: All of them

8. Golden State Warriors

Record: 37-33

Remaining SOS: .482

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Mavericks, 1-1 vs. Grizzlies, 1-1 vs. Pelicans, 2-1 vs. Spurs

Stephen Curry has been on another level this season but health will be paramount to the Warriors' ability to make a run for one of the West's final Play-In spots. Golden State's schedule is relatively easier than some of the other teams in the same range in the West but a few tiebreakers are on the line down the stretch.

Their final meeting with the Grizzlies will have a direct bearing on seeding in the West.

Key games: May 14 vs. Pelicans, May 16 vs. Grizzlies

9. Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 37-33

Remaining SOS: .476

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Mavericks, 1-1 vs. Warriors, 1-2 vs. Pelicans, 2-1 vs. Trail Blazers

After falling just shy of the postseason in 2020, Memphis is back in 2021 with yet another prime opportunity to get to the postseason stage. Fuelled by last year's Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant, the man in the middle, Jonas Valanciunas, and the return of Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies have the look and feel of a playoff team.

The winner of the upcoming meeting with the Warriors clinches the West's No. 8 seed.

Key games: May 16 at Warriors

10. San Antonio Spurs

Record: 33-37

Remaining SOS: .647

Tiebreakers: 1-2 vs. Warriors, 1-2 vs. Grizzlies, 2-1 vs. Pelicans

The Spurs will be tested down the stretch.

The Spurs have a matchup with the New York Knicks remaining, followed by a back-to-back with the Phoenix Suns to close the season. The franchise's postseason streak came to an end in 2020 but in 2021, they control their own destiny.

Key games: May 15 and 16 vs. Suns

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