NBA

Predicting how will the 2021 NBA Playoff race shape out at the end of the season

vanvleet-curry-morant-ftr.jpeg
Fred VanVleet, Stephen Curry, Ja Morant [NBA Getty Images]

With approximately 20 games remaining in the 2020-21 regular season, there are still plenty of playoff seeds up for grabs in each conference.

Teams are battling for position in the standings, aiming for one of the highly coveted top six seeds to try and avoid this year's Play-In Tournament between seed Nos. 7-through-10.

Which teams will land in that top six range and dodge the Play-In Tournament? Which teams will sneak in to those bottom four seeds and have to fight for one of the two final playoff spots?

Our NBA.com staff tries to predict the future and guess where teams will land in the playoff picture at season's end.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_):

Seed Eastern Conference Seed Western Conference
1. Nets 1. Jazz
2. 76ers 2. Clippers
3. Bucks 3. Suns
4. Heat 4. Nuggets
5. Celtics 5. Lakers
6. Hawks 6. Blazers
7. Knicks 7. Mavericks
8. Hornets 8. Warriors
9. Pacers 9. Spurs
10. Raptors 10. Grizzlies

The East is tough to decipher with how close those middle-of-the-pack teams are in the standings. But with that being said, I still I think the Heat and Celtics are still the two best teams of that group and in 20 games' time, will eventually float to the top and get themselves out of the Play-In Tournament range. It wasn't easy deciding that last Play-In Game either though, as it appears the Raptors, Bulls and Pacers will need all 72 games to decide who gets the final two spots. Since Toronto and Indiana have the experience, that's how I elected to make my decision.

As for the West, the hardest decision came in deciding where to place the group of Clippers, Suns, Nuggets and Lakers. This isn't to say that none of the aforementioned could catch the Jazz, I just think Utah is built for the regular season and will continue to run the table in the West's top seed. As for the rest, it heavily depends on when Los Angeles gets LeBron James and Anthony Davis back. Assuming they'll play it safe and wait until the last possible moment, I see the Lakers sliding in behind the rest of that pack, with the Clippers leaping the Suns due to Tankathon ranking them the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21):

Seed Eastern Conference Seed Western Conference
1. Nets 1. Jazz
2. 76ers 2. Suns
3. Bucks 3. Clippers
4. Heat 4. Nuggets
5. Celtics 5. Trail Blazers
6. Hornets 6. Lakers
7. Hawks 7. Mavericks
8. Knicks 8. Grizzlies
9. Bulls 9. Warriors
10. Raptors 10. Pelicans

Like Kyle said, deciphering a lot of these teams is a harder task than I imagined. In the East, it's pretty clear who the top three is going to be but I felt pretty confident in maintaining that the Nets would remain at the top with those next two teams falling into place.

I didn't look at Kyle's before I completed my 10 but I'm not surprised that we agree that Miami and Boston are a class above the remaining East teams, though I did differ in opinion in thinking that Terry Rozier will be enough to keep Charlotte out of the play-in while it awaits the return of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. As for the rest of the East, all I feel like I really need to explain is that I still believe in Toronto.

In the West, I think the Jazz will continue their regular-season dominance while Chris Paul will strengthen his MVP case by leading Phoenix to a top-two finish. It wasn't intentional but looking back, the Lakers falling to six would give us the across-the-hall playoff series we've been clamouring for, just a few rounds early.

Based on the trajectory its been going, I see San Antonio falling out of the playoff picture, making the way for the New Orleans Pelicans to emerge into the conversation and Zion Williamson and Stephen Curry sharing that stage would be a sight to see.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694):

Seed Eastern Conference Seed Western Conference
1. Nets 1. Jazz
2. 76ers 2. Suns
3. Bucks 3. Nuggets
4. Heat 4. Clippers
5. Celtics 5. Mavericks
6. Hornets 6. Trail Blazers
7. Pacers 7. Lakers
8. Bulls 8. Grizzlies
9. Knicks 9. Spurs
10. Raptors 10. Warriors

Starting with the East, the top three teams were easy picks but their order wasn't. I've gone with the heavily-stacked Nets and 76ers as one and two with the Bucks rounding up at three. Below them is where all the logjam lies and I believe last year's Finalists - the Miami Heat - will finish out on top as the fourth seed.

Among the rest, with 20 games remaining, I'm picking experience and talent over record. That's what factored into my predictions for the final East standings with the Celtics and Pacers climbing.

In the West, I believe the Jazz and Suns will continue their regular-season form to finish as a top two seed. I've got the Nuggets as the biggest risers and expect the Lakers to take the biggest fall - right into the top Play-in spot. Denver is unbeaten since the Aaron Gordon acquisition and look absolutely lethal, meanwhile, Los Angeles has announced no timetable so far, for the returns of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Among the final West spots, I have belief in the three teams that are currently eight, nine and 10 in the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Warriors, respectively.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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