SportsTips’ NBA Power Rankings 2021: Play-In Tournament

SportsTips’ NBA Power Rankings 2021: Play-In Tournament
Mon 17th May 2021

The 72 game regular season has been completed and only 20 teams remain. Our NBA Power Rankings sorts through the remaining teams to see who is in the best form, has favorable matchups and is most likely to continue to the next round.

Philadelphia and Utah remain the top two teams but there is a lot of chopping and changing beneath them, including the Knicks in sixth and the Mavs down in 10th.

Here’s where the remaining 20 NBA teams stand heading into the 2020-21 NBA season’s play-in tournament:

1. Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Championship Odds: +800
Final 2020-21 Record: 49-23
Postseason Seed: 1st – East
Previous Ranking: 1

Despite an interesting and alarming week, the Sixers did enough to hold on to the top seed in the East and get an easier draw through the first few weeks of the playoffs. Losses in Indiana and Miami to start the week shows this team isn’t bulletproof, but Joel Embiid didn’t play against the Pacers and they won’t have to face the Heat until the Conference Finals, if both teams make it. 

Philadelphia now waits to see the outcome of the play-in games, hosting the winner of ‘Game 5’. That game will be played between the loser of Boston v Washington and the winner of Indiana v Charlotte. The main positive for the Sixers is that they get a week off to prepare for the first round while their opponent has to play two game seven-like matches during the week just to make it. 

2. Utah Jazz

NBA Championship Odds: +600
Final 2020-21 Record: 52-20
Postseason Seed: 1st – West
Previous Ranking: 2

While they left the door for Phoenix to overtake them slightly open, with losses to Golden State and Portland to start the week, Utah ultimately did what they needed to. Wins over the Thunder and Kings, all with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley still watching from the sidelines, meant that the Jazz finished the regular season with the best record in the league.

The Jazz now get a week off, giving their stars to get healthy and ready for the first round of the playoffs. Their opponent will be tough though, with the Lakers, Warriors, Grizzlies and Spurs being the four play-in teams. Utah would go in confidently against all of those teams, but given they just lost to the Warriors, they will definitely have a preference of who ends up eighth. 

3. Brooklyn Nets

NBA Championship Odds: +210
Final 2020-21 Record: 48-24
Postseason Seed: 2nd – East
Previous Ranking: 6

The final week of the regular season was a spectacular one for the Nets, going 4-0 but more importantly welcoming back James Harden into the lineup. After missing five weeks, Harden returned for two games and allowed Brooklyn’s Big 3 to get on the court together yet again, a 105-91 win over Chicago. 

Brooklyn now waits to see the winner of Tuesday night’s 7v8 play-in game between the Celtics and Wizards to see who they host in the opening round. The Nets swept the season series against the Celtics but went just 1-2 against the Wizards, including losing one at home. The Nets would prefer the Celtics, but wouldn’t Russ v Durant & Harden be exciting…

4. Los Angeles Clippers

NBA Championship Odds: +600
Final 2020-21 Record: 47-25
Postseason Seed: 4th – West
Previous Ranking: 5

Despite heading into the postseason with two straight losses and finishing fourth in the West, the Clippers move up in our NBA Power Rankings. LA had a plan for how they wanted their postseason to look and it played out perfectly. Resting their players for the last two games of the season, despite the three-seed still up for grabs, means that the Clippers get an easy run to the Conference Finals. 

With the Clippers holding on to fourth, they face Dallas in the first round, a team they have a mental edge over and seem to have their number whenever they face. Assuming they win that, they face the vulnerable Jazz in the second round, easier than the Suns, Lakers or Blazers that could have potentially been on offer. 

5. Phoenix Suns

NBA Championship Odds: +2400
Final 2020-21 Record: 51-21
Postseason Seed: 2nd – West
Previous Ranking: 4

The Phoenix Suns had a spectacular season, going from finishing 10th in the West last season to having the second best record in the league. A road loss to Golden State raised alarm bells but their ability to fight out a close win over the Blazers right after rectified that. 

Their prize for having such a great season and finishing second, facing either LeBron James and the Lakers or Steph Curry and the Warriors. The second seed faces the winner of the 7v8 play-in game and the cards have fallen terribly for Phoenix. While they will have home court advantage, both the Lakers and Warriors have much more postseason experience and pedigree. 

6. New York Knicks

NBA Championship Odds: +12000
Final 2020-21 Record: 41-31
Postseason Seed: 4th – East
Previous Ranking: 9

The New York Knicks won their last three games of the regular season and it allowed them to hold on to fourth in the East, meaning they host an opening round playoff series. The Knicks have played incredibly this season, especially from a betting perspective, and now have a favorable home matchup with the Hawks. 

New York swept the season series with Atlanta, two wins at home and one win on the road, meaning they should go in with a bunch of confidence. What is even better for the Knicks is that they get a week off to prepare. That will be important for the entire roster but especially Julius Randle, who led the league in minutes for the season.

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7. Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Championship Odds: +800
Final 2020-21 Record: 46-26
Postseason Seed: 3rd – East
Previous Ranking: 3

A blowout loss in San Antonio to start the week meant that the Bucks couldn’t steal the second seed from Brooklyn. While they still finished third in the East, it means they set up a matchup with none other than the Miami Heat, the team that eliminated them in the second round last season.

Milwaukee did beat Miami at home on Saturday, but Jimmy Butler didn’t play for the Heat, and we know how much of a difference he makes. Milwaukee are a much different team to the one that was prematurely eliminated last season, but their postseason demons have to be lingering on their minds. 

8. Denver Nuggets

NBA Championship Odds: +3600
Final 2020-21 Record: 47-25
Postseason Seed: 3rd – West
Previous Ranking: 8

The Nuggets may have had a 3-1 week and ended up third in the Western Conference, but there are some alarming signs. With the third seed still up for grabs on the final day, Denver started their normal starting five but was blown out of the water by Portland, including a 22-43 first quarter. 

Their opponent in the opening round of the playoffs, Portland. Denver did win the season series 2-1, including a win in Portland, but Sunday’s performance was worrying. Giving up 43 points in the first quarter is inexcusable for a playoff team. The Nuggets have now lost three straight and four of their last five against opponents with records above 0.500 and the loss of Jamal Murray might be at its worst right now. 

9. Portland Trail Blazers

NBA Championship Odds: +5500
Final 2020-21 Record: 42-30
Postseason Seed: 6th – West
Previous Ranking: 11

Finishing the regular season in Utah, in Phoenix and against Denver was never going to be easy but Portland did what they needed to. A 2-1 record in those three games meant that the Blazers avoided the play-in and now play the Nuggets in the opening round. 

Over their last 12 games, Portland has gone 10-2 and Damian Lillard has averaged over 30 points per game. The Blazers finished last year’s season on fire before being laughed out of the first round by the Lakers, and that will be a massive driving force behind their postseason play this year. 

10. Dallas Mavericks

NBA Championship Odds: +4200
Final 2020-21 Record: 42-30
Postseason Seed: 5th – West
Previous Ranking: 7

The Dallas Mavericks were lucky to survive the last week of the season. A loss to Memphis to start the week left the possibility of being forced into the play-in wide open, but due to claiming the Southwest Division title the Mavs survived. 

Despite finishing on the same record as both Portland and the Lakers, their division title meant the Mavs held on for fifth. That sets up an opening round rematch of last season against the Clippers. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Mavs managed to steal two games from the Clippers and with a healthy roster, including Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas will be hoping to turn that result around.

11. Atlanta Hawks

NBA Championship Odds: +10000
Final 2020-21 Record: 41-31
Postseason Seed: 5th – East
Previous Ranking: 10

Finishing the regular season on a four game winning streak has seen the Hawks finish with the equal-fourth best record in the East. Unfortunately they were swept by the Knicks during the regular season and were dropped down to fifth as a result of the tiebreaker. 

They face New York in the opening round of the playoffs, and despite being swept should have a lot of confidence. The Hawks were on track to beat the Knicks, in New York, in their most recent matchup before Trae Young turned his ankle late in the third quarter. Young is back to full health and playing incredible basketball alongside his new backcourt buddy in Bogdan Bogdanovic. 

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12. Miami Heat

NBA Championship Odds: +3000
Final 2020-21 Record: 40-32
Postseason Seed: 6th – East
Previous Ranking: 12

The Miami Heat find themselves exactly where they were at the end of last season, sixth in the East. That is where this team wants to be, on the wrong side of the odds, the underdogs. However their 40-32 record isn’t all that it is made out to be. Jimmy Butler missed 20 games for the Heat this season. Miami went just 7-13 in those games. 

That means that in the 52 games he played they went 33-19, and extrapolated over a 72 game season, Miami would have finished in fourth, just half a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks, their opening round opponent. Miami eliminated the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs last season and only needed six games to do so. As long as Butler plays, this team has life, grit and determination and isn’t scared of anybody.

13. Golden State Warriors

NBA Championship Odds: +16000
Final 2020-21 Record: 39-33
Postseason Seed: 8th – West
Previous Ranking: 13

The Golden State Warriors are the highest ranked play-in team in our NBA Power Rankings. They end the regular season with the longest active winning streak, six games, and have beaten the likes of Utah, Phoenix and Memphis in the last seven days. 

They now travel to LA to face LeBron James and the Lakers in the 7v8 play-in game where the winner will face the Suns and the loser must play for their life against the winner of the Grizzlies and Spurs game. Golden State stole the first game between the two sides during the regular season, in LA too, but were blown out in the most recent two and will have to be at the top of their games to pick up the win. 

14. Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Championship Odds: +500
Final 2020-21 Record: 42-30
Postseason Seed: 7th – West
Previous Ranking: 15

A 4-0 week was all the Lakers could do but unfortunately results didn’t go their way. LA finished on the same record as the Mavs and Blazers but lost the season series to both sides and ended up seventh, in the play-in, because of it. 

The positive is that LeBron James and Anthony Davis played together and played well in their last two games of the season. That should give the Lakers confidence heading into Wednesday’s 7v8 play-in game against the Warriors, a team they beat two out of three times during the regular season.

15. Washington Wizards

NBA Championship Odds: +25000
Final 2020-21 Record: 34-38
Postseason Seed: 8th – East
Previous Ranking: 14

Everything seems to have fallen exactly as the Wizards planned. While they lost the first two games of the week, they finished with wins over Cleveland and Charlotte, the latter of which allowed them to secure eighth in the East. On top of that, Bradley Beal returned from a hamstring complaint that kept him out for three straight and his inclusion will be massive in the play-in games. 

Getting up to eighth allows Washington to have a double chance at making the playoffs, but they may not need it. Their 7v8 matchup is against the Celtics, who are limping into the postseason and could easily be defeated on Tuesday night. If the Wizards were to win that, it would set up a opening round playoff series against the Nets. If not, they host the winner of the Pacers v Hornets game, two sides they have gone 3-0 against in the last 14 days. 

16. Memphis Grizzlies

NBA Championship Odds: +19000
Final 2020-21 Record: 38-34
Postseason Seed: 9th – West
Previous Ranking: 18

The Grizzlies enter the postseason with incredible form, going 5-1 over their last six games and only losing to the red-hot Warriors over that stretch. Jaren Jackson Jr seems to be back to full health and has been an incredible addition to the Memphis front court, complimenting the play of Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks nicely. 

However, their loss to the Warriors means they finish ninth in the West and host the Spurs in an elimination play-in game on Wednesday night. Memphis won the season series 2-1 against San Antonio, winning the two most recent clashes by a combined 48 points. They will go in as favorites for that, and if they are able to win they get the prize of playing another elimination play-in game against the loser of the Lakers v Warriors game. How fun!

17. Boston Celtics

NBA Championship Odds: +13000
Final 2020-21 Record: 36-36
Postseason Seed: 7th – East
Previous Ranking: 16

The Boston Celtics are lucky that they played well enough at home and early in the season to hang on for seventh. Two weeks ago the Celtics were in the race to finish fourth in the East but Jaylen Brown went down and so did Boston’s postseason chances. 

The Celtics enter a 7v8 play-in game against the Wizards having won just one of their last six games and are far from convincing as a playoff team. Boston did win the season series 2-1 but the sides haven’t played in over 10 weeks and the Celtics are obviously much worse than they were before. They still have Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, but is it enough?

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18. Indiana Pacers

NBA Championship Odds: +25000
Final 2020-21 Record: 34-38
Postseason Seed: 9th – East
Previous Ranking: 20

The Pacers have been one of the more ridiculed teams in the league and justifiably going from fourth to ninth in the East. However, playing the entire season without TJ Warren, most of it without Myles Turner and then Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon also missing massive chucks, they haven’t really had a team to put out there. 

Finishing ninth means that the Pacers host the Hornets in a win-or-go-home play-in game. Indiana finished just 13-23 at home for the season, so home court advantage isn’t much of a bonus for them, especially when they lost the season series 1-2 to Charlotte. If Sabonis, LeVert and Brogdon can all get out there on Tuesday, the Pacers have a chance, but there is no certainty that all three can.

19. San Antonio Spurs

NBA Championship Odds: +25000
Final 2020-21 Record: 33-39
Postseason Seed: 10th – West
Previous Ranking: 21

The Spurs are another team limping into the postseason, losing their last four games and looking like a team that should already be on holiday. The 33-39 record is slightly better than last season’s results but it doesn’t mean anything if they miss the playoffs for a second straight year. 

Their path to the playoffs is an elimination game in Memphis followed by, if they beat the Grizzlies, an elimination game in Los Angeles, against the Lakers, or in San Francisco, against the Warriors. They will go in as underdogs against Memphis on Wednesday night, but can their superior playoff experience get them over the line?

20. Charlotte Hornets

NBA Championship Odds: +25000
Final 2020-21 Record: 33-39
Postseason Seed: 10th – East
Previous Ranking: 17

Charlotte is struggling. They have lost their last five games, the equal-third worst active streak in the league and see themselves drop to 10th in the East because of it. It all could have changed if they beat the Wizards on Sunday afternoon but it wasn’t to be. 

To make matters worse, Gordon Hayward is ‘unlikely’ to play in the play-in games meaning that Charlotte will be without their most experienced player, on the road, against an Indiana side that went 3-2 last week and was in the playoffs just last season. Can rookie LaMelo Ball lead his side to postseason success or will it have to wait for another year?

*Odds correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel.

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Tim is a keen follower of all American sports, in particular the NBA and NFL. He has followed both sports for over a decade and would happily sit down and watch every game, regardless of who is playing! No matter the sport, whether it be NFL and NBA or even MLB, NHL, UFC and all sports, Tim covers it from every angle, staying in the loop to bring you the most up-to-date information and the best picks and predictions on the market.