Prior to the start of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, the NBA Board of Governors approved a playoff format that would include a play-in tournament involving the teams that ranked 7th through 10th in each conference.
This is how it works. The top 6 teams in each conference automatically advance to the playoffs. The remaining 8 teams, 4 from each conference compete in a 3-4-game tournament seventh- and eighth-place teams got up to two opportunities to win one game to qualify for the playoffs, while the ninth- and tenth-place teams need to win consecutive games to advance.
With 15-games on the schedule, the season came to its conclusion today. No teams were bounced from the top 10 in each conference, but with a win against the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trailblazers secured the 6th seed and avoided a play-in scenario, and will begin the playoffs against the 3rd seed Los Angeles Clippers.
Portland has made the postseason in eight consecutive seasons, currently the longest active streak in the NBA.
The No. 1 Seed in the West and the East
On April 25, 2021, the Utah Jazz became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and went on to finish the season with the league’s best record, one game better than the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference. Currently, online-gambling.com lists the Utah Jazz at +600 to win their first NBA title.
With a win on the final day of the season, the Philadelphia 76ers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years. The 76ers finished a game in front of the Brooklyn Nets. Philadelphia enters the playoffs as +800 underdogs to capture their first title since the 1982-83 season.
Other Playoff Teams
The Milwaukee Bucks, who ended the season with an impressive 8-2 run finished third, three games behind the 76ers. The Bucks will face the Miami Heat in the first round. The Atlanta Hawks finished tied with the New York Knicks but will be the home team when the two franchises face off in the 1st round. The Knicks return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
In the Western Conference, the Clippers secured the 3rd seed by virtue of a tiebreaker with the Denver Nuggets. Los Angeles will face Portland as the home team in the first round. Denver will face the Dallas Mavericks, who secured the 5th seed by means of the tiebreaker as well.
The Play-in Tournament
Two teams that are accustom to the playoffs find themselves in odd situations. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers both finished 7th in their respective conferences and will need to win at least one more game to advance to the playoffs.
The Celtics will play the 8th seed Washington Wizards, with the loser to play against the winner of the 9th place Indiana Pacers and the 10th place Charlotte Hornets. Out West, the Lakers will play at home vs the Golden State Warriors, with the loser facing the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies game against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Houston Rockets went from a title chase in 2020 to the bottom of the barrel in 2021, joining the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and New Orleans Pelicans as teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Over in the East, the Detroit Pistons finished with the worst record, behind the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, and Chicago Bulls.
NBA Championship Odds
The 2nd seed Brooklyn Nets are headed into the playoffs as the +200 favorite team to lift the Larry O‘Brien trophy. Behind them are the defending Champion Los Angeles Lakers at +400 to repeat, despite not securing a playoff birth. The Los Angeles Clippers +500, followed by the Utah Jazz at +600 round out the top four favorites.
The Philadelphia 76ers are +800 underdogs despite finishing on top of the Eastern Conference. The 3rd seed Milwaukee Bucks are just behind them at +900. In the West, the 2nd seeded Phoenix Suns are at +1400, behind two teams who they finished ahead of during the regular season.
Odds and Notes
The Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks both qualified for their fifth consecutive postseason, the Philadelphia 76ers entered their fourth, and Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and Brooklyn Nets will play in the postseason for the third straight season.
Entering the season, the Los Angeles Lakers were predicted to have a 97.6% chance to finish in the top six spots in the Western Conference. They finished in 7th.
The Toronto Raptors missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
The Houston Rockets missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
The Boston Celtics had odds of 89.4% to finish in the top six last as early as last month. Like the Lakers, they struggled down the stretch and finished in 7th.
The Washington Wizards had odds of 0.2% to finish at No. 7, 1% to complete the season at No. 8 and odds 98.7% to miss the playoffs entirely.