KEY POINTS

  • The Lakers will have trouble earning a top-six seed
  • The Celtics are expected to finish behind the Heat in the standings.
  • Los Angeles and Golden State could be headed for a play-in tournament matchup.

A few of the NBA’s marquee teams probably won't to clinch a 2021 playoff berth in the final week of the regular season. With only a handful of games left on the schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics are all likely going to compete in the league’s new play-in tournament.

Shortly before the start of the season, the Lakers, Warriors and Celtics were among the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. Now, all three teams will probably have work to do after the regular season is complete just to solidify their spot in the playoff picture.

The top six seeds in each conference will head straight to the postseason. Teams seeded No. 7-10 will enter the play-in tournament. 

The Lakers and Celtics are the NBA’s No. 7 seeds with four games left. The Warriors are the West’s No. 8 seed with three games remaining. 

Boston trails the No. 6 seed Miami Heat by two games in the standings. A win for the Heat would virtually end any chance of the team finishing behind the Celtics. Miami defeated Boston with ease Sunday, and All-Star forward Jaylen Brown is done for the season with a wrist injury.

The Celtics will end the season with a three-game road trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks. New York is three games ahead of Boston as the No. 4 seed in the East.

The Eastern Conference Finals have featured the Celtics in three of the last four years, including last season’s playoffs. The Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals in the bubble and were named heavy favorites to repeat at the start of this season.

Injuries to both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have turned the defending champs into a losing team over the last three months. The Lakers are 1.5 games behind the No. 6 seed Portland Trail Blazers. Portland owns the tiebreaker over Los Angeles.

Davis has returned from a calf and Achilles injury. James’ return from a high ankle sprain only lasted two games before he was sidelined again, though the four-time NBA Finals MVP is reportedly feeling better and expected to play Tuesday or Wednesday.

After beating the Utah Jazz on Monday, the Warriors are in line to play the Lakers in the first round of the play-in tournament.

The No. 7 and No. 8 seed in each conference will meet with a playoff berth on the line. The loser of that contest will face the winner of the game between the No. 9 and No. 10 seed, vying for the final postseason spot.

The Warriors are a half-game ahead of the No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the No. 10 seed San Antonio Spurs. The No. 11 seed New Orleans Pelicans are almost out of contention.

Golden State is set to host the Pelicans and Phoenix Suns. The regular-season finale between the Warriors and Grizzlies could decide the West’s No. 8 seed.

Stephen Curry has carried Golden State, arguably playing the best basketball of his career. The two-time MVP is averaging 35.0 points on 22.7 field-goal attempts per game since the All-Star break.

Before Klay Thompson suffered a torn Achilles in November, most betting sites listed the Warriors as championship contenders.

LeBron James Stephen Curry Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives against LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images