The NBA playoffs are expected to begin at the end of May, starting with the play-in tournament, which has undergone a change since last season in the Orlando Bubble. The play-in tournament will involve seeds 7-10 in each conference, participating in a bracket type of format to decide who secures the 7th and 8th seeds from the East and West. If you’re looking for more information on the play-in tourney, head here.
The playoff picture as we approach the end of April remains very tight in each conference. The Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers are all vying for first place in the West. The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and even Milwaukee Bucks have a shot at the 1-seed in the East. Meanwhile, in the middle of the playoff seeding, there are a handful of teams very close in the standings. This should give us plenty of movement prior to the seeding being decided at the end of the regular season.
In this article, we’ll be tracking teams who have clinched a playoff berth in the 2021 postseason, providing a bit of background on how the team got there.
Clinching Scenarios for May 5
When they clinched: April 25
What went right: The Jazz have been one of the most efficient offensive and defensive teams all season long. It also helps when you win 20 of 21 games in a stretch from Jan. 8 to Feb. 17. Up until recently, Utah had also done a good job avoiding injuries.
When they clinched: April 27
How they clinched: The Nets clinched their berth with a win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
What went right: The only thing that has gone wrong for Brooklyn this season has been injuries. Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth sailing for Steve Nash in his first season as coach of the Nets. The team is hopeful Kevin Durant and James Harden will be 100 percent for the playoffs. If that’s the case — considering how well the role players have performed around Kyrie Irving — the Nets are primed to make a run at a title.
When they clinched: April 28
How they clinched: The Sixers clinched their playoff berth with a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
What went right: The hiring of Doc Rivers was expected to help the Sixers return to the postseason. It worked out as well as anybody thought. Now, the question is can Rivers get the Sixers over the hump and deep into the postseason? Joel Embiid has been an MVP candidate all season. Ben Simmons could end up winning Defensive Player of the Year. The addition of Dwight Howard has been huge in the front court as a backup to Embiid. The Sixers also signed shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry before the season. Both players are shooting over 40 percent from downtown.
When they clinched: April 28
How they clinched: The Suns clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
What went right: The acquisition of PG Chris Paul prior to the season looks like the best move all offseason. CP3 has put together an MVP-worthy campaign despite his chances of being a finalist likely being very slim. Both Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton took steps forward in their development. Mikal Bridges was the anchor of one of the top defenses in the NBA. Role players like Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky make the Suns overall one of the scarier teams heading into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers
When they clinched: May 2
How they clinched: The Clippers clinched a berth when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
What went right: Paul George has gone right. He’s having arguably his best NBA season in his second year with Los Angeles. PG-13 has missed plenty of time this season but has been a constant on both ends when he’s healthy. The Clippers are somewhat limping into the playoffs, but they’re also a team that doesn’t care too much about seeding at this point. The Clips are built for the playoffs and need Kawhi Leonard to get over his foot injury.
When they clinched: May 3
How they clinched: The Nuggets clinched a berth after the Portland Trail Blazers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
What went right: The Nuggets were carried most of the season by the eventual MVP in Nikola Jokic. It’s unfortunate that Jamal Murray wasn’t able to see the season through after tearing his ACL. Denver was a bit inconsistent in the first half and figured things out in the second half to jump up into the top 4 in the West. Michael Porter Jr. has stepped up big to become a third and even second option behind Jokic (and Murray when healthy).
When they clinched: May 4
How they clinched: The Bucks clinched their berth with a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
What went right: Not much has technically “gone right” for the Bucks this season. They had expectation that were lofty heading into the regular season, so the fact they’re likely to finish in third place in the East is an underachievement. Milwaukee is a worse defensive team than last season, but the offense and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been able to carry the squad. The lack of depth could mean coach Mike Budenholzer will be forced to play his best players more minutes in the postseason. Perhaps this was calculated ...
When they clinched: May 11
How they clinched: The Heat clinched a playoff berth after defeating the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
What went right: Not much went right, to be honest. The Heat had hopes of finishing in the top half of the playoff picture and that isn’t going to happen (well, more or less). Miami had to sustain a lot of injuries to key rotation players throughout the season, so with that in mind, sure, the Heat did pretty well for themselves. Really, the Heat just played well down the stretch to get in, knowing they needed to avoid the play-in tournament, which they accomplished. Miami is on a 10-3 run right now.