The playoff picture is beginning to take shape as the final week of seeding games begins. Three teams — the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings — have been eliminated from playoff contention, and a Western Conference play-in is officially happening.
The Memphis Grizzlies‘ hold on the No. 8 seed continues to slip while the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns battle them for the last two spots. Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference locked in two first-round series: No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic and No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets.
The remaining matchups will be decided during the next week in Orlando, Florida.
Notes: These rankings are based on which teams the voters — a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors — think belong higher heading into the final week of seeding games. Title odds were provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
The Bucks have clinched the No. 1 seed in the East for the second straight season, but they’ve lost three of their past four games inside the bubble. They can become the sixth team with the best record and the MVP in consecutive seasons, but they need to get in sync for the last three regular-season games if they want to win the championship. — Eric Woodyard
Remaining schedule: TOR, WSH, MEM
Despite an ugly performance against the Celtics on Friday, the Raptors are now 4-1 inside the bubble and have clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference for a second straight season. The Raptors will be hoping for this year’s playoffs — albeit under different circumstances — to play out the same way last year’s did. Toronto will play Brooklyn in the first round when playoffs begin early next week. — Tim Bontemps
Remaining schedule: MIL, PHI, DEN
The Clippers have two games left before the postseason, and their priorities remain the same: get healthy, get whole and improve the chemistry. Patrick Beverley has to put a left calf strain behind him. Montrezl Harrell left Orlando on July 17, and he has to ramp himself back up into postseason shape. The Clippers haven’t been whole almost the entire season. They’ll have to use their first round to get on the same page. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Remaining schedule: DEN, OKC
The Lakers participating in the NBA restart barely resemble the team that was considered a championship favorite back in March. Their offense is last among the 22 teams in Orlando — mustering a measly 100.8 points per game, not helped by shooting 25% from 3 as a team. Anthony Davis has scored less than 10 points in two of L.A.’s six games in Orlando, after having done so only twice in his first 55 games as a Laker. LeBron James has reached his regular-season scoring average of 25.4 points just once and has yet to meet his assists average of 10.3 per game. On the bright side, as coach Frank Vogel has shuffled through new faces Dion Waiters, Markieff Morris, Talen Horton-Tucker and JR Smith while patching up the losses of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, L.A. has still been the third-most efficient defense in the bubble, allowing just 105 points per 100 possessions. — Dave McMenamin
Remaining schedule: DEN, SAC
Bol Bol was all the craze at the start. Now it’s Michael Porter Jr.‘s world. Porter appears ready to contribute and add that electric offensive dimension the Nuggets sorely need this postseason. Taking advantage of a major opportunity with several starters out due to injuries, Porter became a scoring and rebounding machine, with four consecutive double-doubles. Now it’s up to coach Michael Malone to trust the rookie and fit him in, if and when the Nuggets do finally get healthy. — Youngmisuk
Remaining schedule: LAL, LAC, TOR
Houston is 4-1 in the bubble despite Russell Westbrook (thigh contusion) missing two games and Eric Gordon being sidelined since spraining his ankle in the Rockets’ last scrimmage game. The hope is that the Rockets will get both back this week and can find a rhythm before the playoffs begin, possibly with a first-round series against the Thunder — pitting Westbrook against his former team and Chris Paul, who wasn’t happy when the Rockets traded him. — Tim MacMahon
Remaining schedule: SA, IND, PHI
Boston’s week was highlighted by a dominant victory over the Raptors — their likely opponent in the second round of the playoffs — in a game that the Celtics led by 34 points after three quarters. The Celtics are now locked into the third seed in the East and are waiting to see whom they will play among Miami, Indiana and Philadelphia. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: MEM, WSH
The Heat went 1-3 in the bubble last week, but they remain positive given the circumstances. They beat the Celtics without Jimmy Butler — and the All-Star swingman appears to be on track to play Monday against the Indiana Pacers after missing the past three games because of a foot injury. The same goes for veteran Goran Dragic, who missed the past two games because of an ankle injury. And Kendrick Nunn is back with the team after leaving the bubble for personal reasons. The Heat appear to be locked in for two showdowns with T.J. Warren and the Pacers this week — and a first-round series after that. There is no love lost between Butler and Warren after the pair exchanged words following a Heat win in Indianapolis in January. — Nick Friedell
Remaining schedule: IND, OKC, IND
The Thunder have looked both outstanding and way off, particularly in the last week, when they routed the No. 1 seed Lakers and followed it up by losing to the Grizzlies. Some of it is due to having to dig into their rotation in Dennis Schroder‘s absence and losing Steven Adams (leg) for two games. Their priority coming into the seeding games was all about recouping momentum and chemistry, but that’s been tough with key players out. The upside: opportunities for others such as rookie Darius Bazley, who scored a career-high 23 points against the Wizards on Sunday. — Royce Young
Remaining schedule: PHX, MIA, LAC
Luka Doncic shows off his moves with a dime pass between his legs to Maxi Kleber.
Luka Doncic might have exorcised some “demons,” as Rick Carlisle called them, with his clutch-time dominance in Saturday’s overtime win against the Bucks. The 21-year-old superstar has struggled to close games this season, but he forced OT with two free throws and took over the game as a facilitator, dishing out four of his career-high 19 dimes in the extra period.
“The guy is a phenomenal player, and he’s getting better by the hour, by the day,” Carlisle said.
That was Doncic’s 12th 30-point triple-double of the season. Only eight players in NBA history have more such performances in their career. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: UTAH, POR, PHX
11. Indiana Pacers
Record: 4-1 | 43-27 (.614)
Title odds: +11000
Previous ranking: 13
The T.J. Warren Show continued in the first full week of action in the bubble — capped by Warren’s latest stellar effort Saturday night against the Lakers, in which he scored 39 points and ultimately closed the game out for Indiana with a stretch of seven straight points in the final minutes. This week starts off with a bang — the first of two showdowns with the Heat on Monday night, with the winner moving into the fourth seed in the East. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: MIA, HOU, MIA
Damian Lillard calls out the Clippers’ bench early, but Patrick Beverley has a hearty laugh after Lillard misses two free throws late and a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 4-2 | 33-39 (.458)
Title odds: +6000
Previous ranking: 14
Two uncharacteristic missed free throws from Damian Lillard on Saturday cost the Blazers the game against the Clippers, but he bounced back about an hour later on Instagram with a vicious clapback. Then he followed that up with 51 points against the 76ers on Sunday to keep the Blazers in position for the play-in series. Lillard is as cool and collected as they come, but there might be no better player at talking the talk and walking the walk than him. There are two games left this week, against the Mavs and Nets, to settle step one — getting in the play-in. — Young
Remaining schedule: DAL, BKN
Utah’s double-overtime loss to Denver on Saturday increased the likelihood that the Jazz and Nuggets will meet in the first round. That might be a more favorable matchup for Utah than facing the Rockets, who have eliminated the Jazz the past two seasons; but Utah also is 0-3 against Denver this season. The Jazz would need Rudy Gobert to win the matchup of arguably the West’s two best big men. That hasn’t happened this season, as Denver’s Nikola Jokic has averaged 29.3 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Nuggets’ three victories over the Jazz. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: DAL, SA
It was a brutal week for Philadelphia, as Ben Simmons was almost assuredly lost for the team’s entire playoff run following surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee after he injured it in a win over the Wizards. On top of that, the Sixers lost their other superstar, Joel Embiid, to an ankle injury in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Blazers — though at least that injury doesn’t appear to be nearly as severe. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: PHX, TOR, HOU
Devin Booker fades away with seconds remaining and buries the jumper at the horn to defeat the Clippers.
The longest winning streak in the NBA? The bubble Suns, rising to firmly assert themselves into the play-in picture with three games to go. Before the shutdown, the Suns ranked 16th in offensive rating (110.2) and 19th in defensive rating (111.3). In the bubble, the Suns are seventh offensively (115.0) and suddenly elite defensively, ranking fourth (107.0). One major area of improvement is how the Suns are holding up when Devin Booker sits. Pre-hiatus, their offensive rating dropped to 98.7 with him on the bench. In the bubble: 107.1. — Young
Remaining schedule: OKC, PHI, DAL
At 4-2 so far in the seeding games, the Spurs have themselves in position to possibly extend their playoff streak to what would be an NBA-record 23 consecutive years. San Antonio sits half a game behind Portland for the No. 9 seed and the right to get into the play-in tournament — but also just a game behind Memphis for the No. 8 seed in the West’s tightly contested race. — Andrew Lopez
Remaining schedule: HOU, UTAH
17. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 4-2 | 34-36 (.486)
Title odds: +100000
Previous ranking: 21
What a week for Jacque Vaughn & Co. Wins over Washington and Sacramento were nice, but Sunday’s victory over the Clippers and a triumph over the Bucks that came without Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen are two of the sweetest of the season. The odds are still stacked against the Nets, who locked in a first-round meeting with the No. 2 Raptors. But this group is playing hard for Vaughn, and the young core of LeVert, Harris and Allen continues to get experience against big-time opponents that should serve them well down the line. — Friedell
Remaining schedule: ORL, POR
The Magic had a disappointing week in the bubble. Talented young big man Jonathan Isaac tore the ACL in his left knee — leaving the Magic’s present and future clouded. Aaron Gordon suffered a hamstring injury. Michael Carter-Williams sustained a foot injury. And Evan Fournier is sick, though it isn’t COVID-19 related, according to the team. The undermanned Magic played so well in nearly pulling off a win over the Celtics on Sunday that longtime play-by-play man David Steele compared the effort to that of the 1999-2000 “Heart and Hustle” team that Magic fans know and love. The Magic play hard; they just don’t have any star power to last long in the bubble. — Friedell
Remaining schedule: BKN, NO
19. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 1-5 | 33-38 (.465)
Title odds: +100000
Previous ranking: 18
After falling to 1-5 in the bubble, the Grizzlies are clinging to No. 8 in the West and are in danger of falling out of the play-in picture altogether. The Grizzlies’ inexperience has been evident during their Walt Disney World Resort stay. Memphis has been outscored by 29 points in 16 clutch minutes, all with Rookie of the Year lock Ja Morant on the floor. Morant excelled in those situations most of the season (86 points in 84 clutch minutes), but he is only 2-of-9 down the stretch in the bubble when the score is within five points. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: BOS, MIL
In his last five games before the hiatus, Lonzo Ball averaged 20.8 points while shooting 53.5% overall and 51.2% from deep. In the six games in the bubble, however, Ball has averaged 5.7 points while shooting 26% overall and 19.2% from deep.
“He’ll get back,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’ll come back. This is a kid that wants to be a good player. He works at being a good player. He just had a pretty rough go down here. But I don’t think any of us as coaches have lost confidence in him at all.” — Lopez
Remaining schedule: SAC, ORL
* Eliminated from playoff contention
The Kings were officially eliminated from the playoff hunt on Sunday thanks in part to Damian Lillard’s 51-point explosion. The Kings are missing the playoffs for the 14th straight year because of their lack of health, inconsistency and poor defense. They didn’t have their complete team available in the bubble, but they lost five of their first six games, with their only win coming over the Pelicans. Their defense needs to improve, and De’Aaron Fox needs more help. — Youngmisuk
Remaining schedule: NO, LAL
* Eliminated from playoff contention
22. Washington Wizards*
Record: 0-6 | 24-46 (.343)
Previous ranking: 22
The Wizards are 0-6 in Orlando and have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. They are the only winless team in the bubble, with a net rating of -11.7. Although not much has worked in their favor, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant have been solid with the Wizards’ two leading scorers, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, both sitting out. — Woodyard
Remaining schedule: MIL, BOS
* Eliminated from playoff contention