NBA regular-season finale takeaways: Knicks clinch top-four seed; Lakers, Warriors to meet in play-in game

The 2020-21 NBA regular season is officially in the books. All 30 teams played their final game on Sunday, and the stacked slate gave us some of the most exciting moments of the season. Stephen Curry clinched his second scoring title in defeating the Memphis Grizzlies, the Boston Celtics pushed the New York Knicks to the absolute brink as they attempted to clinch home-court advantage in the first round for the first time since 2013, and the first full play-in bracket in NBA history was solidified. With seeds now locked, here is how the bracket looks in each conference as we head into the postseason. 

Eastern Conference

  1. Philadelphia 76ers
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Milwaukee Bucks
  4. New York Knicks
  5. Atlanta Hawks
  6. Miami Heat

Play-in

7. Boston Celtics
8. Washington Wizards
9. Indiana Pacers
10. Charlotte Hornets

Western Conference

  1. Utah Jazz
  2. Phoenix Suns
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. Dallas Mavericks
  6. Portland Trail Blazers

Play-in

7. Los Angeles Lakers
8. Golden State Warriors
9. Memphis Grizzlies
10. San Antonio Spurs

The play-in round will begin on Tuesday with the Eastern Conference kicking things off. The Western Conference takes center stage on Wednesday with the Lakers and Warriors battling for the No. 7 seed, and the final overall bracket will be determined on Thursday (East) and Friday (West) when the final play-in games for the No. 8 seed take place. Before we look ahead to the postseason, though, let's look back at the night that was, and examine three of the most important trends and takeaways from the final night of the regular season. 

1. Tanking: it's not just for losers anymore!

The Denver Nuggets pulled their starters at the beginning of the second half of their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. They had good reason to. A win would have guaranteed them a first-round date with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Losing, in a perfect world, would have dropped them to No. 4 and off of the Lakers' side of the bracket entirely. Of course, we don't live in a perfect world. Denver's best-laid plans were foiled by the Clippers. 

The Clippers closed the season against two of the NBA's worst teams: the Rockets and Thunder. A single victory would have assured them the No. 3 seed, their stated goal. But Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat out both games, as did other key veterans. Others played on minutes restrictions. Their leader in shot attempts Sunday was little-used youngster Daniel Oturu, who took 21 shots after attempting only 31 shots in the rest of the season. The Clippers lost both games and successfully slunk to No. 4. If the Lakers take care of business against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, the two Los Angeles teams won't have to face off until the Western Conference finals.

The irony of this sort of matchup puppeteering is that the Lakers might be more vulnerable now than they would be a round or two down the line. LeBron James has scarcely played over the past two months. If he isn't 100 percent, the Lakers are in trouble. The more games he plays, the closer he'll get to full strength. Now, the Clippers and Nuggets will have to hope that sombody else knocks James out, because if he's still around by the time he gets to play against them, he's going to be in full-on championship mode. 

2. New York, New York

For the first time in NBA history, the state of New York will have not one, but two teams with home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets clinched a top-four seed long ago and will ultimately be No. 2 in the East, but the Knicks needed a late-game hold to beat the Boston Celtics and secure the No. 4 seed for themselves. The Knicks have not been a top-four seed since the 2012-13 season, making this one of their best seasons of the century. The two teams cannot meet until the Eastern Conference finals, but for once, basketball-crazed New York will get its fill of playoff hoops. 

New York was also the site of some regular-season history as well. By making all three of his 3-point attempts, Kyrie Irving joined the illustrious 50-40-90 club. In that group with him are teammate Kevin Durant, coach Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Stephen Curry and, in the WNBA, Elena Delle Donne. Had Durant made five more of his 238 free throw attempts this season, he and Irving would have become the first pair of teammates ever to hit 50-40-90 shooting percentages in the same season. Either way, New York basketball has never been in a stronger place. 

3. The time traveler

On Feb. 16, one of the strangest bets in NBA history was made. 

At this point, the Wizards were 8-17 and stood in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. Since then? They are 26-21. Their defense is above average, Russell Westbrook won't stop putting up triple-doubles, and with a win on Tuesday, they'd clinch the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Half of the East down, half to go. The odds are taking it even further. At plus-20000 at the William Hill Sportsbook, that same $10,000 bet would net only 40 percent as much today as it did at the time, a $2 million payout. 

So, the question we need to answer is whether or not this bettor was a time-traveler. We'll know for sure in a few weeks. If Washington gets through Boston and then stuns the Nets? Mortgage your homes and bet on the Wizards, because this guy must be from the future. 

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Season Leaders

points
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L. James 23.3 PTS, 8.0 AST, 7.2 REB
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L. James 23.3 PTS, 8.0 AST, 7.2 REB
assists
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L. James 23.3 PTS, 8.0 AST, 7.2 REB
headshot-image
L. James 23.3 PTS, 8.0 AST, 7.2 REB
rebounds
headshot-image
A. Drummond 9.0 PTS, 0.0 AST, 11.0 REB
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A. Drummond 9.0 PTS, 0.0 AST, 11.0 REB
Live updates
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Final lottery standings, not including play-in teams:

Rockets

Pistons 

Magic 

Thunder/Cavs  (tie)

Wolves 

Raptors 

Bulls/Pels/Kings (tie)

May 17, 2021, 3:28 AM
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The Eastern Conference bracket set earlier in the night:

1. Philadelphia 76ers

2. Brooklyn Nets 

3. Milwaukee Bucks 

4. New York Knicks 

5. Atlanta Hawks 

6. Miami Heat 

7. Boston Celtics 

8. Washington Wizards 

9. Indiana Pacers 

10. Charlotte Hornets

May 17, 2021, 3:22 AM
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With most games drawing to a close, it looks like this is going to be the Western Conference bracket:

1. Utah Jazz

2. Phoenix Suns 

3. Denver Nuggets 

4. Los Angeles Clippers 

5. Dallas Mavericks 

6. Portland Trail Blazers 

7. Los Angeles Lakers 

8. Golden State Warriors 

9. Memphis Grizzlies 

10. San Antonio Spurs

May 17, 2021, 3:21 AM
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@NBAPR via Twitter
May 17, 2021, 3:20 AM
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@NBAPR via Twitter
May 17, 2021, 3:19 AM
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The Utah Jazz have clinched home-court advantage throughout the postseason, including the NBA Finals if they get there.

May 17, 2021, 3:18 AM
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The Oklahoma City Thunder have defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 115-112. The Clippers are officially the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

May 17, 2021, 3:11 AM
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Thunder-Clippers is high art. Poku just threw a pass to nobody that went out of bounds and seemingly gave the Clippers possession back. Review showed that the Clippers touched it, the Thunder took it back and tied the game.

May 17, 2021, 3:06 AM
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The Clippers have taken the lead back against the Thunder. It's 110-108 with two minutes remaining.

May 17, 2021, 3:02 AM
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Clippers-Thunder is coming down to the absolute wire. It's a two-point game with less than four minutes to go. It's gonna be a photo finish here.

May 17, 2021, 3:01 AM
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The Bulls lead the Bucks by 11, so if these results all hold, the Bulls, Pelicans and Kings will all be tied in the standings when the season ends. That means even lottery odds, but more importantly, coin flips will determine where each team falls if they don't jump up. This could end with the Pels and Kings picking a slot higher than they otherwise would have.

May 17, 2021, 2:55 AM
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Oklahoma City just took a timeout to avoid a five-second violation on an inbounds pass after a made Clippers layup. This isn't college or anything.

May 17, 2021, 2:52 AM
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In case there was any doubt here, the Jazz lead the Kings by 25 after three. They're going to be the No. 1 seed in the West.

May 17, 2021, 2:52 AM
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The Laker lead is back up to double digits in New Orleans, so the three-way tie is looking likelier and likelier for the 5-6-7 slots.

May 17, 2021, 2:50 AM
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And now, the Thunder are back on top. I have never seen a game quite like this. It's simultaneously one of the most intense and nonsensical games of the season.

May 17, 2021, 2:45 AM
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Clippers-Thunder is turning into a thriller. The Clippers lead 88-86 after three quarters.

May 17, 2021, 2:41 AM
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Poku is now 7-of-10 from the field. Another nice game for the skinny rookie.

May 17, 2021, 2:40 AM
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With Dallas losing and Portland winning, just a reminder on three-way tie protocol in the West: Dallas would earn the No. 5 seed due to winning the Southwest division. Portland would earn the No. 6 seed through its tiebreaker over the Lakers. The Lakers would finish seventh.

May 17, 2021, 2:38 AM
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Bank to back bankers for the Thunder and the Clipper lead is down to two.

May 17, 2021, 2:35 AM
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If you like the sound of basketballs clinking against the rim, you'll love this third quarter of Clippers-Thunder.

May 17, 2021, 2:35 AM
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A bit of Denver history has been made this season. https://twitter.com/Adam_Mares...

May 17, 2021, 2:32 AM
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The Clipper lead is up to a game-high seven.

May 17, 2021, 2:31 AM
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Denver has pulled its starters against Portland and are now trailing by 17. It looks like the Blazers are headed for the playoffs.

May 17, 2021, 2:27 AM
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The Clippers are starting to put some distance on the Thunder. It's a six-point lead for them after trailing by 13 earlier.

May 17, 2021, 2:21 AM
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If you're looking for a competitive game to watch, it seems like there are only three options. Bucks-Bulls has no real playoff implications. Clippers-Thunder do, but both teams are playing skeleton crews. And the mighty Lakers with their entire roster available are starting to struggle with the undermanned Pelicans.

May 17, 2021, 2:14 AM
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Naji Marshall ends an interesting first half in New Orleans with a heave from near midcourt that falls for the Pelicans to bring the score to 63-59 Lakers after 24 minutes of play.

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We might have ourselves a game in New Orleans, folks. The Pelicans have rallied to cut the Lakers' lead to four points at 54-50 with just over two minutes left in the first half.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves lead the Dallas Mavericks 57-35. That's not a typo.

May 17, 2021, 1:53 AM
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As Jovan notes here, Montrezl Harrell has not played tonight. He's had several DNPs recently, and appears to be the No. 3 center for the Lakers right now https://twitter.com/jovanbuha/...

May 17, 2021, 1:52 AM
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