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NBA takeaways: Playoffs taking shape as Sixers clinch No. 1 seed in the East; Wizards earn play-in spot

The final weekend of the 2020-21 NBA regular season has arrived, and there’s still plenty to play for. We now know the 20 teams that have clinched either a playoff berth or a spot in the play-in tournament, but only a few seeds are locked up, which will make for a fascinating last few days. 

Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways from Friday night in the NBA:

Sixers clinch No. 1 spot in East

After getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last season, the Sixers made some big changes in the offseason. Doc Rivers was hired as the new coach, while Daryl Morey was brought in as president to take charge of the front office. Those two quickly set about reshaping the roster, bringing in the likes of Seth Curry, Danny Green, George Hill and Dwight Howard.

And while they still have some things to prove in the postseason, it’s been a smashing success so far. After their dominant 122-97 win over the Magic on Friday night, the Sixers are now 48-23 and have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since Allen Iverson and Co. did it in 2001. As many will remember, that’s also the last time the Sixers made the Finals. 

The Sixers will now await the results of the play-in tournament to learn their opponent for the first round of the playoffs. It will be either the Celtics, Hornets, Pacers or Wizards. Speaking of…

Wizards earn play-in spot

Prior to their game against the Cavaliers on Friday night, the Wizards held a ceremony to honor Russell Westbrook for passing Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in NBA history. A few hours later, he added another one to his name, and the Wizards earned a spot in the play-in tournament. 

Westbrook was at it again, carving up the Cavaliers for 21 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists en route to a 120-105 win. This was the eighth game of the season with at least 17 assists for Westbrook. The rest of the NBA combined has 11 such games. 

The Wizards are still only 33-38 on the season, but with this win they’re now 16-6 since April 5. That’s tied for the second-best record in the league in that span, and they have a plus-5.7 net rating in those 22 games. Just for comparison’s sake, that’s almost exactly the same as the Bucks’ net rating for the entire season. 

Point being, the Wizards have been awesome lately, and now they’re going to the play-in tournament. Their win over the Cavs secured their spot, and it’s possible they could still finish as high as eighth, which would mean earning double-elimination status. What a turnaround for Westbrook and Co. 

Jokic triple-double has Nuggets closing in on No. 3 seed

The Nuggets clinched a playoff spot a while back, but the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference is still up for grabs, so they aren’t taking it easy down the stretch. Not even big man Nikola Jokic, who has carried them all season long. As coach Mike Malone put it earlier this week, “Nikola could get hurt in practice.”

However, there is one way to get a little extra time off: dominate the beginning of a game so thoroughly that you get to sit out the entire fourth quarter. That’s exactly what Jokic did on Friday night, recording a 20-point, 15-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in just 26 minutes of action. The Nuggets led by as much as 19 and held on for a comfortable 104-91 win over the Pistons. 

By virtue of their win, and the Clippers loss later in the night, those two teams are now tied at 47-24 with one game left to play for each club. The Nuggets hold the tiebreaker, which means a win on Sunday against the Trail Blazers guarantees them the No. 3 seed. 

After Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL last month, almost everyone expected the Nuggets to take a step back. Instead, they’ve gone 13-4 since Murray’s injury and have a chance to earn a top-three seed for the third straight season. No other West team could say the same. 

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