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5 things to watch during final week of NBA regular season

There’s now one week to go before the 2020-21 NBA regular season comes to a conclusion. Back east, the New York Knicks have to be seen as the most-surprising squad in the Association. However, a late charge from the Washington Wizards has that team looking like a real contender.

Out west, the Los Angeles Lakers seem destined for a matchup with the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament. Just imagine the optics if LeBron James and Co. went down a season after earning the NBA title.

Below, we check in on five things to watch during the final week of the 2020-21 NBA regular season.

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The New York Knicks’ seeding in the Eastern Conference Playoffs

New York Knicks
Apr 7, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) shoots during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Thibodeau’s squad has been the story of the second half of the NBA regular season. New York has posted a 19-12 record since the All-Star Break. To put this into perspective, the Knicks won all of 21 games during their truncated 2019-20 season. To say that these Knicks have taken over as the toast of the Big Apple would be an understatement.

Currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference after an upset win over the Los Angeles Clippers, New York has a heck of a four-game slate to close out the regular season. That includes a road matchup with the struggling Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and a season finale home outing against the Boston Celtics. If New York can get a top-four seed, it will have homecourt in the first round. Right now, this would include a matchup against a fellow upstart team in that of the Atlanta Hawks.

NBA scoring champion battle: Stephen Curry aims to take over

NBA leading scorer, Stephen Curry
May 8, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) makes a layup against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quarter at the Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

With Bradley Beal currently sidelined to a hamstring injury, this distinction could be headed in Curry’s direction for the second time in his career. It’s not like the two-time NBA MVP needs help, either. Since returning from a tailbone injury back on March 29, the 33-year-old Curry is averaging an absolutely absurd 37.2 points on 46% shooting from distance in 21 games. This has him averaging a league-high 31.9 points per game. For his part, Beal is right behind his counterpart at 31.4 points per.

Depending on Beal’s status moving forward, Curry will likely have to average roughly 25 points per in the Warriors’ final four games. Barring blowouts, he will see extensive action with Golden State battling for play-in seeding. Having already joined Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in elite company, a scoring title would cement Curry’s status as a top-10 player in Association history.

NBA head coaches on the hot seat

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens
Apr 23, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens reacts from the sideline during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics currently find themselves at 35-33 on the season and as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference following a brutal performance against the Miami Heat on Sunday. This comes after Brad Stevens and Co. earned a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019-20. That type of regression could lead to Stevens’ departure from Boston depending on what happens moving forward.

Remaining back east, there’s been some talk that Mike Budenholzer’s job is not safe with the Milwaukee Bucks despite the head coach boasting a 159-63 record in Wisconsin. Milwaukee currently finds itself as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It would like to surpass Brooklyn for a top-two seed, ultimately taking on one of the play-in contestants in the first round. If not, a potential matchup with a team like the Miami Heat in the initial round could lead to a premature playoff exit and Budenholzer’s untimely departure from Milwaukee.

The NBA play-in tournament is going to be lit

Russell Westbrook is one of the biggest NBA stories right now.
May 8, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) reacts as hitting the game winning free throw during an overtime period against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

As it currently stands, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers (more on them below) would take part in a one-game series to see who gets the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Imagine the storylines with LeBron James and Stephen Curry going up against one another once again. This time, James’ Lakers would be the unquestioned favorites. But with Curry able to go off for 50 on any given night, there wouldn’t be much confidence in Los Angeles.

Back east, it’s almost as interesting. LaMelo Ball and his Charlotte Hornets would take on the Boston Celtics in a play-in game for the seventh spot if the season were to end today. Can we be confident that the Celtics would come out on top in that hypothetical? Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards sit at 32-36 after some dazzling recent performances from Russell Westbrook. The upstart team has won 15 of 19 since a 17-32 start to the season. Currently the ninth seed back east, no one wants to take on this team should it advance past the play-in tournament.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in trouble

NBA storylines: Los Angeles Lakers struggles
Apr 22, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers injured forward LeBron James (23) yells during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty stunning to see how dramatic the Lakers’ struggles have been as of late. Sure injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James don’t help. But there’s a major discord for the defending NBA champions. Since a 21-6 start to the season, Los Angeles has lost 24 of its past 40 games. That’s in no way a typo.

The Lakers should have both Davis and King James in the mix once the regular season draws to a conclusion. But that will likely be with them taking part in the play-in tournament. With a potential matchup against the Warriors looking increasingly likely, the optics of losing to their California rivals would not be great. Right now, Los Angeles needs to right the ship in its final few regular season games before the NBA Playoffs.