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Russell Westbrook helps Wizards secure a spot in the NBA's play-in tournament

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The NBA implemented the play-in game to create excitement, make more games meaningful and curtail tanking. And the play-in matchups will be determined on the final day of the regular season.

With a full slate of games on Sunday, the intrigue surrounding the play-in format has drawn more attention than the race for the No. 1 seed, buoyed by the prospect of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers needing to win a play-in game to make the playoffs.

In short, the seventh- and eighth-place teams in both conferences aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot. The league has given the ninth- and 10th-place teams a shot at reaching the playoffs.

Here’s how it works and who might end up in the play-in game format.

After the regular season concludes, the seventh- and eighth-place teams play each other and the winner earns the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game. The winner of that game becomes the No. 8 seed. To give the teams that had a better record during the regular season an advantage, teams 7-8 need to win just one play-in game to advance and teams 9-10 need to win two games.

The play-in games are May 18-21 with the 16-team, best-of-7 playoffs beginning May 22, with the East 10th-place team vs. the East 9th-place team and the East 8th-place team vs. the Boston Celtics.

In the East, the picture is a bit more clear than in the West, though tiebreakers convolute the scenarios.

Boston, Charlotte, Indiana and Washington are in spots 7-10 right now with Chicago lurking in 11th place. The top six seeds in the East are set, so none of these teams can finish above No. 7.

The Celtics secured seventh place in the East because Charlotte lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Pacers lost to Milwaukee on Thursday. Even if the Celtics lose out and the Hornets, Pacers or Wizards win out and all four teams finish with 35-37 records, the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the three teams.

Celtics’ remaining game: at New York Knicks

Charlotte, Washington and Indiana each own 33-38 records. They can't all finish with the same record because the Hornets play the Wizards. If Charlotte beats Washington, it finishes in eighth place. If the Wizards beat the Hornets, they get the eighth spot. Indiana can finish no higher than ninth place because the Hornets and Wizards own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pacers.

That Wizards-Hornets game is huge -- the difference between winning one game or two games to make the playoffs.

Hornets’ remaining game: at Washington Wizards

Pacers’ remaining game: at Toronto

Wizards' remaining game: Charlotte

LeBron James is expected to return to the lineup for the final two Lakers regular season games this weekend.
LeBron James is expected to return to the lineup for the final two Lakers regular season games this weekend.

In the West, the seventh-place Lakers have a chance to move into the sixth spot, but they need help. At 41-30, they are a ½ game behind 41-30 Portland.

Dallas escaped the play-in game with its victory over Toronto on Friday. Even if the 42-29 Mavs finish with the same record as the Lakers, they own the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Mavs will be either the the fifth or sixth seed.

The Blazers own the tiebreaker against the Lakers, so for the Lakers to avoid the play-in game, they need to win their remaining game against New Orleans and Portland would have to lose its remaining game. If it’s the Lakers in the seventh spot, they could face eighth-place Golden State in a tantalizing play-in game.

Lakers’ remaining game: at New Orleans

Mavericks’ remaining game: at Minnesota

Blazers’ remaining game: vs. Denver

The Warriors don’t have eighth place in their possession just yet. At 38-33, Memphis and Golden State are tied for eighth place. They play each other Sunday with the winner getting the eighth spot and the loser the ninth spot.

Warriors’ remaining game: vs. Memphis

Grizzlies’ remaining game: at Golden State

San Antonio will finish in 10th place because Sacramento lost to Memphis on Thursday, eliminating the Kings from a play-in game possibility. The Spurs can’t catch Golden State or Memphis for eighth or ninth place.

Spurs’ remaining games: vs. Phoenix, vs. Phoenix

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chance of Steph Curry vs. LeBron James in play-in game has NBA fans abuzz