The NBA Play-In Tournament begins tonight at 6:30 PM ET on TNT
After 72 games, the postseason has arrived with the new playoff concept of the play-in game. In both the Eastern and Western conferences the 7 seed will play the 8 seed and the 9 seed will play the 10 seed. The winner of the 7/8 game locks in a 7 seed in the First Round and the loser plays the winner of the 9/10 matchup for a shot at the 8 seed in the First Round. If you're pulling for a team from the 9/10 play-in game your team is going to have to win two in a row.
Between trades, injuries, and Covid, the playoff seedings look quite a bit different than a lot expected earlier on in the season. With so much on the line in the play-in games, this will make for some intense games. But who has the edge? Who's primed for an upset? Let's take a look.
For the record, I am a big fan of the new format, sorry LeBron. Who doesn't like more NBA games? Simple as that.
Game 1: 8-seed Washington at 7-seed Boston
Ouch. Happy to see my Celtics in the postseason but not happy to see them grinding it out in the play-in game after a lackluster year. Boston played .500 ball this year and Washington played a little beneath that level but have been playing well as of late. They're surging into this game while the Celtics are stumbling hard. Although Beal is not 100%, the NBA's second-leading scorer can still deal out the damage.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of defensive scheme Brad Stevens throws at Beal and Westbrook, especially when you consider how crappy their defense has been all year. Washington finished the season 17-6 while Boston lost 9 of their final 13 games - some to bad teams. To make things even worse for the C's, Jaylen Brown will be out due to season-ending surgery on his wrist. It's never easy losing one of your stars. I think the backcourt will be too much for the lowly Celtics defense and I see the Wizard's wave of momentum winning this game and capturing the 7 seed.
Game 2: 10-seed Charlotte at 9-seed Indiana
Major injuries on both teams will make for an interesting matchup. Who will rise up? Charlotte is missing one of their top scorers in Gordon Hayward (19.6 ppg) and Indiana is missing super center Myles Turner due to turf toe, perhaps the most annoying injury known to man.
I said it earlier this year, Indiana is close to being a very strong team. Despite that sentiment, they have been pretty bad this year, never seeming to pull it all together. Charlotte hasn't fared much better with their inconsistent play. Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play which is a big plus for Indy. I wish I could say the same for Charlotte and LaMelo Ball, but he has not looked nearly as sharp since he's returned. The Pacers will lean on Domantas Sabonis who has been an absolute savage this season, averaging over 20/12/6. Sabonis will cut up the weak Charlotte frontcourt in this game and that will be the X-Factor. With Hayward down, I'm taking Indiana over Charlotte.
If Indiana plays Boston in Game 3, it will be tough to predict. All of their games have been close with Boston winning 2 of the 3. Indiana could pull off the upset with the way Boston has looked unless Tatum drops an efficient 50-bomb.
Game 1: 8-seed Golden State at 7-seed LA Lakers
Wow. How the hell did we get here? GSW have grinded their way here with an incredible season from PPG leader Steph Curry...and without Klay Thompson. The defending champion Lakers have been hampered by injuries this year with big blows to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who are both back but missed long stretches.
Surprisingly, the undersized Warriors have been pretty effective defensively but not so much offensively, which is a far cry from the team we used to watch splash down on everyone. The Lakers have also been great on defense and will likely throw the kitchen sink at Steph to keep him under his average. Steph has to have a big game for them to win.
LBJ looked good returning but tweaked his ankle again in their last game against the Pelicans. That will be something to keep an eye on in this game. Steph is one of a few guys in this league that you don't want to face during playoffs and if LeBron isn't near 100% then some funky stuff could happen. But, if Curry is contained I see the Lakers taking this one with their superior size and athleticism. In the end LA will be too much for the Warriors. No matter what, this is going to be a good one to watch.
Game 2: 10-seed San Antonio at 9-seed Memphis
Ja Morant and the (finally) healthy Grizzlies will play host to the Spurs, who are back in the postseason after their hiccup last year. San Antonio is 2-8 in their last 10 which is not a good look moving into a single-elimination game. Memphis's next-gen superstar, Ja Morant, may be able to do it all, but Popovich will put together a strategy to potentially contain him.
The Spurs have two big things going for them: more experience and one of the best coaches ever. Both are very important in any postseason sport. Oh, and they have DeMar DeRozan, who is incredibly tough to guard and capable of pouring it on any given night. Be mindful of the Derrick White loss for the Spurs; the team just has not been good in his absence. This is a difficult one to pick as I usually roll with experienced vets, but I am going with Memphis. They went 2-1 against the Spurs (lost the opener) and were never fully healthy until now. Pair that with the White loss and I think Memphis moves on to game 3.
GSW vs Memphis would be another light show. I see Steph and the Warriors dropping 115+ on the Grizz and claiming the 8 seed in the First Round. The Warriors were 2-1 against Memphis this year.