The NBA Play-In Tournament tips off tonight at 7:30 ET with Heat-Hawks.
The NBA playoffs are back and we're greeted with the 7-8 and 9-10 play-in games in the East and West. Just a reminder; I love the play-in games. It keeps the teams that would otherwise be out of contention still playing hard at the end of the regular season.
Heat (7) vs. Hawks (8)
First up in the East, we have the Heat (7) vs the Hawks (8). The Heat have been banged up this season and the Hawks have simply been a middling team. Although, since Bond-villain lookalike Quin Snyder has taken control of the Hawks they've looked a bit better. I like the Heat in this game for a few reasons. Number one: Jimmy Butler. Do I need to say more? Number two: the Heat make it tough for opponents with their hardnosed defense. Trae Young has not performed well against the Heat, and I see that trend continuing. Number 3: the Heat took 3/4 this season from Atlanta, and as I said, they have not been healthy.
I don't see Young and Murray doing enough to extinguish the Heat. Miami vs. Boston in Round 1.
Toronto (9) vs Chicago (10)
This means Atlanta will be playing the winner of Toronto (9) and Chicago (10). Vegas might have the Raptors winning this one but I want to roll with a Bulls team that is clicking as of late. These two teams played three times this year, with Toronto winning twice. The Bulls won their lone home game against the Raptors. Toronto has a strong and versatile defense with a solid offense. Six guys average double digits. But Chicago has the three most impactful players on the court in LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic. I'd take the Big 3 for one game, especially if the Bulls can hold down Fred VanVleet.
I like both the Raptors and the Bulls more than the Hawks when the winner of 9/10 plays the loser of the 7/8.
Lakers (7) vs. Timberwolves (8)
Over in the West, the Lakers (7) will take on the T-Wolves (8). The Lakers are the hottest team in the West, winning 18 of their last 26. Adding D'Lo, Rui, and Jarred Vanderbilt, and...oh! the memo to the refs about getting LBJ to the playoffs has certainly helped. Minnesota on the other hand, is imploding. Defensive maestro Jaden McDaniels busted his hand and his out, and Rudy Gobert Eiffel Towered his team by throwing a punch at Kyle Anderson mid-game. I think Minnesota sealed its own fate.
Pelicans (9) vs. Thunder (10)
In the (9) vs. (10) matchup we have the Pelicans hosting the Thunder. This is going to be a fun game, maybe the best of the play-ins. The Pelicans and Thunder had close games all season, against each other and against the rest of the NBA. Same thing will likely happen Wednesday when they play.
OKC has three young stars in SGA, Giddey, and Williams, but I don't think it will be enough to take out the Pelicans, even with Zion not playing. These teams played four times this season, with New Orleans taking three of four. Zion was out in three of the games, Brandon Ingram was out in two, and CJ McCollum was out for the last one and the games were still tight. Ingram only played once against the Thunder and dropped 34. He's also been ballin' out lately and, in my opinion, is one of the better scorers in the Association who does not get the recognition he deserves. I'm taking the Pels here and also taking them against the Timberwolves in the next game, hypothetically.
I think we're in for some good games, which will serve as a nice appetizer for the main NBA playoffs course.