With the NBA regular season now in its homestretch (with barely 8-10 games left per team), attention is slowly moving to the NBA Play-In Tournament which will determine the final line-up for the playoffs. The Play-in is a 4-day sudden-death duel among the 7th to 10th-ranked teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences. The top 2 teams of the abbreviated tourney will move on to take the 7th and 8th slots in the playoffs. The Play-in is scheduled for the 12 to 15 April, with the playoffs following immediately on the 16th.
Why did the NBA create a Play-in tournament, shedding off the traditional practice of using the top 8 teams of the conference to step up to the playoffs? The Play-in tournament is an attempt to make the race for the playoffs even more exciting. It allows teams in the 9th and 10th positions to have a last-ditch effort to reach the coveted playoffs. There are, of course, many critics to the practice – notably Lebron James and Luka Doncic – but as it stands, teams ranked 9th and 10th still get a ‘Hail Mary’ pass to reach the playoffs. Lebron may have not endorsed the program, but his team, the LA Lakers, stands to benefit the most from having this mini-tournament this season.
At present, here’s how it looks in the east. Current 7th place Toronto Raptors (41-32) tackles 8th place Brooklyn Nets (38-35) for the 7th seed, while the 9th place Charlotte Hornets (38-36) play the 10th place Atlanta Hawks (37-37). The winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn tiff steps forward as the 7th seed, while the loser takes a sudden death game against the winner of the Charlotte-Atlanta face-off. The winner here then takes the 8th seed. The New York Knicks (32-32) still have a mathematical chance of taking the 10th seed (it has to win 5 while the Hawks lose 5), but their chances are now quite slim. On the topside of the draw, the Chicago Bulls (42-31) and the Cleveland Cavs (41-32) may still slide down into the Play-in games if either 1 plays miserably during this homestretch. Should these pairings push through, I see the Nets taking the 7th seed, and the Hawks taking the 8th seed.
Over in the west, occupying 7th spot Minnesota Timberwolves (43-32) will lock horns with the 8th place LA Clippers (36-38) for the 7th seed. The 9th-running New Orleans Pelicans (31-42) and the 10th-ranked LA Lakers (31-42) brawl for the right to play with the loser of the Pelicans-Lakers match-up. The winner of this match takes the 8th seed. Three teams, the San Antonio Spurs (29-44), the Portland Trailblazers (27-45) and the Sacramento Kings (26-48) still have a chinaman’s chance to reach the play-in. My take: T’wolves take 7th seed, while the Lakers barely making it to the 8th.
The play-in has been a big boon for the Lakers, as they await the full recovery of Anthony Davis. It is also an advantage for the struggling Brooklyn Nets, as their hold on the 8th spot is precarious, with both the Hornets and the Hawks breathing menacingly down their necks.
It seems that the NBA has inadvertently allowed the 2 preseason favorites to gain at least a better chance for the playoffs. Both teams, however, will need to be fully healthy and prepared to meet the conference leaders in the very first round to make a mark.
Pairings for the 1st round, if we use the present seedings as basis, should be: Phoenix Suns (60-14) vs LA Clippers (36-38); Memphis Grizzlies (51-23) vs Minnesota Twolves (43-32); Golden State Warriors (48-26) vs Denver Nuggets (43-31); and the Utah Jazz (45-29) vs the Dallas Mavs (45-29). In the Eastern bracket, the Miami Heat (47-27) play the Brooklyn Nets (38-35); Milwaukee Bucks (46-27) vs Toronto Raptors (41-32); Boston Celtics (46-28) vs Chicago Bulls (42-31); and Philadelphia 76ers (45-27) vs Cleveland Cavs (41-32).
Let’s see how this goes. But first, let the Play-in Games begin!
Cover pic courtesy of The Sports Pic. Other photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated, TSBN, and FadeAway World. For a closer look, just click on the pics.
Is the play-in an advantage for the Lakers? Let’s be honest, we know they aren’t making a run for the Finals this year; they’ll be lucky to get out of the first round. They’d be much better off in the lottery, even if their odds for a top pick are slim. We’ve seen stranger things happen then the Lakers potentially getting a top three pick this year, such as when the Cavs got the #1 pick in 2014 despite having around a 1% chance to do so. Imagine LeBron and AD next to Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero.
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If they wish to join the playoffs this year (assuming AD is healthy, and so with the rest), then they have a fighting chance at making it deep in the playoffs. the play-in format then becomes beneficial to them. But you are certainly right if they give up on this year’s campaign. Yes, getting a chance at the top picks will be quite tempting.