Before the NBA Playoffs can start, the mini-playoffs to determine the last two seeds, known as the play-in, must commence. If you don’t know, here are the rules of the play-in tournament:
- The 7 & 8 seeds will play each other in a sudden death matchup. Whoever wins this game receives the seventh seed.
- The 9 and 10 seeds will play each other in a sudden death matchup. Whoever wins plays the loser of the 7-8 seed game for the eighth seed; the loser of the 9-10 seed game is eliminated, and the loser of the 7-8 seed game and the 9-10 seed winner is eliminated.
So far, this is how the play-in tournament looks in each conference:
This is my opinion of who will win each of the various play-in games in each conference, and who will be sent packing. The play-in is bringing lots of excitement to the league, incentivizing teams not to tank, and has the chance to eliminate superstars and MVPs, causing some to say that they hate it (or the fact they could lose) and that whoever created the idea should be fired from their job (*Cough cough*). Whatever the case, let’s jump right in!
Note: This Blog Post is my opinion, and my opinion only
7 vs 8: The Boston Celtics vs The Washington Wizards
In this battle for the number 7 seed, we have two teams that already have a playoff rivalry history. In 2017, both of these teams battled it out for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals, with John Wall’s three-pointer in Game 6 making it a seven-game series, but a fueled Isaiah Thomas, who would not stop pounding on the Wizards, took it to them, and the Celtics got to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. As well as looking for revenge, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum are good friends, grew up together, and went to the same high school, so you know they’re both going to want to beat each other.
Who I Think Will Win: The Washington Wizards
Right now, this isn’t even close. The Wizards capped off the regular season with a 17-6 run, a bench that is doing it all, a guy named Russell Westbrook who just averaged a triple-double for the fourth straight season, and Bradley Beal, who finished second in the league in points scored per game. Everyone is getting into their stride and has found their place. The Wizards are going to be difficult to beat in the play-in.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have lost one of their two All-Stars, Jaylen Brown, for the rest of the season. Since he’s a 20+ point per game scorer, this will significantly hurt their offense. Kemba Walker, their starting point guard, is day-to-day with his injuries, and Tatum didn’t play in the Celtics final game. If the big three in Boston don’t play, the Wizards will steamroll this team; if they (Tatum and Walker) do play, they’ll have to work a little more, but I still think the Wizards prevail. Home court advantage for the Celtics doesn’t do them a lot of favors in this situation, but certainly doesn’t hurt either.
9 vs 10: The Indiana Pacers vs The Charlotte Hornets
With both teams trying their hardest to win this game, I think this will be one of the most fun games to watch this season (The Wizards and Celtics have a cushion if they lose). Prone to hot starts, I predict the Hornets are going to start out going hot from three and scoot out to a double-digit lead. The question simply remains whether they blow it or not. Indiana also has the advantage of home court.
Who I Think Will Win: The Charlotte Hornets
Even though it’s an away game, I think Charlotte will prevail. The Pacers have many threats on their roster, such as Caris Levert, Domantas Sabonis, Malcom Brogdon (when healthy), Myles Turner, TJ Warren (prone to hot and cold stretches), and TJ McConnell (who has really come around lately). However, the three-headed monster of LaMelo Ball, Devonte Graham, and Terry Rozier may be too much, especially if Brogdon is out. The Pacers will easily dominate the paint, with Sabonis and Turner, but the Hornets have the advantage on the perimeter, and are a younger team. This will be a test for the Hornets, but if they can win, they have a good chance at gaining the 8th seed in the East.
Loser of 7/8 vs winner of 9/10: The Boston Celtics vs The Charlotte Hornets
The Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets have had some good matchups in the past, and Scary Terry always has a chip on his shoulder when playing against Boston (they traded him to Charlotte in a sign-and-trade deal for at the time All-Star Kemba Walker). This should be a very fun game to watch (assuming everyone is healthy). The real question: if Miles Bridges goes up for a dunk like above, will it go through the hoop or will Tacko Fall block it like he blocks everything else in the paint? There’s only one way to find out . . .
Who I think will win: The Charlotte Hornets
The Celtics are still not 100% healthy, and even if they were, my money would still be on Charlotte. Earlier this year, I watched a preview of this matchup, and the Hornets got off to one of their hot three-point shooting starts, acquired a double-digit lead, demoralized the Celtics, and easily won the game. Especially with the injuries to the Celtics, I am expecting something similar to play out. Of course, it’s sudden death, and as former Celtic and Hall-of-Fame player Kevin Garnett once said,
7 vs 8: The Los Angeles Lakers and The Golden State Warriors
Ah, the equivalent of the Cleveland Cavaliers/Golden State Warriors rivalry; although now everything is different. The Lakers have no momentum, having a horrible second half of the season that landed them where they are now. Injuries have ruined this year for them, and while they still have a chance, there aren’t too many people betting on them to win the Finals.
Golden State, on the other hand, is mostly a one-man team. If you can lock up Steph Curry, then you lock up 25-50 points of the Warriors offense. The second and third options on the team for scoring are Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr, as Klay Thompson and James Wiseman are and have been injured. This series won’t be as exciting as it would if everyone were healthy, but whenever two MVPs square off, it’s must watch basketball, and this is by far the most anticipated game of the play-in.
Who I think will win… Depends on who is healthy and playing
If Anthony Davis is not playing, then I believe the Warriors will win this game. LeBron James most likely won’t be on Steph the whole game, and when it comes to Lakers point guards, few to none can guard Curry. James himself has said that he will probably never be 100% again, which the Warriors (and Draymond Green) have to capitalize on. On the other hand, if Anthony Davis is playing, the game becomes a lot less close and chances are the Lakers cruise to a victory. With Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis (not the Twin Towers, but the Twin ADs), the Lakers easily dominate the paint, but the outside belongs to the Warriors and Curry.
Since it’s one and done, this is going to be exciting to watch, as heroes arrive at the most likely and unlikely time (like Alex Caruso). All in all, this is going to be a great game, but assuming Davis is playing and at at least 90%, the Lakers will win.
9 vs 10: The Memphis Grizzlies and The San Antonio Spurs
Both Memphis and San Antonio are smaller markets, and this game will most likely draw the least attention and viewers of all the play-in games. However, Ja Morant always brings excitement wherever he plays, and the young Grizzlies are a fun team to watch.
Who I think will win: The Memphis Grizzlies
Both teams may not be great, but this isn’t even close. The San Antonio Spurs have Demar DeRozan out of his prime as their best player, and while Greg Poppovich is an incredible coach, there’s only so much he can do without good players alongside him. The Spurs second option is Dejounte Murray, but they have no real threat at center or power forward (since LaMarcus Aldridge left the team), meaning Jaren Jackson, Jr and Jonas Valuncienas are free to wreak havoc inside. The Spurs team lacks a good supporting cast for DeRozan as well as motivation; even if they did get the eighth seed, they would immediately lose to the Jazz in the first round. The Grizzlies will move on to the second round of the play-in, and the San Antonio Spurs will go home and hope they can make some trades, free agency signings, or get lucky in the lottery.
Loser of 7/8 vs winner of 9/10: Golden State Warriors vs Memphis Grizzlies
Yet another highly anticipated matchup with a duel of incredible point guards, both with decent supporting casts. Both teams have gritty power forwards in Jaren Jackson, Jr and Draymond Green, and can step up to any challenge.
Who I think will win: The Golden State Warriors
The Warriors supporting cast is slightly deeper than the Grizzlies, and aside from that, the Grizzlies are led by mostly young players without too much experience (with the exception of Jonas Valuncienas). Curry and Green have valuable experience others don’t, and something tells me this opportunity is too good for them to let slip away. Imagine the Warriors beating the number one seed in the first round for the second time in 20 years (they did so to the Dallas Mavericks before Curry was drafted).
What predictions did you agree with and not agree with? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog (it would mean a lot to me), and as always, have an awesome day!