The NBA play-in tournament begins Tuesday. Sunday saw a host of competitive games as nearly every team in the league vied to improve their place in the standings. The Trail Blazers managed to hold onto the sixth seed in the West, knocking the Lakers into the play-in tournament. The Knicks squeaked by the Celtics, securing the fourth seed and home court advantage in their first round matchup against the Hawks. Steph Curry led the Warriors to a victory over the Grizzlies in a battle for the eighth seed in the West.
This will be the first year the NBA’s play-in tournament is in action. Although some stars have complained about the format, the fans are excited for the star-studded matchups. These are the upcoming play-in tournament games.
(10) Hornets v. (9) Pacers
The Hornets are the third youngest team in the league with an average age of 24.9. However, they don’t play like rookies. Despite being the youngest player on the team, LaMelo Ball made veteran plays all season. He, Terry Rozier, and Gordon Hayward led to Hornets to a 33-39 record and the bottom seed in the play-in tournament. The Hornets went 2-1 against the Pacers on the season. They’ll need to force turnovers against Indiana if they want to be able to compete. With Hayward out with a right foot sprain, the Hornets’ supporting cast will have to share the burden.
The Pacers are a more experienced team. Led by the cerebral duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers made their way to a 34-38 record. The mid-season acquisition of Caris LeVert proved to be a good move as he is the second leading scorer on the team. The X-factor of the Pacers’ matchup against the Hornets could be one of the more underrated players on the team: TJ McConnell. The feisty point guard records 1.9 steals per game, second to only Jimmy Butler. If McConnell can apply that type of defensive pressure to the Hornets’ young guards, he may be able to disrupt the flow of their offense. Caris LeVert has been ruled out due to health and safety protocols. Brogdon and Sabonis will see more defensive pressure as a result.
(10) Spurs v. (9) Grizzlies
The Spurs have officially departed from their Golden Age. Gone are the days of Parker, Duncan, and Leonard. Instead, the 2021 Spurs are led by DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White. While they’re not the Western powerhouse they once were, the Spurs are still very much a tough matchup. In what looks to be one of Gregg Popovich’s final years as head coach, the Spurs roster is comprised of a mix of savvy veterans and athletic young players. DeMar DeRozan can be counted on to perform when the stakes are highest. Dejounte Murray’s ability to defend Grizzlies star Ja Morant and role players’ ability to create offense will decide whether or not the Spurs survive Wednesday’s matchup.
The Grizzlies are just scratching the surface of their potential. Dynamic young star Ja Morant looks to be the next great point guard in the NBA. He’s accompanied by the skilled Jonas Valanciunas and the young do-it-all defender Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies’ loss to the Warriors in the final game of the regular season bumped them into the ninth seed in the West, but they’re not to be underestimated. When shooters like Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are hitting and they’re locked in on defense, the Grizzlies are a force to be reckoned with.
(8) Wizards v. (7) Celtics
On paper, the Wizards are too talented to be in the play-in tournament. Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal form one of the top guard duos in the league. Bigs Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura are talented scorers but have a ways to go on defense. That pretty much summarizes the entire Wizards roster. The Wizards are the worst defensive team in the league, giving up over 118 points per game. There is not one defensive-minded role player on the team. Against a team as talented as the Celtics, this could prove fatal. However, Bradley Beal is sure to put on a show on offense. If the Wizards can play defense like a playoff team, they could find themselves facing the 76ers in the first round.
The Celtics are another team that are more talented than their seed suggests. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have blossomed into two of the premier wing scorers in the league. Kemba Walker doesn’t put up the numbers he once did, but he’s still dependable for a big-time bucket. With Brown sidelined with a wrist injury, Tatum, Walker, and the rest of the Celtics will need to step it up in order to keep up with Beal and the Wizards. The pressure is on coach Brad Stevens to perform after years of disappointing playoff results. This upcoming game could determine who coaches the Celtics next season.
(8) Warriors v. (7) Lakers
The Warriors have solidified themselves as a legitimate threat after a slow start to the season. Steph Curry has had a historic season, leading the NBA in scoring at 32 points per game. Beyond Steph and Draymond Green, the Warriors roster is largely unproven. Kelly Oubre Jr, the team’s third-leading scorer, will miss the play-in game due to a nagging wrist injury. Every member of the Warriors roster will need to be on their game Wednesday to have a chance at taking down the defending champion Lakers. Steph and Draymond have lots of experience going up against LeBron, but their supporting cast is significantly weaker than in past years.
The Lakers find themselves in the play-in tournament in one of the more baffling situations in the NBA. Unfortunate injuries to stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis left the Lakers shorthanded for a long stretch at the end of the regular season. They plummeted in the standings and now face a formidable Golden State team in the play-in tournament. Assuming LeBron and AD are healthy and active, this shouldn’t be too taxing of a matchup. The Lakers have the best odds to make it out of the West for a reason. Had they been at full strength all season, they would be a top seed in the West. Barring a legendary performance by Steph Curry, this game is likely to go the Lakers’ way.