NBA Play In Tournament - Preview and Predictions

With the NBA regular season officially over, it is playoff time in the basketball world. During the regular season, all the hard work is set to pay off for one team, which will end the year as your 2021 NBA champions. But before we can get to the confetti, trophy ceremonies, and champagne baths, we have to figure out who takes the final spots in the tournament. Though the Play-In tournament was used in BETA form during last year's bubble playoffs, this year has a new format. 4 teams per conference will try their hand at securing the 7th and 8th seed in their respected conferences.

Before we look at the matchups, we have to review the somewhat confusing (at first) format. The NBA conferences are seeded 1-15 based on, of course, team record. Normally, the top 8 teams would automatically make it. But with the play-in tournament here, only the top 6 are automatically given a slot in the true NBA playoffs. The 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th seeds are the teams battling it out in the tournament. The 7th and 8th seed play each other, with the winner securing the 7th seed in the NBA playoffs. Meanwhile, the 9th and 10th seed play, with the winner moving on to a second game against the loser of the 7 vs. 8 game. The 7th and 8th seeds get a second chance due to the fact that they’re seeded higher, while the 9th and 10th seeds have to fight harder to make it in. Now that the format is explained, let’s look into this year’s play-in tournament and make some predictions on who will end up in the tournament at the end of the day.

Western Conference:

#9 Memphis Grizzlies vs #10 San Antonio Spurs

In the lower-seeded matchup in the West, flashy sophomore Ja Morant looks to sneak in the playoffs against one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, the San Antonio Spurs. Despite playing such an old-school style of set basketball under Coach Papovich, the Spurs have built a decent young core with Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson consistently flashing potential of young brilliance. The Grizzlies, as previously mentioned, are led by last year’s #2 overall draft pick Ja Morant, who has already shown the tools to be a young stud at point guard for the future of the NBA. The key, though, is Jonas Vallanciunas of the Grizzlies, who may not be changing the world at the center, but provides a huge mismatch for a Spurs team that got rid of their only dominant big man LaMarcus Aldridge earlier in the year. The post-defense, as well as a big-time performance from Ja, will prove to be too much for the still unproven Spurs. Sorry DeMar, maybe take notes from Chris Paul and go somewhere else to get a ring?

Memphis Grizzlies win 101-88

#7 Los Angeles Lakers vs #8 Golden State Warriors

In what is far and away the most exciting matchup of the NBA Play-Ins, we will see another installment of the Steph Curry vs LeBron James saga. Curry got the better of LeBron in 3 out of their 4 NBA finals meetings, but James and company are coming off of an NBA Championship win. Curry’s supporting cast isn’t nearly as good as it was during the Warriors Dynasty era, missing Klay Thompson notably, but Steph may not need it. He put out insane production, averaging 32 points a game and slipping into the 8th seed on a team whose second-best player was an inconsistent Andrew Wiggins. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been riddled with injuries through the year, only just getting LeBron and Anthony Davis off the IR list. In the end, while Curry may be an MVP favorite among the basketball fan community, the depth of the Lakers is too strong, and The Lake Show are shoe-ins for the 7th seed.

Los Angeles Lakers win 126-11

7/8 vs 9/10 Matchup

#8 Golden State Warriors vs #10 Memphis Grizzlies

Though I hate to go the boring route and pick all the higher seeds, Golden State is a shoo-in for this one. Curry is at his best when he has something to prove, and Ja Morant has yet to face an elimination situation in the NBA. Expect an all-time great performance from Curry, who will make another case for MVP. The Grizzlies should continue to try and build a core around Morant, starting with beefing up that interior offense. But until then, JJJ and Ja will have to sit home while Curry carries his team to the 8th seed.

Golden State Warriors win 119-98

Eastern Conference

#9 Indiana Pacers vs #10 Charlotte Hornets

A particularly interesting matchup, if only for the debut of rookie sensation LaMelo Ball, who, despite a short time out with an injury, has lived up to the hype. He has elevated Charlotte slightly. However, they’re still a very bad team on paper. The Pacers' success is completely dependent upon whether or not Domantas Sabonis, their all-star PF, plays. However, even if he does play, we can’t be sure he’ll even be at his all-star level right away. Though, again, I don’t love this Hornets team, I think, with the way LaMelo has been playing before his injury, the Hornets have a very real chance of pulling off a win here.

Charlotte Hornets win 91-88

#7 Boston Celtics vs #8 Washington Wizards

A very good matchup pits an injury-riddled Boston - who, when healthy, has a top roster in the East - vs a Washington Wizards team that was elevated from one of the worst teams in the league to a team that is at least worth watching, thanks to record-breaking performances from the all-time triple-double leader Russell Westbrook and scoring machine Bradley Beal. While there isn’t too much to be excited about outside of that for Washington, Boston continues to be a huge question mark due to their injuries. Jaylen Brown is obviously not playing, and Robert Williams is questionable, meaning it will take a great performance from Jayson Tatum and a throwback performance from Kemba Walker to get over the Russ hill. Because of Washington and Westbrook’s recent momentum, I think the Wizards have just enough to steal the 7th seed spot from Boston.

Washington Wizards win 135-125

7/8 vs 9/10 Matchup

#7 Boston Celtics vs #9 Indiana Pacers

The battle of two teams who should be much better if not for injuries throughout the year. With a healthy Sabonis, Boston really wouldn’t have much of an answer in the inside. However, Pacer’s best defender, Myles Turner, wouldn’t be very helpful when trying to deal with Tatum on the wing or Kemba outside the arch. It should be an interesting mesh of strengths vs weaknesses. Still, in the end, it will come down to which strengths are stronger, and I have a hard time seeing a hobbled Sabonis, Bogdanovic, or McConnell outplaying Jayson Tatum, which is why the Celtics should get the slight edge and sneak back into the playoffs.

Boston Celtics win 113-109

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