The NBA Play-In tournament has been great for fan interest in the product since it’s debut last season. Having the ability to play meaningful games down the stretch of the season has been fruitful. The best part of this is the jockeying between all of the teams from top to bottom in each conference.
In the East, is everyone worried about playing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round? Can the Nets stay out of the dreaded 9-10 game where it’s single elimination? In the West, with the Los Angeles Lakers season hurdling towards a disastrous conclusion we have the San Antonio Spurs still alive and well for the 10th spot. There are tiebreakers to determine some of these matchups. Otherwise, some teams are just going to have to finish strongly or poorly depending on your vantage point. Let’s take a look at it.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers 42-33
8. Brooklyn Nets 40-36
9. Charlotte Hornets 39-37
10. Atlanta Hawks 38-37
Directly above them
5. Chicago Bulls 44-32
6. Toronto Raptors 43-32
Here’s what we know in the East: the Charlotte Hornets are 8th but secured the tiebreaker against Brooklyn with their win against them this past Sunday. Now the Nets have a relatively easier schedule the rest of the way, plus Kyrie Irving available for all of the games. This result does put pressure on them now to finish ahead. No one wants their season to come down to a one game scenario against Trae Young.
The Hornets schedule is a bit more tricky, with games against the Sixers, Heat, and Bulls. They have to capitalize on the games against lesser competition. They can still get 8th but it’s still a young team. Will they recognize how important it is to get to the 7 vs 8 game?
Atlanta has struggled all season to live up to their run to the Conference Finals last season. They’re incredibly inconsistent and have suffered from injuries as well. However, with Trae Young they’re incredibly dangerous and easily can get hot in these limited sample sizes and get into the playoffs on the right night.
The 7th seeded Cavaliers have experienced a ton of injuries that have landed them in their current predicament. Rookie sensation Evan Mobley sprained his ankle Monday night against the Magic. They’ve lost star guard Colin Sexton already for the season. All-Star center Jarrett Allen has been out with a fractured finger. Those are just to name a few. No one has expected this type of season from Cleveland and anything they do in the postseason would be gravy. It’s just unfortunate that the injuries have hit them so hard. The Raptors are one game ahead of Cleveland but the Cavs have the tiebreaker. Moving up is still a possibility as both the Raptors and Bulls could easily slip up. It’s such a competitive conference.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves 43-33
8. Los Angeles Clippers 37-39
9. New Orleans Pelicans 32-43
10. San Antonio Spurs 31-44
11. Los Angeles Lakers 31-44
The eye popping thing here is the Lakers’ situation. With LeBron spraining his ankle the other night in New Orleans, the Lakers’ season is in serious peril. Now some Laker fans may prefer the season to end, but as long as they still have a chance the players and coaches are going to compete. The Lakers have the toughest schedule remaining, with games against the Jazz, Warriors, Suns, and 2 games with the Nuggets to top it off. The Lakers also play the Pelicans this Friday and probably without LeBron.
L.A. has no tiebreaker advantage against either New Orleans or San Antonio. They’ve lost the season series to New Orleans and lose the conference record to San Antonio. When the obituary is written on the Lakers; season, it’s going to be full of disappointment. There’ll be plenty more to be written about them.
New Orleans is in good shape as they’ve gotten healthier and have been playing better for a significant stretch of time since their 3-16 start. The trade for guard CJ McCollum has transformed their offense and Brandon Ingram when healthy has taken a step forward as an offensive player. They have the inside track on hosting the 9 vs 10 game.
As far as 7 vs 8, the Wolves and Clippers are almost assured of playing each other. Minnesota has a chance to catch Denver if they can beat them this Friday to claim the tiebreaker. The Wolves have been the surprise of the season as Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’angelo Russell have formed quite the competitive trio. As far as the Clippers go, they’ve been the walking wounded for quite awhile. They did get some good news as star forward Paul George returned from a torn elbow more that had him out three months tuesday night. He galvanized the team with 34 points 6 assists and 5 steals in a comeback win against Utah. With this win, the Clippers have now pulled the Jazz into this race to stay out of the Play-In.
The seventh seeded Wolves are now 2 games back of Utah. As we head to the end of the regular season, the difference between having a set playoff seed and fighting for your life could be as simple as who’s healthy. The race is on, and for these teams everything is at stake.