Say all you want against it, but I think the play-in tournament is a great idea. It not only keeps the 9th and 10th seed spots competitive and playoff viable through to the end of the season, but it’s also a nice little appetizer for what’s to come.
You could convince me that single-game elimination is unnecessary, but it’s honestly only humbling for some of these teams that the previous notion you were “safely” in the playoffs for barely breaking .500 has been thrown out the window.
Below, I’ve broken down which teams have the best chance at moving forward, and which teams have sadly seen their seasons come to an end.
(10) San Antonio Spurs
Did anyone truly think we would see Dejounte Murray and the Spurs here instead of LeBron James and the Lakers? San Antonio is just one season out of losing DeMar DeRozan to the Bulls and should–in all other mindsets other than having to compete in a play-in tournament–be in rebuild mode. The Spurs are also without many of their shooters from earlier in the season, such as Derrick White (traded to the Celtics) and Bryn Forbes (Nuggets).
(9) New Orleans Pelicans
Gaining CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. from the Trail Blazers at the trade deadline may have single-handedly saved the Pelicans from immediate elimination this season, in a year where star forward Zion Williamson has not played a single game due to a fractured foot. Back in late-February, it was even reported that McCollum and Williamson had yet to speak, though hopefully the drama in New Orleans has settled for a more-solid 2022-2023 season.
- Against the Pelicans, the Spurs are 3-1 this season. McCollum is their greatest threat, as he’s exceeded 30 pts in two of their three matchups. The Spurs will also be without Doug McDermott, a 42% three-point shooter who is out for the season with a grade 3 ankle sprain. That’s all to say, however, that I don’t see either team making it out of the play-in tournament.
(8) Los Angeles Clippers
Everything changes for the Clippers now that Paul George is back. Kawhi has yet to play a game, but LA has won their past five games since George’s return, alongside their trade-deadline acquisition of Normal Powell from the Trail Blazers. Powell is averaging 19 points ppg, and other key players such as Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Nicolas Batum have remained healthy.
(7) Minnesota Timberwolves
The team most-likely to get out of the play-in tournament in a one-and-done win over the Clippers, The Timberwolves’ have a chance to even get past a first-round series against the Grizzlies. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell have played very well together this season, with an impressive 119-99 victory over the Warriors back in January.
- The Clippers, however, are 3-1 over the Timberwolves this year, and their three victories came back in November when Paul George hid his stride. Last year, Paul George and the Clippers (with Kawhi Leonard) made it to the Western Conference Finals.
Predictions: Clippers rout the Timberwolves for the 7th seed spot against the Memphis Grizzlies. Timberwolves defeat the Pelicans for the 8th after a tight battle between New Orleans and San Antonio. Minnesota then faces the Phoenix Suns, the team with the best record in the league.
(10) Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets may have 2021 Rookie of the Year Lonzo Ball, but this play-in spot is his first taste of the postseason. Their success going any further than Game 1 here, however, rests on the shoulders of Miles Bridges and Terry Rozier once Ball starts getting double-defended. Gordon Hayward, who averaged around 15 ppg this season, will also be out indefinitely after he had a cast placed around his sprained left ankle.
(9) Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young, the dark horse of last year’s playoff bracket, finished the 2021-2022 regular season averaging 28.4 ppg with 9.7 assists. Though the Hawks will be without John Collins, they have been for quite some time and still posted the third-highest rated offense in the league. Young also goes into full throttle in the postseason and is always poised to score over 30 points with full minutes.
- The Hawks and the Hornets are tied 2-2 this season. In their most-recent matchup, Charlotte won 116-106 thanks to an extra 20 points off the bench from Montrezl Harell, who they picked up at the trade deadline from the Wizards. Charlotte was also able to hold Trae Young to a rare 9 points, with just 3-12 shots made and 0-6 three-pointers.
(8) Cleveland Cavaliers
Hampered by injuries, the Cavaliers were sitting above the play-in line earlier in the season before losing Colin Sexton and Jarrett Allen to potential season-ending injured. Allen will hopefully return to give the Cav’s another center outside of possible Rookie of the Year Evan Mobley, but it’s hard to enter the postseason with two of your stars indefinitely sidelined. Despite the injuries, Darius Garland has turned into an exceptional point guard and Cleveland has somehow rapidly accelerated a post-LeBron rebuild thanks to some of the best consecutive drafting in the league–Sexton in 2018, Garland in 2019, Okoro in 2020, and Mobley in 2021.
(7) Brooklyn Nets
If Kyrie Irving just took the damn vaccine, the Nets would not be sitting down at 7th in the East. Sure, the Harden deal, Joe Harris’ season-ending ankle tear, and Durant’s knee issues certainly derailed Brooklyn’s season as well, but a team with Durant and Irving are playoff contenders no matter what. They’ve been putting up impressive numbers to boot as well, with Durant scoring 55 points against Atlanta last week and Irving totaling 42 points against Houston.
- The Nets are 3-1 over Cleveland this season, and just defeated them 118-107 this past Friday. Andre Drummond and Seth Curry have added big numbers to the Nets offense, and they’ll need it with such a middling defense. Despite the win, they still let Garland shoot 12-24 for 31 points in their last matchup. Ben Simmons, as well, will likely not suit up.
Predictions: Without Sexton or Allen, it’s hard to choose Cleveland over a Nets team with Durant and Irving both active. Nets take the 7th seed to face the defending champs Bucks in the first round. If Allen is still out for the Cav’s second play-in opportunity, Trae Young and the Hawks can take out both the Hornets and the injury-hampered Cavaliers in close games to secure the 8th seed against Miami.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.