The NBA regular season has ended, and now the stakes are higher than ever as teams battle it out in the play-in tournament for the final playoff spots. The game is in its third year and has proven to be an exciting addition to the NBA postseason. This year’s play-in tournament features four matchups, with the winners of the 7-8 games advancing to the playoffs as the seventh seed in their respective conference. The losers of the 7-8 games will have another chance to make the playoffs, facing off against the winners of the 9-10 games for the final eighth seed.
In the Eastern Conference, the No. 7 Miami Heat will host the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks, while the No. 9 Toronto Raptors play the No. 10 Chicago Bulls. In the Western Conference, the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers will host the No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves, and the No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans will match up against the No. 10 Oklahoma City Thunder.
There is no doubt that the most intriguing matchup is the Lakers-Timberwolves game. The Lakers, who have won 17 NBA championships, are the most glamorous franchise in the league and are led by LeBron James, one of the greatest players ever. However, the Lakers have struggled this season, particularly with injuries to James and Anthony Davis. James has only missed the playoffs five times in his 20-year NBA career, and the Lakers will be looking to avoid being one of those five teams this year.
On the other hand, the Timberwolves have had a roller coaster of a season. Head coach Ryan Saunders was fired early in the season and replaced by Chris Finch. They have also dealt with injuries to key players such as D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. However, they have a talented young core led by Rookie of the Year favorite Anthony Edwards, who has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season.
There is also some drama heading into this matchup, with the Timberwolves’ recent win over the New Orleans Pelicans marred by two incidents. First, Rudy Gobert jabbed his teammate Kyle Anderson in the chest during a timeout, and then Jaden McDaniels fractured his hand after punching a wall in frustration. The Timberwolves must put these incidents behind them and focus on the task if they want to upset the Lakers and advance to the playoffs.
While the Lakers-Timberwolves matchup is the most highly anticipated, the other matchups have their fair share of intrigue. The Heat-Hawks game features two teams led by stars Jimmy Butler and Trae Young, while the Raptors-Bulls game will see DeMar DeRozan, who spent nine seasons with the Raptors, return to Toronto for a play-in game.
In the West, the Pelicans-Thunder matchup features two young, up-and-coming teams led by Brandon Ingram and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, respectively. The winner of this game will face the loser of the Lakers-Timberwolves matchup in the second play-in game for the final playoff spot.
So who will make it out of the play-in tournament and into the playoffs? It’s anyone’s guess, as these matchups will be highly competitive and unpredictable. However, some experts have weighed in on the matter.
Tim Bontemps believes the Lakers will advance to a fun series against the Memphis Grizzlies if they can get past the Timberwolves. Ohm Youngmisuk is excited to see the Thunder and Pelicans face off in what should be a hard-fought battle between two teams with bright futures. Tim MacMahon thinks the Timberwolves-Lakers game is a must-watch.