A Look at the NBA’s Play-In Tournament

by Will Rogers

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Tuesday

Washington (8) at Boston (7)

Celtics  -1.5      O/U 234

Weird season all around, but none weirder than Washington’s. The Wizards opened the season 3-12, and then things started to go bad. There were five- and four-game losing streaks post All-Star Game, but here they are knocking on the door against a gasping Celtics team. Washington rode a resurgent Russell Westbrook to eight straight wins in a 12-5 April that moved the Wizards back in the playoff hunt. The Wizards have more than a puncher’s chance against Boston, which was outscored despite winning two of three against Washington. The Celtics, who are in disarray defensively and still haven’t yet figured out a way to cover for tiny guard Kemba Walker, were torched by Bradley Beal this year. Beal averaged nearly 42 in the three games vs. Boston, which has given up huge nights to numerous guards all year. Jaylen Brown (wrist) is out for the season, leaving the bulk of the scoring load to Walker and Jayson Tatum. Look for Washington to double-team Tatum all night; he struggles to find open teammates when swarmed.

Tuesday

Charlotte (10) at Indiana (9)

Pacers  -3.5    O/U 229

Heading into the post-season with five straight losses isn’t quite what Charlotte had in mind. The Hornets will now have to win two straight road games after blowing an 11-point lead and losing to Washington in the final regular season game. That’s a big problem, but not the only big problem for Charlotte. They need to figure out what to do with Pacers bigs Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Sabonis is an all-star who averaged better 20 and 12 this season, and Turner blocks nearly four shots a game and will make things problematic for LaMelo Ball’s drives. If things weren’t bad enough for Charlotte, Swiss army knife Gordon Hayward doesn’t expect to be able to go in the Play-In Tournament; Hayward missed 24 of the Hornets’ 72 games this season, and Charlotte was 8-16 in those games. If there is any consolation for Charlotte, it’s that Indy was atrocious at home this season, going 13-23 – the worst home record of any team in the post-season this year.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Wednesday

San Antonio (10) at Memphis (9)

Grizzlies -3.5     O/U 225.5

How many times has San Antonio played a post-season game and NOT had the best player in the series? Not too often, but that will be the case in this one-and-doner. The Grizzlies feature up-and-coming star Ja Morant and a whole lot of people who know their roles, and accept them. SA got its fill of Morant when the Grizzlies overpowered the Spurs in back-to-back games just before the All-Star break. But that set of games three months of go featured a different San Antonio defense. Since then LaMarcus Aldridge has been jettisoned and a younger 5-man, Jakob Poeltl, has taken over. San Antonio isn’t exactly breezing into the Play-In – the Spurs closed the season with four straight losses. But in a single game, would you bet against any team coached by Gregg Popovich? That would take plenty of courage. The Grizz, meanwhile, are young and strong and running against the wind, and figure to be a tough out if they manage to get past San Antonio and into the playoffs proper.

Wednesday

Golden State (8) at Los Angeles Lakers (7)

Lakers -6.5      O/U 222.5

LeBron James saw this one coming a mile away while he was rehabbing a sprained ankle that kept him off the court for several weeks. Now it’s a reality, and while the NBA no doubt is delighted with the TV rating that a James-Steph Curry match will no doubt draw, James will be grouchy as the defending champions face the possibility of having to win one of the next two before even thinking about the real playoffs. The Warriors sans Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant still managed to finish six games over .500 this season in the West, and it’s clear to anyone and everyone that Golden State – which won the NBA title only two years ago – will sink or swim on whether Curry (the NBA scoring champ this season) can continue his torrid shooting. The Lakers, meanwhile, did everything they could to avoid the Play-In, winning their final five games. But they needed help elsewhere, and didn’t get it. To make matters worse, James seemed to re-injure his ankle in the season finale on Sunday. Wild horses won’t keep him off the court against GS, but will he be at 100 percent?

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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