NBA play-in games tip off Tuesday

The highly anticipated NBA play-in games will kick off on Tuesday April 11.

Courtesy of Ian D'Andrea on Flickr

The highly anticipated NBA play-in games will kick off on Tuesday April 11.

The Golden State Warriors narrowly missed the dreaded play-in games by securing the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, but eight other teams will be fighting to make the NBA playoffs this week. 

The winner of the games between the No. 7 and 8 seeds earns a No. 7 seed and faces a No. 2 seed. The losers of those games face the winners of the games between the No. 9 and 10 seeds to earn the No. 8 seed and the right to play their conference’s top seed. The losers of the games between the No. 9 and 10 seeds are automatically eliminated. 

Here’s the first round matchups. Look for a complete preview of the NBA playoffs later this week.

Western Conference

No. 7 Los Angeles Lakes (7) vs No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (Tuesday 7 p.m. on TNT)

This will be a good matchup between the older, veteran team in the Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis versus one of the younger teams in the league led by Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Towns. Come playoff time James is one of the hardest men to beat in any sport. He just takes over games and puts it all on the line. The Lakers made a good addition by trading midseason for D’Angelo Russel, who has really helped the Lakers on offense. When healthy, Davis is dominant and is a great duo with James. Combined the two averaged 54.9 ppg.

The Timberwolves run with two big men in Towns and Rudy Gobert. Towns is another do-it-all center averaging 20.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert is an absolute unit on the defensive side of the ball and makes an impact at all times. But in the season finale against the Pelicans on Sunday, Gobert tried to punch teammate Kyle Anderson during a time out and could be suspended. Young forward Jaden McDaniels also punched a wall during the game and broke his hand. If both are out this could prove costly to the Timberwolves’ chances. Although I think the Timberwolves are a better team, this is LeBron’s time of the year and he will deliver.

No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans vs No. 10 Oklahoma City Thunder (Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN)

I can’t see this game being close at all. The only player of significance on the Thunder is Shai Gilgeous Alexander. He has been their only viable option on offense averaging 31.4 ppg. They have lots of young guys like Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren, who is out with a foot injury, so the future looks bright for the Thunder. But now is not their time. 

The Pelicans have the trio of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum, who combined for 71.2 ppg this season. But the Pelicans are in the play-in game because they are all offense and no defense. This will cause them problems if they make the playoffs. I have the Pelicans winning this game with ease.

Eastern Conference

No. 7 Miami Heat v No. 8 Atlanta Hawks (Tuesday 4:30 p.m. on TNT)

This is a Southeast Division matchup for this play-in game. The Heat are a very deep team led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but they have a great supporting cast of players with the likes of Tyler Herro, Max Strus, and the recently added Kevin Love. The Heat are the more experienced team with Butler and Adebayo. Butler has that veteran experience in the playoffs and that’s priceless. He plays great defense and showed in the 2020 that he can be a scoring threat, keeping his team in the fight in the 2020 NBA Finals by averaging 26.2 points per game before the Lakers won the title in six games.

The Hawks are really carried by point guard Trae Young, who averages 26.2 points and 10.2 assists per game. Some other notable players on the Hawks are John Collins and Dejountae Murray. But it has been proven that Young can’t carry the Hawks alone, and until he gets another star to compliment him, I don’t think they will do anything. I have the Heat winning in a close matchup.

No. 9 Toronto Raptors vs No. 10 Chicago Bulls (Wednesday at 4 p.m. on ESPN)

Chicago forward DeMar Derozan returns to Toronto in what could be the only interesting storyline for this lackluster play-in game. Derozan had many great seasons for Toronto and helped the Raptors reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 and 2018 before being shipped to San Antonio in 2019, the year Toronto finally won the NBA title. But Derozan has really found a role in Chicago as one of the Bulls top scoring options. Playing alongside Derozan is Zach Lavine, who used to be thought of as a one dimensional player but has shown the league that he can score at all levels. The duo both average around 25 points per game.

The Raptors are led by Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. Siakam is very well rounded, averaging 24 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game. VanVleet is averaging about 20 ppg. I think this Toronto team is very underwhelming while the Bulls are exciting. I think Bulls’ center Nikola Vucevic will be the difference because it is a matter of if anyone can stop him. Siakam is not a good defender, so assumedly Jakob Poetl will try to guard him. I don’t think that will go well. I think Chicago pulls this one out.