Photo credit: Domantas Sabonis/Instagram, Russell Westbrook/Instagram, Charlotte Hornets/Instagram, LaMelo Ball/Instagram, Ja Morant/Instagram
Sa wakas, playoffs na! As we have mentioned before, this season will be a bit different compared to what basketball fans are used to since only the top 6 teams in both conferences have a guaranteed ticket to the postseason.
What’s new? The playoff play-in tournament! It’s basically a small tourney where the 9th and 10th seeded teams get a shot at earning the last two playoff spots. It’s kinda like March Madness in a sense that it’s a one-off game to determine your fate.
And well, not everyone is a fan of the updated format.
That said, we’ll be looking at the eight teams in the Eastern and Western Conference who will go head-to-head for the final four playoff tickets.
First, let’s head to the East!
Photo credit: NBA on TNT/Twitter
#7 Boston Celtics (36-36) vs. #8 Washington Wizards (34-38)
This should be a fun match! This was an unexpected outcome for both teams. The C’s are supposed to be perennial contenders and kicked off the season claiming the Top 4 spot of the division.
Unfortunately, not only did it become an underwhelming campaign for them, the team also had to deal with player injuries. Case in point, Jaylen Brown went down with a season-ending wrist injury, leaving Jayson Tatum to carry the brunt of Boston’s offense. Kemba Walker was supposed to be another guy they could depend on but he’s been madly inconsistent this season. We’re hoping Walker bounces back in the playoffs because the C’s will need his skills against the red-hot Wizards.
On the flip side, the Washington Wizards had a rough start but now have a fighting chance at the postseason. They were at the bottom of the league rankings but somehow, Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook made it work.
The Washington Wizards had an incredible run during the second half of the season, earning the right to contend for a playoff spot. The Celtics will host the Wizards at TD Garden. The winner of the game automatically becomes the 7th seed and sets a date with the Brooklyn Nets. The loser, meanwhile, will still have a chance for the eighth spot since they will be taking on the winner of the 9th vs. 10th seed game.
#9 Indiana Pacers (34-38) vs #10 Charlotte Hornets (33-39)
The Pacers and Hornets are facing a “go big or go home” scenario. The Pacers were hot at the start but eventually fizzled out by the end of the season. Good thing the play-in tourney was in effect this year or they would have already been eliminated.
Domantas Sabonis has been brilliant for the team and Indy would likely not be in this position if not for him.
However, if they want to win against the Hornets, the rest of the Pacers need to up their game and help out the Lithuanian big man. It remains unclear if Malcolm Brogdon will be healthy enough to participate in the play-in so Caris LeVert must step up to beat the pesky Hornets.
The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and Miles Bridges had a lot to do with that, but it’s clear that LaMelo Ball was the dude who successfully revived the formerly lackluster franchise.
The soon-to-be Rookie of The Year winner—yeah, we said it—has brought the buzz back into the city with his gutsy play and flair for the theatrics. Leading his team to the playoffs would definitely boost his case for ROY.
The winner of this match gets to fight another day and take on the loser of the Celtics vs. Wizards match-up for the final spot in the Eastern Conference.
Now, let’s mosey on over to the wild West.
Photo credit: NBA on TNT/Twitter
#7 Los Angeles Lakers (42-30) #8 Golden State Warriors (39-33)
A few years ago, a playoff match-up between the Lakers and the Warriors would probably have taken place during the Western Conference Finals. But times are changing so now these popular teams are fighting to get that last invite.
LeBron James and Stephen Curry will once again duke it out and the stakes are at an all-time high. Each team is battling it out to claim the title as a 7th seed or lower. Too bad that the injury bug has greatly hindered both the Warriors and Lakers this season. Fortunately for the Lakers, they can officially begin their title defense with LBJ and Anthony Davis back in action.
But first, they must get past Curry and the Warriors. It’s obvious that the Golden State Warriors are the underdogs given the injuries they have dealt with all season long. Heck, they will be missing several key figures against the Lakers. However, it would be foolish to count a team with Curry in it.
As the league’s leading scorer, Steph Curry will once again carry the team for a chance to make it back into the postseason. It’s going to be one tall order for sure, but expect Chef Curry to be ready to serve.
Whoever wins this match will have to face off against Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the rest of the second-seed Phoenix Suns.
#9 Memphis Grizzlies (38-34) vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs (33-39)
As far as scrappy teams go, the Grizzlies and the Spurs are the best ones right now. Ja Morant and the Grizz narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season and he definitely wants to get his first taste this year.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are no longer the dynasty they once were in earlier years, but are also looking forward to making it into the postseason after missing out for the first time in 22 years last season.
Both teams have youth going for them in terms of the player lineup so this should be a fun winner-take-all match. Morant is easily one of the players to watch, while Memphis is a well-coached, well-oiled machine when they’re on top of their game.
The Spurs, however, still have the legendary Gregg Popovich calling the shots in the sidelines and still has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Plus, they also have the playoff-tested DeMar DeRozan who low-key had a phenomenal campaign.
The loser of this match will bid their season goodbye, while the winner will take on the loser of the Lakers vs. Warriors match up.
Which teams do you think will emerge as the last four representatives of both conferences? Which team are you rooting to make it into the postseason?