Analyzing the Play-In games

By Shawn Dennis

It’s time. The NBA playoffs are kicking-off today, May 18th, and players and fans alike have mixed emotions for what the playoffs consist of. A season that’s been riddled with injuries, crazy trades, and COVID protocol has now reached its peak as the playoffs get underway. 

It’s funny how the tables turn when you become a part of something you were in support of occurring, only to completely switch sides when it happens to you. Just ask LeBron James, who was so for the NBA introducing a Play-In style tournament for the playoffs until his Los Angeles Lakers team dropped to the 7th seed in the Western Conference. Who would’ve guessed that LeBron James and Steph Curry, two players that have been included in the Finals for the past decade, would be playing against each other to secure the 7th seed in the playoffs? Nobody.

In any case, these playoffs are even more interesting this season than last because of the switch up in teams that are in and out of the picture. From the New York Knicks being a four-seed and the Utah Jazz grabbing the top-seed to the Toronto Raptors finishing outside the top-ten, I believe it’s going to be an exhilarating playoffs full of surprises and upsets. 

So, let’s get right into it. 

Eastern Conference: 

No. 10 Charlotte Hornets vs.  No. 9 Indiana Pacers

Out of all four play-in games, I think this one will be the closest. Both teams have suffered tremendously from injuries as TJ Warren suffered a season-ending injury back in March, Caris LaVert missed a good chunk of the year, LaMelo Ball missed a couple of months and Gordon Hayward, who received a bag from Charlotte, has been out just as long with a foot injury. 

While looking at the two rosters, I think they matchup nicely. However, the difference maker between them is their coaching, as I believe it’ll come down to who gets the ball in the clutch and who’s on the floor. Hornets head coach James Borrego has to keep LaMelo Ball on the court in the fourth quarter, which he hasn’t done much of this season.

Either way, I think Terry Rozier is going to have himself a game and the Hornets will come out on top.

Final Prediction: Hornets 107, Pacers 103

No. 8 Washington Wizards vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics

These two teams have had a whirlwind-type season and got hot at totally different times this year. Remember when Bradley Beal was putting up insane numbers and still losing games? Making fans wonder why he wants to stay in Washington and that he deserves better? Well, now the Wizards are a team that could put on a tear against almost any team. 

As for the Celtics, disappointment is an understatement as to what they’ve been able to produce this year. There’s no rhyme or reason why they should be in the play-in tournament with the players that they have, with the best season of Jayson Tatum’s young career thus far leading way. As crazy as this sounds, however, I think the Celtic’s may be better off losing this game and I think they will. Only because they matchup better against the Philadelphia 76ers than they do the Brooklyn Nets, if everyone on the Nets roster is healthy.

The combination of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal will be too much for Boston to handle without Jaylen Brown in the backcourt and Kemba Walker doesn’t have that playoff experience or chip on the shoulder with these types of games to carry the team.

Final Prediction: Wizards 114, Celtics 109

Western Conference:

No. 10 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies

Two teams with plenty of young talent and grit, making it an entertaining matchup to see. The Spurs were a consistent team throughout the season until their last ten games, which they went 2-8 in. The Grizzlies are in a similar position as last season, however, still exceeding expectations as they have one of the youngest rosters in the league. 

This game isn’t going to come down to star power or simply one player taking over. Whoever wants it more will end up on top and that’s why I’m giving the edge to the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Ja Morant still has a bitter taste in his mouth from losing in the play-in last year in the Bubble and he’s looking for redemption. The Ja Morant-Jaren Jackson Jr. duo is no joke and I believe they are hungrier to make their presence in the playoffs than any team, aside from maybe the New York Knicks. 

Final Prediction: Grizzlies 121 Spurs 107

No. 8 Golden State Warriors No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

It would be shocking to me if this game doesn’t have more ratings than what the NBA Finals will have this year. 

What. A. Matchup. 

Two of the games highest competitors and arguably the most influential players to have ever played the game in Steph Curry and LeBron James are going to have an all-out battle. LeBron’s claim to be the best player of all time may be riding on this season, if he can’t make it out of the play-in tournament. 

Steph Curry has been nothing but stellar, winning the scoring title and being basically the only player worth mentioning on a lackluster Warriors team. 

I truly don’t see LeBron letting this game slip away, even though he said Curry should be the MVP this season. He won’t let Steph get in a groove easily. The depth that the Lakers have in the front court is going to eat the Warriors alive. This game is going to turn out one of two ways: the Lakers completely dominate and shut down Steph while cruising to victory or they won’t be able to control him and he’ll make things interesting. 

Regardless, I’m giving LA the victory. 

Final Prediction: Lakers 111 Warriors 96 

Due to the fact that I’m not a psychic, the remaining playoff series will be analyzed once I see who the winners are of the first play-in round. 

If you think I’m totally out-of-my-mind on any of these takes or have an opinion of your own, please share in the comments!

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