#8 Los Angeles Clippers @ #7 Minnesota Timberwolves
In a year that started off with fans questioning the future of Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, the T-Wolves have certainly found a way to completely diminish that. The trio of former #1 overall pick Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and KAT has meshed into an offensive powerhouse. They find themselves in playoff contention this year, with a chance to play the Memphis Grizzlies if they can beat the Clippers. Although the Grizzlies have looked virtually unstoppable this year, Minnesota is actually 2-2 against them this year, with one of the losses being in overtime. If I had to pick an X-factor for this potential series, it would have to be D-Lo. Russell has combined for 65 points in the two games that Minnesota won over the Grizz, giving them a big edge offensively.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been quite the surprise this year. The fact that they stand in this position currently is impressive, being without Kawhi Leonard (entire season) and Paul George, for most of this year. While the two were gone, Reggie Jackson rose to the occasion, averaging 16.8 points, with 3 rebounds and almost 5 assists. Efficient is the simplest way to describe his game. That being said, he’s shooting 27% from beyond the arc in his last 5 games, which is a huge concern. To beat this Minnesota team, the Clips are going to have to keep up with them offensively, and Jackson is a massive part of that. Luke Kennard should also be featured in Ty Lue’s rotation, being the spot up shooter he is. As for PG13, he’s been himself since the return, if not better. Shooting 52.5% from 3 point range, he gives this Clippers team a lot more life in the play-in.
Prediction: Whenever the Clippers are playing, I can’t count them out super easily. They are gritty, and know how to pick their opponents apart. But, I think the Timberwolves have just enough to get the job done. Having home court advantage will be big for them as well.
#8 Cleveland Cavaliers @ #7 Brooklyn Nets
A team that was certainly not expected to be in this situation, the Brooklyn Nets are now fully healthy (and vaccinated). That is, for the exception of Ben Simmons, of course. Simmons will not play in the play-in tournament, but will have a chance to play in Round 1 if the Nets advance. For me, Brooklyn is a clear favorite to get the 7 seed. Kyrie and KD have been hitting their best strides recently, and they have shown 0 signs of slowing down. Goran Dragic and Bruce Brown will also be key components to giving the Nets a big advantage while Darius Garland is off the court.
The most surprising team this year, J.B. Bickerstaff has the Cavs in a really good spot. Regardless of how the rest of this season ends, Cleveland fans should be stoked for their future. Collin Sexton will be returning next season, and a decent amount of money to spend in free agency. Back to the Brooklyn game. Jarrett Allen was ruled out with a finger injury, which is huge. Andre Drummond will now feast on the boards, on both ends. As a result, Evan Mobley needs to have a big game, or the Cavs are in big trouble.
Prediction: Losing Jarrett Allen is a huge problem. Even when the Cavs are fully healthy, I think Brooklyn beats them, but I’m not sure if it’s gonna be super close come crunch time. But, the Cavs have come to surprise a lot of people this year, and they may just do it again.
#10 San Antonio Spurs @ #9 New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans
Trajan Langdon deserves a ton of credit for how the Pelicans season has gone. Making the CJ McCollum trade has helped boost New Orleans’ chances of being a playoff team. A lot of credit also goes to the team, who turned a 1-12 start around. When New Orleans has both McCollum and Brandon Ingram on the floor, they look like a very scary team. Those two on offense, as well as rookie Herb Jones and Jonas Valenciunas to help on defense. Not to mention, Zion’s stepfather said that Zion will return this season, which is definitely something to keep an eye on.
San Antonio Spurs
Look, the Spurs don’t mind being in the play-in, but that wasn’t something on their bucket list season. The Lakers just lost too many games, to the point where San Antonio accepted their fate in not getting a top 10 pick. All-Star guard Dejounte Murray has certainly improved his game this year in all aspects, being 2 rebounds and less than an assist away from averaging a triple double this year. They have now been in the 10 seed twice in a row, but it would still take a lot to avoid consecutive losses in the 9/10 play-in game. You can never count a team coached by Greg Poppovich out, so let’s see how he can utilize his young guns.
Prediction: I think this will most definitely be a tightly contested game. Devin Vassel and Jakob Poeltl are players to lookout for the Spurs, as they tend to be really aggressive in the paint. Brandon Ingram sat the last few games out of the regular season to rest, so we should expect to see him dominating as usual. I believe New Orleans will scratch out a late victory here, giving them a big chance to get back to the playoffs.
#10 Charlotte Hornets @ #9 Atlanta Hawks
It’s safe to say that the Hawks landed nowhere near expectations this season. After being just 2 wins away from an NBA Finals appearance, they now find themselves hosting the 9/10 play-in game. Unexpected, but they are still a very solid team. Trae Young, who led the league in total points and assists this season, knows what the Hawks are capable of, they just need to win 2 games and get a playoff spot. It seems very possible that John Collins can return either the second playoff game (if ATL beats CHA), or in the first round. But until then, Bogdan Bodganovic and Danilo Gallinari will need to continue to step it up. Nate McMillan has faced a lot of criticism regarding his lineups, so it’ll definitely be interesting to see how utilizes it against a fairly deep team, in the Hornets.
A young team, like the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets are trying to avoid gets bounced in the 9/10 game again this year. They will travel to Atlanta, where the Hawks have been dominant this year. Again, they will be without small forward Gordon Hayward, who can be an elite source of offense at times. Without him, Charlotte needs to attack with Miles Bridges, especially with John Collins being out. It is almost impossible to stop Trae Young, so I feel containing the role players will be the key to success. If they can’t get good shots up, the offense can fall stagnant, in which Charlotte can take advantage.
Prediction: To be honest, this may be the tightest game of the play-in. Both teams know how to score effectively, but can also be found in situations where they just can’t buy a bucket. I feel there is a greater chance that the Hawks contain the Hornets, than vice versa. Trae Young has also felt the pressure of these situations, which can help his teammates absorb it as well.
My Final Seeds:
Eastern Conference: 7. Brooklyn Nets, 8. Atlanta Hawks
Western Conference: 7. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8. New Orleans Pelicans
Top Photo: Getty Images