After all the whining and complaining about the NBA’s new play-in tournament, the change has accomplished what it ultimately set out to do — make the final days of the regular season more intriguing.
For those in need of a refresher, the NBA announced during the offseason that there would be a play-in tournament for the final two playoff seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conference. The 7-8 seeds will play each other with the winner securing the seventh seed in the playoffs, while the winner between the 9-10 seeds will play the loser of the 7-8 matchup with the winner securing the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
The play-in tournament begins Tuesday night, with added drama as three of the league’s most storied franchises will be included. The defending champion Lakers have a true test as they try and contain MVP contender Steph Curry, while the Celtics limp into postseason play after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals three of the last four years.
Once the playoff matchups are set, you won’t have an off night from hoops for at least a month. Simply put, there isn’t a better time of year to be a sports fan. I’m sure there’ll be an injury here or there and I’ll end up looking like a fool, but let’s make some predictions.
No. 10 Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 Indiana Pacers (May 18, 6:30 EST on ESPN)
Even without Gordon Hayward, I still like the Hornets with LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. Indiana hasn’t been able to stop anyone as of late and they seem like a team that’s ready for a long stay in Cancun.
No. 8 Washington Wizards at No. 7 Boston Celtics (May 18, 9:00 EST on ESPN)
The Celtics are a mess and they’re going against a Washington team that went 15-5 to close out the season. Without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics will rely heavily on Jayson Tatum, and it won’t be enough to beat the surging Wizards.
No.10 San Antonio Spurs at No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies (May 19, 7:30 EST on ESPN)
Memphis won the season series against the Spurs, and I’ll always take the best player in a one-game take-all scenario. Look for Ja Morant and Memphis to push the pace.
Game 4: No. 8 Golden State Warriors at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers (May 19, 10:00 EST on ESPN)
The defending champion LA Lakers somehow found their way into the play-in games after a disappointing regular season marked by injuries, and Steph Curry is capable of putting up a 50-spot at any time, but Golden State doesn’t have anyone else that can truly help Curry out.
“We anticipate they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at Steph,” Steve Kerr said on Tuesday.
Though I’m not confident in this pick whatsoever considering the limited amount of time the Lakers have spent together on the court due to injuries, the Lakers’ size will be too much for Golden State.
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Western Conference Finals Prediction
Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns
There are serious questions surrounding the Lakers — James’ ankle is certainly not 100% — and Chris Paul brings playoff experience to the young Suns core. The Suns rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating and CP3, Devin Booker and Co. will be too much in the first round for a Lakers team still working on their chemistry.
The Clippers have been under the radar all season since their embarrassing showing in the Orlando bubble. I don’t like that they clearly tanked at the end of the season in order to avoid the Lakers side of the bracket, but the Clippers had the NBA’s third best offensive rating and eighth best defensive rating during the regular season. I expect Paul George to finally prove himself in the postseason (I can’t believe I’m saying this), and the Clippers to reach the organizations first Conference Finals. Another fantastic season by CP3 without a trip to the NBA Finals will be the storyline.
Eastern Conference Finals Prediction
Brooklyn Nets vs Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers side of the bracket shouldn’t pose many issues for Joel Embiid and the number one seed in the East. They’ll play whoever comes out of the play-in tournament as the eighth seed, and then either the New York Knicks or the Atlanta Hawks. Philly comes into playoffs with the second best defensive rating in the league, and getting to the Conference Finals shouldn’t be difficult.
Brooklyn’s path is slightly more difficult. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks potentially waiting for them in the Eastern Semi’s, the Nets had better hope to be fully healthy and in playing shape. I think they will be, and I think their Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving will be more than enough for the Nets to make a trip to the Conference Finals.
NBA Finals Prediction
Brooklyn Nets vs Los Angeles Clippers
Embiid should feast against Brooklyn, but even if he puts up 40 points and 10 rebounds a game, it’s hard to imagine the Sixers outscoring the Nets. The Clippers still have two of the best players in the game and the Suns lack playoff experience overall.
NBA Finals Champion Prediction
If healthy, the Nets can’t be slowed down offensively. If any team has a chance of stopping them, it’s the Clippers with two phenomenal wing defenders in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. I’m taking the easy way out, choosing offense over defense, and predicting the Brooklyn Nets win the 2021 NBA Finals.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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