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Sunday, April 14, 2024

An NBA Play-In, Playoff first-round preview

A preview of the Play-In games and the first round of NBA Playoffs

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

A fantastic basketball season filled with broken records, medical disputes, blockbuster trades, season-ending injuries and much more is coming close to a conclusion. The teams who have persevered past the obstacles of the regular-season are now making it to the promised land, the NBA Playoffs. 

With the newly added NBA Play-In Tournament, a competition between the Eastern and Western Conferences’ seventh through 10th seeds for the last two places in the playoffs, more teams have a chance to change the fate of their season. 

Taking a look at the Western Conference, the teams competing for the play-in are the Minnesota Timberwolves (46-36) who currently occupy the seventh seed and the Los Angeles Clippers (42-40). Yes, the Clippers — not the Lakers who unfortunately fell short and missed the playoffs — are the current eighth seed. Then, in the ninth seed are the New Orleans Pelicans (36-46) and, finally, the San Antonio Spurs (34-48) are in the 10th spot. 

The T-Wolves are set to play the Clippers in the play-in for the seventh seed in the playoffs. Star players Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Edwards have helped maintain the T-Wolves explosive offense, which happens to be top 10 in offensive rating in the NBA. While the Clippers have maintained a top 10 defense, with players like Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum anchoring the defense. These two teams will make for an exciting matchup, for sure. 

Next is the play-in matchup between the Spurs and Pelicans. The Spurs have an all-star point-guard in Dejounte Murray to lead their team. The Pelicans on the other hand have shooting guard CJ McCollum and previous all-star Brandon Ingram at the small forward position. The winner of this matchup will go on to play the loser of the Timberwolves and Clippers game to compete for the eight seed in the playoffs. 

On the topic of the playoffs the teams who sit atop the Western Conference the order is as follows:

  1. Phoenix Suns (64-18)
  2. Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
  3. Golden State Warriors (53-29)
  4. Dallas Mavericks (52-30)
  5. Utah Jazz (49-33)
  6. Denver Nuggets (48-34)

The No. 1 seed Suns will play whoever wins the eighth seed, which means they could play the Timberwolves, Spurs, Clippers or Pelicans in the first round. With an incredible backcourt in Devin Booker and Chris Paul helping lead the team to top 10 spots in both offense and defense in the league, whoever they matchup with is in for a long series with the defending Western Conference champions. It’s a similar situation with the Grizzlies who play the winner of the seventh seed. Led by all-star and explosive point guard Ja Morant who is surrounded by all-around complimentary players, the seventh seed is going to have to be smarter than the average bear to beat this team.

As of now the Warriors are set to play the Nuggets in the first round. The Warriors have championship DNA on their side with stars Klay Thompson at shooting guard and power-forward Draymond Green to lead the offense and anchor the top three defense. Unfortunately their star and face of the team Stephen Curry is currently out with an injury with no planned return date. However, while talking on ESPN’s Bird and Taurasi Show Curry hopes to “return for game one of the playoffs.” 

Curry will hope to be back in time to help his team take on reigning regular season MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Jokic also happens to be leading the MVP odds for this season as well, stoically leading his team to a top 10 spot in offensive rating. This matchup will display two spectacular offenses at odds against each other. 

The last Western Conference matchup is between the Mavericks and the Jazz. The Mavs have the miracle worker Luka Doncic commanding their offense at point-forward, along with complementary players Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie occupying the guard positions. The Mavs have a top 10 defense in the league under new head coach Jason Kidd and are no slouch on offense either. They face the Utah Jazz with dynamic shooting-guard Donovan Mitchell and former defensive-player of the year Rudy Gobert, who have the No. 1 offense in the league. Overall a matchup worth watching between two teams that will desperately look at this as a must-win series. 

Moving to the Eastern Conference, the play-in teams consist of the Brooklyn Nets (44-38) in the seventh seed, Cleveland Cavaliers in the eighth seed (44-38), Atlanta Hawks (43-39) in the ninth seed and the Charlotte Hornets (43-39) occupying the 10th seed. 

The Cavaliers are set to play the Nets for the seventh seed in the play-in tournament. Allstars Darius Garland at point-guard and center Jarret Allen have made a name for themselves this season and got the team to a top 10 defensive spot. Still, they have to face the “Slim Reaper” in forward Kevin Durant and “Uncle Drew” in point-guard Kyrie Irving playing for the Nets. The two offensive superstars will hope to lead their team to victory, but the Nets lack a primary defensive presence. This could be a wildcard of a game with a lot of implications on both sides.

The second play-in matchup is between the Hawks and Hornets. Atlanta has an all-star point-guard in Trae Young to lead their offense, which happens to be No. 2 in the league. He’s accompanied by players forward John Collins and shooting-guard Bogdan Bogdanovic to compliment the offensive prowess — which they hope can cover their iffy defense. They’re facing the Hornets who also have an all-star point guard in LaMelo Ball and occupy a top 10 offense in the league. Ball has teammates, Terry Rozier as a complementary guard and Miles Bridges at forward to help with the offensive load. These teams are set up for an offensive show like no other, as they will be playing for their seasons in what will be a fun matchup between two young squads. 

The winner of the Cavaliers-Nets game goes onto the seventh seed in the playoffs. While the loser plays the winner of the Hawks vs. Hornets game for the eighth seed. In turn, the eighth seed will go onto play the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the seventh seed will play the second seed. The teams on top of the Eastern Conference are currently:

  1. Miami Heat (53-29) 
  2. Boston Celtics (51-31)
  3. Milwaukee Bucks (51-31)
  4. Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)
  5. Toronto Raptors (48-34)
  6. Chicago Bulls (46-36)

The Heat will take on the winner of the eight seed. With forward Jimmy Butler, point guard Kyle Lowery and shooting guard Tyler Herro, the Heat are top 10 in both offense and defense. Whoever they face in the first round it’ll definitely be a scorching matchup — especially if it’s Brooklyn. In the exciting 2-7 series, the Celtics will have their all-star Jayson Tatum at the forward accompanied by star shooting guard Jaylen Brown. They have the No. 1 defense in the league and are top 10 in offense as well, which has propelled them to their scorching end of the season, and whoever the seventh seed ends up being is a match up to be watched. The obvious wild card in these first round series are the Nets, who can make a first round matchup unlike one we’ve ever seen.

The reigning world champions Bucks are taking on the Bulls in the first round in the 3-6 matchup. The Bucks retained their core of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, sharpshooter Khris Middleton and point guard Jrue Holiday. Together they garnered a top 10 offense and remain a title contender. However, they’re facing the all-star pair of forward DeMar DeRozan and shooting guard Zach Lavine who give the Bulls their horns on offense. 

The last Eastern Conference first-round series is between the 76ers and the Raptors. The Sixers have an MVP contender in center Joel Embiid and star James Harden to combine for a deadly pick-and-roll threat, while the Raptors have all-star point-guard Fred VanVleet paired with forwards Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes helping the team to a top 10 defense. This is definitely an exciting matchup waiting to be seen, as we see a veteran team in Philadelphia try to win amid the pressure of a championship.

The play-in and first-round of the playoffs are upon us. After a season filled with magnificent basketball, it’s only fitting that the playoffs will be just as magnificent — if not better. 

 

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org

 

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