It’s play-in tournament time, and now that we know all the participants, let’s look at Day One, which will be the seven vs. eight seed in each conference. We have intriguing matchups here and two teams that weren’t expected to be dealing with the play-in when the season started back in October.
The play-in tournament has already produced some fond memories in its short history, like Lebron James vs. Steph Curry in the seven-eight game during last year’s play-in. That was the game where James hit the game-winning three while seeing three rims. This year’s tournament could also produce magic on the first day.
Game 1: No. 8 Cleveland at No. 7 Brooklyn
This battle for the No. 7 seed in the east should be a close one throughout. It feels like a long time ago now, but Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert were Brooklyn Nets just last season. Most players usually get hyped for any opportunity to beat the team that traded them, no matter how long it’s been. The fact that a victory over the Nets could play a part in their demise this season should be extra motivation for Allen and LeVert.
All the motivation in the world probably won’t be enough to get the Cavs past the Nets on this day. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be too much for this young Cavs squad, who will fight but ultimately won’t have enough firepower to compete with Brooklyn in this scenario. I can see this being a game where KD and Kyrie go off for over 35 points each. Both players know they need big performances and cannot lose this game.
Aside from Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love, this is a pretty young and inexperienced team in Cleveland. Love and Rondo will need to dig deep into their bag of tricks to help the Cavs get past the Nets in this game. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but a Nets loss would be surprising. One advantage the Cavs have over the Nets is in the frontcourt. And it is a significant advantage.
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The Cavs frontcourt is close to 7-feet across the board with Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and Evan Mobley. Mobley is in a position that most top three draft picks aren’t usually in during their rookie season. That is playing meaningful games in April. It may not go much further, but this year was an excellent start for this young roster.
I’ve got the Nets winning this game and moving on to face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the eastern conference playoffs. The firestorm of criticism that would befall Brooklyn should they lose this game is something Durant and Irving want to avoid.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Game 2: No. 8 L.A. Clippers at No. 7 Minnesota
In the western conference, the Clippers, led by Paul George, are the team none of the top seeds want to face in the first round. George averaged 22.5ppg over his last four games upon returning to the lineup from injury. And let’s be honest, the Clippers aren’t your regular lower seed playoff seed.
Before PG went down in December, the Clippers were hanging around in fourth and fifth place for the first couple of months of the season. They also recently got Norman Powell back, added to Reggie Jackson and the other role players. Now you’ve got a formidable team heading into the postseason.
Minnesota had a great season with Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley as their core players. That’s three former high lottery draft picks and another first-round talent. It’s about time this team stepped up and improved their record. The Timberwolves have won their most games (46) since 2018. The excuse of Minnesota being “young” won’t fly too much longer, so coming out and surprising this veteran Clippers team would be a great way to get into the playoffs.
The big guns for Minnesota can’t get stage fright playing in a stand-alone game on national television with a shot at the postseason on the line. The Twolves will need 20 plus points each from their three young stars, Towns, Edwards, and Russell, with Beasley also chipping in his 12-15 points. Minnesota needs maximum effort from everybody who touches the floor in this game. Defeating the Clippers would be an incredible way to let the league know they’re here to stay.
There isn’t a ton of pressure for the Clippers since nobody expected much out of them anyway once George got hurt, and Kawhi Leonard was already out recovering from ACL surgery. Whatever the Clippers accomplish this postseason is gravy. I see the Clippers winning this game against the Twolves. Then I’ll take the Clippers in seven games over the Grizzlies in the first round. Yep, I’m calling my shot.
Winner: L.A. Clippers