Thanks to a strong final week of the regular season, we sit at 83-69-3 entering the playoffs. But before the action gets underway on Saturday, we have the new play-in tournament. With a pair of Eastern Conference games on Tuesday, and the Western Conference on Wednesday, we have plenty of games to cover here.
I’ll admit, I feel as though I have a much stronger feel for the Western Conference games, but the more I look into this game, the more I lean to the Hornets. Let’s get the one glaring negative for me out of the way here. This team has been battling for playoff position down the stretch, and finished the regular season losing five straight. Not very encouraging. But outside of Gordon Hayward, this team has now found its health, whereas the Pacers’ injury report is still messy.
Caris LeVert will play in this one, but both Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon are questionable, and would be massive losses. Brogdon hasn’t played since April, and it’d be surprising to see him out there. Even if he does play, it’d be a lot to ask him to have his usual impact on the game. Sabonis is likely to be out there, but the fact he’s even on the injury report speaks to how banged up this team is.
While the Pacers seem to have quit on their coach this season, Charlotte has been the opposite. The Hornets have rallied around adversity all season, and still found a way to be in this position. Charlotte did take the season series 2-1, winning the last two meetings, including a 17-point win in Indy in the last meeting. I’ll take the points in this situation.
Potential Play: Underdog on the live line
The Wizards should be a trendy dog in this one, in a meeting of two teams going in completely opposite directions. The Celtics had hopes of contending in the Eastern Conference and completely collapsed. The Wizards looked liked they’d be golfing by now, by then ripped off a 17-6 finish to the regular season, reaching the top-eight seeds for the first time on the last day of the season.
Both of these teams have been wildly inconsistent, making this game very tough to bet a side on. But one thing both teams have done consistently is put themselves in massive holes, only to dig out and find themselves in a close game down the stretch. I think that’s the type of game we see here. As soon as an opportunity presents itself to live bet a team down about 15 points in the first half of this one, I’ll go for it, regardless of which side it is. On Sunday, in a game for the eight-seed against the Hornets, the Wizards went down 16 and battled back for the win. Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw the Celtics erase a 32-point deficit at home to beat the Spurs. We should see something like this in this game.
This just feels like Memphis’ spot to breakout, even though we know they will be sizable road dogs on Friday if they win this one. The young Grizzlies have plenty of experience in this type of game, playing a nail biter against the Blazers in the bubble, and then battling down to the wire with the Warriors on Sunday (despite the final score getting run up late). Now they’re at home, and get a Spurs team that just seems less talented and less motivated than former seasons.
The Grizzlies showed a ton of heart in Golden State on Sunday, trailing by 17 entering the fourth quarter, and actually taking a lead with six minutes left. If Dillon Brooks didn’t foul out, Memphis might’ve had a real shot in the game. Too much young and hungry talent on this team not to show up in this spot. The Grizzlies won the season series 2-1, taking the last two games on the road. Memphis dominated the last meeting by 31 points.
Nobody in the NBA is hotter than Stephen Curry right now, but the Lakers know that too. I don’t think the play-in tournament was on LeBron James’ mind when he thought about trying to defend his title, but here we are. We’ve seen a very limited showing of the Lakers healthy over the past couple of months, but the glimpses we’ve had looked good.
I’m really buying into LeBron and company being able to flip the switch, and I think they will in this game. No reason to put themselves in the position of having to play with their back’s against the wall on Friday, and this team could use the extra rest the remainder of the week. The seven-seed also feels like a much better path for the Lakers in the postseason, rather than having to go to Utah.
The Lakers won the season series 2-1, taking the last two games by a combined 57 points. If the Lakers can lock in on Steph defensively, there’s just nothing left the Warriors have that can beat the Lakers. The Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond combo is also a ton of size for a small Dubs lineup to deal with. LeBron won’t be messing around in this one.
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