Last season the NBA regular season was severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the league was forced to improvise when they sought to finish the truncated season. A plan was made to have a shortened schedule that allowed the NBA to finish everything off with only the teams who were in or very close to the playoff places involved. Those that participated were forced to play in a bio-bubble environment for safety reasons to crown a champion.
One of the key innovations of that period was the ‘Play-In’ tournament, a mini-contest that pitted a few teams that had been at the bottom of the playoff places going up against the teams that sat just outside of the traditional last playoff eighth spot. These were teams that could still mathematically make it into the postseason. This would ensure that they could fairly fill out the playoff berths. It was a huge success as fans enjoyed the drama and excitement of the contests.
The NBA decided to keep the play-in tournament for the shortened 2020-21 season. What that means is simply this, historically the teams that finished in the top eight places in both conferences made it to the playoffs. The team that finished first overall in the conference would then play the team that finished eighth. The team that ended the regular season second would take on the seventh-placed team, the third-ranked team played the sixth-ranked team and so on and so forth. The play-in tournament would only comprise of the teams that finished between the seventh spot and the tenth spot in both conferences.
Here’s an explainer of how the play-in tournament works directly from the NBA.com website: “The Play-In Tournament takes place just before the opening round of the NBA playoffs, and involves the teams finishing 7th-10th in their respective conferences. The teams finishing the regular season sitting at seventh and eighth in each conference will receive two chances to win one game and advance to the playoffs, while the teams finishing at ninth and 10th in the standings will need to win two consecutive outings to earn a spot in the postseason.” That means that seventh plays eighth and the winner of that matchup goes through to the playoffs, the loser of that game faces the winner of the game between ninth and tenth.
The Western Conference gets its turn early on Thursday morning with two play-in matchups. The ninth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies host the tenth seeded San Antonio Spurs at 01:30 CAT. Then it’s the big one as the champions the LA Lakers battle the Golden State Warriors in the seven versus eight match-up at 04:00 CAT. The winner of the Lakers and Warriors game goes on to play the Phoenix Suns.
With all of that being said, we are now in ‘Play-In’ season and in the Eastern Conference the tenth-seeded Charlotte Hornets take on the Indiana Pacers, the game tips off at 00:30 CAT on Wednesday morning, followed by the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards locking horns with the seventh-placed Boston Celtics at 03:00 CAT. The winner of the Wizards versus Celtics gamebooks their spot to play the Brooklyn Nets.
Where Should Your Money Go?
The smart money would be on the higher seeded teams making their way through to the NBA Playoffs from the play-in tournament. Using that thinking, the Lakers and Celtics should make it through fairly easily. However, the Celtics have lost one of their key players, Jaylen Brown, to a season-ending wrist injury. This makes their game against the Wizards a tough prospect, especially with Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal on fire for Washington. In the Eastern Conference, the Pacers will be too strong for the Hornets in their game and the Wizards will probably provide one of the shocks of the round as they should beat the Celtics.
The Lakers’ battle with the Warriors won’t be an easy one for the champs, but they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis back from injury, and that strengthens them massively. Stephen Curry will take some stopping as he has been lighting up the league with his supreme three-point shooting. The Lakers will beat the Warriors, their size advantage will be a big reason for this. The Grizzlies will probably be too strong for the Spurs in their clash.