NBA Play-In Tournament Predictions: Round One
Source: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports
The NBA Play-in tournament is about to begin and we are set to bless our eyes with LeBron vs Steph, Westbrook against the Celtics and a few more crazy matchups that embody this crazy format. Here are my predictions.
Boston Celtics vs Washington Wizards
Who would've thought the Boston Celtics would be fighting for their playoff lives at the beginning of the season? Last season they played in the East final, this season they’ll be desperate just to be dancing. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both had good seasons, but the team as a whole are in the middle of the pack. Kemba Walker missed the last two games with a neck injury, his status for the game is uncertain.
It’ll be a big loss considering the point guard’s recent play. He's averaged almost 29 points in his last six games, and with Brown out for the rest of the season, the Celtics will most definitely welcome back with open arms. The Celtics will also hope to up their defensive game entering the tournament. Their defensive rating took a tumble this season, going from 4th last season to 16th this season.
Washington has momentum coming into this game. They have won 10 of their last 15 games coming into this matchup, and considering they were 17-34 on April 5th, they’ve done a great job at salvaging their season. Obviously, the Westbrook-Beal duo has been a big reason for that turnaround and they will both play a massive part in their playoff hopes.
The Wizards bench is strong and can score. On top of having dependable scorers they have a great second unit that can ball out. They also are the most used bench in the league. Bradley Beal won't be 100 percent, but Westbrook will go off and the bench will step up. Washington wins against the shorthanded Celtics.
Indiana Pacers Vs Charlotte Hornets
The Pacers and Hornets duke it out for the second play-in game in the East. For the Hornets, they have unexpectedly come into this situation despite missing their rookie of the year candidate, Lamelo Ball, for 21 games with a broken wrist. Terry Rozier has stepped up to the plate, leading the Hornets in scoring (20.4). It’s been a career year for the former Celtic.
Speaking of Lamelo Ball, he's been up and down since his return. He's had some good shooting games but also some tough performances as of late. The Hornets rely heavily on their backcourt, they’re 7th in scoring averaging over 51 points, and account for 46 percent of the team's points. It’s imperative Ball is on his game given the team’s recent struggles.
Domantas Sabonis has also been clicking, averaging a double-double this season, his 12 boards are fourth best in the NBA. He’s also joined elite company, becoming just the 4th player ever to average 20 points, 12 boards and 6 assists per game in a season. As a whole, Indiana has three players on their roster averaging over 20 points a game and seem to be peaking at the right time.
The biggest advantage for Indiana in this series is points in the paint. They're sixth in that category and sixth in efficiency. They can do damage scoring inside. With that said, Indiana should get the victory. The Hornets are missing Gordon Hayward, who is one of their better shooters and scorers and that's points off the board they can’t afford to give away. The Pacers will be too much to handle for Charlotte.
Los Angeles Lakers VS Golden State Warriors
Wow what a year a difference makes. The Lakers finished last season as champions while Golden State finished dead last in the NBA. Both teams have been snake bitten with key injuries. The Lakers have dealt with the absence of both James and Davis this season, while Curry has dragged his team to the playoffs without fellow splash brother Klay Thompson. However, Lebron and AD will both in-play come this contest.
When healthy, the Lakers are a big threat. This lineup can, and will, cause havoc on the undermanned Warriors or any team they play for that matter. Defensively they have the number one rating in the league, they rebound on the defensive side at a high efficiency rate, and with the addition of Andre Drummond, they are that much more dangerous. Plus, that bench, we can’t forget about that bench.
The Warriors have been one of the best stories in the league and their leader Steph Curry may be the biggest story of them all. The 33-year old is only the third player to lead the NBA in scoring after the age of 33. His 32 points per game is the highest of his career and the second time he's averaged at least 30 points in a season. He’s been on god mode these last two months, averaging 38 points per game since the month of May. Insane.
We could go through ALL the stats that show off just how impressive the two-time MVP has been in this season but I think it would be a mute point. Despite leading the league in assists per game and being a surprisingly strong defensive team, they lack depth and the Lakers have blown them out in their last two meetings. I'm hoping the Warriors can make a game out of this, but the Lakers are too deep. LA wins in a blowout.
Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs
The Grizzlies were in the same situation last year against the Portland Trailblazer. However, there are a few differences. 1. They have another chance of making the postseason even if they lose and 2. They're not playing against an ice cold Damian Lillard (who is back to his usual self). However, Memphis won two of the three meetings this season so they have that going for them.
Led by last year's rookie of the year Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are not a huge threat offensively, but are a strong defensive team. They are in the top ten in defensive rating including leading the league in steals. They are also strong in the paint, led by former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas, they're top ten in scoring in the paint and in field goal percentage. The Lithuanian has improved on his rebounding and shooting since moving on from the North.
Speaking of former Raptors, Demar Derozan has been leading the charge for the Spurs after their record setting playoff streak ended last year. San Antonio struggles shooting the ball and are the worst three point shooting team in the league. Losers of four straight, and eight of their last ten games, they are slumping. However, San Antonio's bench is strong, thanks to Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, they have one of the highest scoring benches in the league.
The Spurs have the second fewest turnovers in the league but are negative in their overall net rating. Dejounte Murray should be a challenge for Ja Morant to guard, but there are levels to this. The Grizzlies defensively should take care of the Spurs.