The 2020-21 NBA regular season has finally come to a close, and the intensity of the playoffs looms closer and closer. After a year full of ups and downs, the 1-6 seeds in both the East and West get to rest for a bit as the play-in tournament to determine the 7-8 seeds begins on Tuesday. This is the second time a play-in is being used ahead of the playoffs, but the first time both the 7 and 8 seeds are being fought for. The matchups are Lakers-Warriors and Grizzlies-Spurs in the West, meanwhile the East has Celtics-Wizards and Pacers-Hornets.
For your Eastern Conference play-in preview: click here.
What exactly is the play-in tournament, though? Well, as previously mentioned, this isn’t the first time we see this method used, just the first time it is being used for 2 seeds. Last year’s bubble restart saw a play-in used for the 8th seed when the 8th and 9th seed had a difference of 4 or less games between them, to compensate for the NBA hiatus. This year, the tournament looks a little different. Whoever wins the 7 vs 8 seed matchup locks up the 7th seed, but the loser isn’t done just yet. The winner of the 9 vs 10 seed matchup then has to play the loser of the 7v8 game and the winner of that series locks up the 8th seed.
Lakers (7) vs Warriors (8)
This series is perhaps the most intriguing and sought after matchup among all the other ones for NBA fans. A Curry and LeBron matchup is always entertaining and although this one is under weirder circumstances, the play should be at a high level and it should be an intense game from start to finish.
If the Lakers want to come out victorious to avoid yet another game and get some much needed rest, then they need to be on high alert. Steph Curry is the scoring champ and is coming off a red-hot game against Memphis, where he dropped 46 points on the Grizzlies. Thankfully, the Lakers are the best defensive team in the league in terms of efficiency, but they are going to need a lot more than that to stop Curry. LA needs to take advantage of their height and paint game, where they rank 7th in points in the paint per game and are averaging over 58 in the paint in their last 3 games. LeBron and AD should ultimately be too much to handle, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers get lazy against Curry and his Warriors.
Golden State is very much in this matchup, and that’s thanks to the absolute nightmare Steph Curry has become. Not having Klay all season sucked and yet Steph and company find themselves within distance of another playoff appearance. Losing Wiseman also was a big one for the Dubs, but as of now they are riding a 6-game winning streak to close out a season full of surprises for them. The Warriors HAVE to rebound the ball offensively as much as they can (ranked dead last in ORB) to create second chance points and hopefully open up the wings for shooting (9th in 3 point percentage). The Lakers length dominated the interior but for a chance to win, Golden State has to do something better than the Lakers, and the offensive glass might be their key to upset the Lakers.
Ultimately, I think the strength on the interior plus the tenacity the Lakers bring on defense grants them the pass against Golden State for the 7th seed. It won’t be a pushover for LA, but it’ll be enough to rest up and prepare for a matchup against the 2 seed Phoenix Suns.
Grizzlies (9) vs Spurs (10)
In the second game for the West, we have Memphis led by Ja Morant taking on Coach Pop’s Spurs. San Antonio is desperate to get back into the playoffs after losing their 22-year playoff streak last year after a disappointing bubble appearance in the NBA restart. Memphis, on the other hand, hasn’t made the playoffs since their first round exit in 2017 and almost had an appearance until they lost the play-in tournament against Portland last year. Although it isn’t a game that jumps out at you, it will definitely be a good one to watch.
For Memphis to pull off a win and clinch an 8th seed matchup, they need to focus on what they are good at. That is defensive rebounding (9th), scoring points in the paint (1st), and passing (3rd in assists). The Spurs rank 26th in defending points in the paint allowing just over 50, and Memphis averages over 55 on the season. They also have good hands as they rank second in steals. All hands need to be on deck, but Ja and Jonas Valanciunas particularly have to be on their A game to lead the Grizzlies and edge out San Antonio.
The Spurs have to pray DeRozan has a good game. He is averaging just over 21 points a game on an effective field goal percentage of 50.3%. He doesn’t like taking bad shots, and neither do the Spurs. All though that can be a killer in a game of risks, they need to be effective against a team that dominates the paint like the Grizzlies. The Spurs rank second in least amount of turnovers a game and their length needs to be on display to force Memphis into shooting outside the key. It’ll be a tough task, but if Pop makes a game plan to force Memphis to settle for anything but the paint.
It should be a fierce matchup, but I think Memphis’ ability to get everyone involved and their relentless ability to attack the paint should see them go through. San Antonio will put up a fight, though, and will have a great game plan allowing this game to go down to the wire.