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NBA Play-in Game Preview: West Games on Tuesday, East Games on Wednesday, Eliminations on Friday
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 15, 2024

The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the play-in tournament along with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

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LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are back in the play-in tournament. So is Stephen Curry, as he and Golden State will be fighting for their season. And Jimmy Butler returns as well, after this round last year was the first step on Miami’s way to the NBA Finals.

The postseason — not technically the playoffs, yet — gets underway Tuesday with a pair of Western Conference matchups. The Lakers visit New Orleans with the winner securing the No. 7 seed and a series with defending champion Denver in Round 1. And then the Warriors go to Sacramento, an elimination game for both teams.

The Eastern Conference takes the stage Wednesday: Philadelphia plays host to Miami in a game to decide the No. 7 seed, and Atlanta visits Chicago with the season on the line for those clubs.

The Lakers forced a rematch of Sunday’s regular-season finale with a 128-104 victory in New Orleans that knocked the Pelicans out of the sixth seed. Now the Lakers expect the Pelicans to respond as if this were Game 2 of a playoff series.

“You win that first game and a team has multiple days to kind of sit on that feeling, sit with that taste in their mouth of defeat, so they’re going to be extremely ready for us and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency,” said the 39-year-old James, who is playing in his 21st NBA season.

The Lakers and Heat showed that the play-in can be a springboard to bigger and better things last year; the Lakers reached the Western Conference finals, the Heat reached the NBA Finals.

“We’re not the same group as last year,” Butler said. “We — I — are very confident in the guys that we do have, and we know what we’re capable of. We’ll see what we got whenever the time gets here.”

Golden State gets a short bus ride north for an elimination game against the Kings, on the same floor where the Warriors won a road Game 7 in Round 1 last season.

“We’re happy to have a shot,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

So are the Kings, who had an up-and-down season — but have a chance to vanquish the memory of falling in the playoffs to the Warriors a year ago.

“Let’s frickin’ go get it,” Sacramento coach Mike Brown said.

Format

This is Year 4 of this format, and technically, Year 5 for the play-in tournament overall. A reminder of how the format works:

— There are six games of the tournament. All six either have a team qualifying for the playoffs, or getting eliminated, or both.

— No. 7 plays No. 8. The winner is in and gets the No. 7 seed for the playoffs. The loser has a second chance.

— No. 9 plays No. 10. The loser’s season is over. The winner moves on to visit the loser of the 7-vs.-8 game.

— The remaining teams (the 7-8 loser and the 9-10 winner) play at the higher seed, with the winner getting the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. The loser’s season ends.

History

2020

Western Conference: Portland beat Memphis 126-122 to clinch No. 8 seed.

2021

Eastern Conference: Boston beat Washington 118-100 to clinch No. 7 seed; Indiana beat Charlotte 144-117 in 9-10 game; Washington beat Indiana 142-115 to clinch No. 8 seed.

Western Conference: Lakers beat Golden State 103-100 to clinch No. 7 seed; Memphis beat San Antonio 100-96 in 9-10 game; Memphis beat Golden State 117-112 to clinch No. 8 seed.

2022

Eastern Conference: Brooklyn beat Cleveland 115-108 to clinch No. 7 seed; Atlanta beat Charlotte 132-103 in 9-10 game; Atlanta beat Cleveland 107-101 to clinch No. 8 seed.

Western Conference: Minnesota beat Los Angeles Clippers 109-104 to clinch No. 7 seed; New Orleans beat San Antonio 113-103 in 9-10 game; New Orleans beat Clippers 105-101 to clinch No. 8 seed.

2023

Eastern Conference: Atlanta beat Miami 116-105 to clinch No. 7 seed; Chicago beat Toronto 109-105 in 9-10 game; Miami beat Chicago 102-91 to clinch No. 8 seed.

Western Conference: Lakers beat Minnesota 108-102 to clinch No. 7 seed; Oklahoma City beat New Orleans 123-118 in 9-10 game; Minnesota beat Oklahoma City 120-95 to clinch No. 8 seed.

Matchups

EASTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 8 MIAMI (46-36) AT NO. 7 PHILADELPHIA (47-35)

Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Season series: Split, 2-2

Play-in appearances: 2nd for Miami (2023), 1st for Philadelphia.

At stake: Winner plays New York in Game 1 on Saturday; loser plays elimination game Friday.

Outlook: The teams met on Christmas in Miami (Heat won 119-113) and three times since, though it should be noted that Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Miami’s Jimmy Butler each played in only one of the four games between the clubs this season. … When Kyle Lowry plays, his teams are 3-0 in the series this season — 2-0 with him in a Philly uniform, 1-0 when was in a Miami uniform.

NO. 10 ATLANTA (36-46) AT NO. 9 CHICAGO (39-43)

Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

Season series: Chicago, 2-1

Play-in appearances: 3rd for Atlanta (2022, 2023); 2nd for Chicago (2023).

At stake: Winner plays elimination game Friday; loser is eliminated.

Outlook: The Hawks are bidding to be the first team to win four play-in games. They’re 3-0 in their past appearances in the tournament. … DeMar DeRozan averaged 28.3 points for Chicago in the season series. … Bogdan Bogdanovic averaged 23.3 points for Atlanta, on 46% shooting from 3-point range vs. the Bulls. … Trae Young appeared in two games in the series and the Bulls held him to 29% shooting.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 8 LA LAKERS (47-35) AT NO. 7 NEW ORLEANS (49-33)

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Season series: Lakers, 3-1

Play-in appearances: 3rd for Lakers (2021, 2023); 3rd for New Orleans (2022, 2023).

At stake: Winner plays Denver in Game 1 on Sunday; loser plays elimination game Friday.

Outlook: A rematch of Sunday’s regular-season finale for both clubs, one where the Lakers ensured a 49-win season wasn’t enough to guarantee the Pelicans a playoff berth. … The four highest-scoring players in the season series were all Lakers (LeBron James 28.3, Anthony Davis 21.5, Austin Reaves 21.0, D’Angelo Russell 21.0). … Zion Williamson shot 58% vs. the Lakers in the four games.

NO. 10 GOLDEN STATE (46-36) AT NO. 9 SACRAMENTO (46-36)

Tuesday, 10 p.m., TNT

Season series: Split, 2-2

Play-in appearances: 2nd for Golden State (2021), 1st for Sacramento.

At stake: Winner plays elimination game Friday; loser is eliminated.

Outlook: The series was incredibly close — both of Sacramento’s wins were by exactly one point, and Golden State’s two wins vs. the Kings were by one and eight points. … De’Aaron Fox averaged 32.3 points in the series for the Kings and Domantas Sabonis nearly averaged a triple-double (17.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 9.5 assists). … Stephen Curry averaged 31 points in the series for the Warriors. … The Kings got to the foul line 113 times to Golden State’s 82 in the four games.

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