Yes, we still hate the play-in concept for determining the NBA’s final four playoff qualifiers. And yes, we hope the NBA will recognize it’s misstep and see to it that this farce doesn’t continue past 2021.
But it’s basketball — a sort of NBA Purgatory for sure — but meaningful hoops in Mid-May nonetheless (even if the NBA insists on keeping up their charade that these are not playoff games). So with the games beginning tonight, what are some of the most riveting and thought-provoking questions that come to mind as we do our best to embrace the fact that in The Association, twenty of the thirty teams keep playing once the regular season has concluded?
Question #1: Are the Lakers healthy? Yes, it appears so. LeBron James has emerged from his bubble wrap rejuvenation routine, and will be a handful for all comers for the duration of the tournament (although it says here he will strategically pick his spots, both in-game, and in-series, to stay fresh). The bigger question is how does The Brow fare? He’s been beaten and bloodied all season long, and despite his professed eagerness to embrace the play-in contest(s), the additional games can’t be good for his long-term health prognosis. The King without AD, or AD without LBJ is a recipe for early elimination. If both big men remain ambulatory for the next month or so, look for the Lakers to emerge from the West (but it also says here that that won’t happen).
Question #2: Does that mean the Warriors have no shot Wednesday night? Yes. Sorry Bay Area hoops fans. But just for fun, here’s hoping Steph Curry has one of those lights out, unconscious shooting nights he’s known for, raining treys from all over the court, including half-court bombs to end each of the first three periods. And for even more giggles, let’s root for a vision of Draymond Green agitating and irritating LeBron every time he touches the ball, to such an extent that midway through the third quarter both players are ejected for their second pair of offsetting technical fouls. And how awesome would it be for this to be a one-possession game when the game clock winds down under two minutes in the fourth quarter? Fairy tale stuff? Yes, probably, but always beware the “puncher’s chance…” Go Dubs!
Question #3: Who’s the most dangerous play-in team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not close. The Wizards closed the season on a 17-6 run, and that was with Bradley Beal gimpy for the season’s final week. Nobody, and we mean NOBODY, wants anything to do with Russell Westbrook in a short series, especially when he’s carrying no pressure on his shoulders. Washington is playing with the house’s money, and should dispatch the Celtics, who spit the bit on this season right around Valentine’s Day, without breaking a sweat. And their easy win in Boston will set up a most exciting Round 2 matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets and a very familiar Big Three. Think the sight of KD and his cohorts might motivate Russ just a bit? Bring it on!
Question #4: If you formed one team out of the best players from both Indiana and Charlotte, could they win a game in Round 2 against the 76ers? Let’s see…Gordon Hayward, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Terry Rozier… anyone? Anyone? No, combine the two rosters and they’d still get swept. Both teams are terrible and should not be allowed to play anymore basketball this year. As a protest to the watering down of The Association via this ill-conceived play-in format, hoops fans everywhere should boycott watching this game both in person and on television. That won’t happen, of course, and someone is required to win this matchup — so, let’s throw Michael Jordan a bone and call it a win for the Hornets. However, there is one significant reward for winning the East’s 9-10 Game. That reward is a second play-in game against the very same Boston squad that is about to get waxed by 30 against the Wizards. A Celtics team so disengaged that their players are undoubtedly already lobbying team ownership to let them forfeit this one and get an early start on their offseason. Welcome to the postseason, Charlotte.
Question #5: Who will emerge victorious into the actual playoffs? The West will go according to form, with the Lakers handling the Dubs at home Wednesday night to earn the 7th seed, and the Dubs having enough left in the tank to secure the number eight seed by taking down the up and coming Grizzlies. In the East, the Wizards will pack their bags for Brooklyn after dispatching the Celts, while MJ will get to enjoy two victory cigars as his Hornets send possibly the most boring purgatory-playoff team ever (hello Pacers) back to Indiana before throwing the final pile of dirt on Boston.
NBA Play-In Games — They’re FAN-(sort of)-TASTIC.