The 2022-23 NBA regular season has come to a close, and it’s time again for the league’s newest tradition, the play-in tournament. This year the Western Conference had the race to watch down the stretch as it was tighter than spandex in the wrestling ring. In fact, the west was close for most of the season, especially after the All-Star break, with teams No. 4-10 separated by no more than three to four games. So, many of these matchups in the West, especially in the play-in, should be tightly contested all the way through.
A single-elimination NBA playoff would change history
7 LA Lakers vs. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles lands the No. 7 seed and plays at home Tuesday night against Minnesota, with the winner moving on to face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. Not too long ago, we probably would’ve picked anyone in the top 10 out west over the Lakers in a play-in-game scenario. But over the past two months, with their revamped roster, the Lakers look like a team that could make some noise early in the postseason. Had they been able to beat the Clippers a time or two this year, they’d be in the playoffs already.
For the Timberwolves, this was supposed to be the year they made that Memphis-like jump from play-in team to playoff contender, but it has yet to work out that way. The Rudy Gobert trade hasn’t lived up to what many expected, and with Karl-Anthony Towns suiting up for just 29 games this year, the chemistry isn’t where it should be. Gobert and Kyle Anderson displayed that on Sunday during their altercation on the sideline. You shouldn’t expect too much from the T-Wolves, which means the Lakers should advance into the first round on Tuesday.
9 New Orleans Pelicans vs. 10 OKC Thunder
After a hot start this season, the Pelicans have ended up where they usually dwell, the lower half of the Western Conference standings. This team looked legit during the first half of the 22-23 campaign, and much of that was without Zion Williamson, as he lost the majority of another year to injury, playing in less than 30 games for the second time in four years. But New Orleans held on as long as they could but eventually fell down the standings and back into familiar territory. The play-in tournament. This team made it out of the play-in last year and even pushed the Phoenix Suns to six games in the first round before their demise.
Oklahoma City is in a position few expected coming into the season. Most people figured they’d dwell in the dungeon of the Western Conference fighting for a lottery position in hopes of drafting Victor Wembanyama. But that hasn’t been the case for the Thunder. Led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s had a breakout campaign, averaging over 31 points per game, the Thunder managed to find themselves in the play-in with an opportunity at making the playoffs for the first time since 2020 in the Orlando bubble. The Pelicans took three out of four from the Thunder during the regular season, with that only loss coming in the most recent meeting back in March. It’ll likely be a close game, but New Orleans should be able to win.
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