Play-In Tournament Predictions

May 17th, 2021

by Alan Lu

The Golden State Warriors’ superstar guard Stephen Curry, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar forward, LeBron James will play against each other in the play-in tournament this Wednesday.
(Photo:
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, 2019 Getty Images, via CBS Sports)

Starting tomorrow, the play-in games will take place in both conferences to see which teams will be the 7th and 8th seeds in the first round of the NBA playoffs. I looked at statistics on Basketball-Reference and ESPN to make these picks.

Here are the matchups:

The Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament

(7) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Washington Wzards

(9) Indiana Pacers vs. (10) Charlotte Hornets

The Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards played each other three times in the regular season, and Boston won two times against Washington this year.  Boston will be without All-Star forward, Jaylen Brown however, who was very important for the Celtics, and he looked to be his team’s best player against the Wizards, even though they split both games against them when he was healthy.

The Celtics still will get a healthy Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, and they have provided solid all-around skills for them.  Marcus Smart is a versatile combo guard that is one of the best defensive players in the league.  Rookie point guard, Payton Pritchard can knock down outside shots and comfortably run the point, and Tristan Thompson can provide some rebounding and defensive skills on the court.  Also rookie guard Aaron Nesmith got off to a slow start, but he is starting to shoot the ball well, and he could be the X-factor for his team, especially if he can consistently knock down shots against the Wizards.

Meanwhile, Bradley Beal has been terrific for Washington in three games against Boston, and he has averaged over 40 points per game in games only against the Celtics this year.  He’s been rumored to be dealing with a hamstring injury so he’s not at 100 percent, but he’s been tremendous against the Celtics this season. Russell Westbrook is a very athletic, high-motor guard that can rack up triple-doubles, but he struggled to shoot the ball well against Boston. Also, Dāvis Bertāns and Rui Hachimura have also excelled at knocking down shots in moderate volume offensive roles for their team.

The Celtics still may have more talent and depth overall, but the Wizards have the bigger name superstar in Bradley Beal.  Brad Stevens has been a solid coach in the NBA, but he has his work cut out for him with Jaylen Brown unable to participate in the play-in games.  On the other hand, the Wizards may have a hard time scoring if Westbrook struggles to make shots consistently, and losing Deni Avdjia for the year may hurt the Wizards from a depth perspective.

Prediction: The Washington Wizards over the Boston Celtics

In the three head-to-head matchups between Indiana and Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets have won two of their three games against the Pacers.

The Charlotte Hornets have been able to get scoring production from many different players, and they had 8 players that averaged double-digits in points per game against the Pacers this season. Gordon Hayward is a solid veteran that has a good set of all-around skills, and LaMelo Ball is a very skilled offensive player that can shoot, pass, and make highlight reel worthy plays on offense. The Hornets also have been able to get consistent offense from Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges, and Devonte’ GrahamCody Zeller and Brad Wanamaker also have played well against the Pacers, and Malik Monk has shown that he can shoot and score when he’s called upon to play against them.

For the Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon has been stellar for them, and he’s shown very good all-around skills for them.  Domantas Sabonis also has played very well, and they’ve been able to generate offense from Doug McDermott, Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, and Justin Holiday. Jeremy Lamb has struggled against the Hornets though, and he’s struggled to make shots consistently against them.  Goga Bitadze has fared well in a bench role for the Pacers against the Hornets.  Unfortunately, T.J. Warren is out for the season, which complicates matters for the Pacers.

Both teams seem to be very talented.  The Pacers’ top-end players have generally been more productive in head-to-head matchups, but it seems that the Hornets have more confidence and trust in their head coach, James Borrego, as where rumors have floated about the Pacers possibly losing faith in theirs

Prediction: The Charlotte Hornets over the Indiana Pacers

(7) Boston Celtics vs. (10) Charlotte Hornets* (Scenario if the Wizards and Hornets win)

In their three head-to-head meetings together, Boston has won two of those games against Charlotte.

Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have played very well against the Charlotte Hornets, but it is important to denote that Boston will not have Jaylen Brown due to a wrist injury. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams have shot the ball very well in moderate volume roles on offense, and Kemba Walker is expected to take on the bulk of the scoring load left behind by Brown.

Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges have played very well in their three games against Boston, and Terry Rozier has been fairly solid, though he’s been streaky as a scorer on offense against them.  They’ve also been able to get consistent offense out of P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller, and Cody Martin. One interesting thing worthy of note is that LaMelo Ball has not yet played against the Celtics this year, and it would be interesting to see how well he would fare, and how well the Celtics would match up to him.

Prediction: The Boston Celtics over the Charlotte Hornets

The Western Conference Play-In Tournament

(7) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Golden State Warriors

(9) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (10) San Antonio Spurs

Last year, Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach, Frank Vogel led his team to win the NBA championship in 2020. This year, they ended up in the play-in game, which surprised many, but it will make for an exciting play-in tournament, as they will square off against the Golden State Warriors to help kick things off. In the head-to-head matchups this season between the Lakers and Warriors, the Lakers won 2 of their 3 games against Golden State this year.

The Los Angeles Lakers have two of the most dominant superstars in the game when healthy in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and those two possess a potent tandem that allowed them to snag the NBA championship last season. On top of that, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Dennis Schröder have been effective in matchups against Golden State, as they have excelled at scoring, rebounding, and distributing the basketball to help the Lakers against the Warriors throughout the regular season.

On the other hand, Stephen Curry is also one of the biggest superstars in the NBA today, and he is a very agile and skilled sharpshooter and scorer that can rack up points and score from anywhere on the floor very effortlessly.  Draymond Green is a versatile point forward that is one of the game’s best defensive players, and he is a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Kelly Oubre and Eric Paschall have been solid for the Warriors against the Lakers. Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole may be wildcard players that could be the X-factors for their team if they up to their abilities.

From looking at their head to head matchups though, it seems that the Lakers have more depth and talent overall, and they should be able to defeat the Warriors to lock up the 7th seed in the West.

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers over the Golden State Warriors

The Memphis Grizzlies won 2 of their 3 meetings in head-to-head matchups against the San Antonio Spurs this season.

Star point guard, Ja Morant has played a big part in his team’s success, and he’s done a tremendous job of shooting, scoring, and passing the basketball to help his team exponentially on offense.  Jonas Valančiūnas and Brandon Clarke have been reliable as scorers in the paint. Plus, the Grizzlies have been able to get consistent scoring and shooting from Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton, Gorgui Dieng, and rookie sharpshooting guard Desmond Bane, and Dillon Brooks could be the X-factor with his ability to score and make plays on both ends of the floor. The Grizzlies have a deep and talented team, and while they may lack experience, they have a solid, group of players that may be ready to win in the play-in games this time around.

The San Antonio Spurs have a solid group of wing players in former All-Star DeMar DeRozan, and rising sophomore in Keldon Johnson.  Keldon Johnson has excelled as a scorer for his team, and DeRozan has continued to excel with his all-around play. The Spurs also boast having a group of talented guards in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and Patty MillsJakob Poeltl and Rudy Gay have provided their team with some solid minutes off the bench. On the other hand, they let LaMarcus Aldridge go midseason, and the Spurs may not have the edge in top-end talent that they used to have.  Still, the San Antonio Spurs have a legendary head coach in Gregg Popovich, a master tactician whose won 5 NBA titles, and he is a coach whose teams you can never truly count out.

Between the Grizzlies and the Spurs, it seems that the Grizzlies may have more talent, but the Spurs are more battle tested and may be better coached, and so it will be a close one all the way until the end.

Prediction: The San Antonio Spurs over the Memphis Grizzlies

(8) Golden State Warriors vs. (10) San Antonio Spurs* (Scenario if the Lakers and Spurs win)

In their three meetings, Golden State has won 2 of them against San Antonio this year.

Warriors’ superstar guard, Stephen Curry has dominated in all three of those games, and in games solely against the Spurs this year, he made a blistering 57% of his field goals, and 48% of his threes, as he has averaged 30 points per game against the Spurs this season.

One important note is that the Warriors won’t have the luxury of having rookie center James Wiseman, who scored 20 points, and had 6 rebounds and 4 assists in a January 20th win for his team. The Warriors have been very dependent on Stephen Curry for offense, and Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins have been up and down in games against the Spurs.

Juan-Toscano Anderson has provided decent all-around skills against San Antonio, and Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, and Kent Bazemore have fared well in lower volume offensive roles.  Draymond Green is a very versatile player whose strong defensive skills makes him a tremendous asset for the Warriors.  Also, the Warriors have a very good head coach in Steve Kerr, who also has won multiple NBA titles as a head coach, and he is a very creative and smart coach that can go toe-to-toe with Popovich.

For the San Antonio Spurs, Dejounte Murray has played very well for them against the Warriors, and he has excelled at making plays on both ends of the floor.  DeRozan is a solid veteran that can score, pass, and defend. Rudy Gay and Trey Lyles excelled as a shooter and scorer in moderate volume offensive roles.  Jakob Poeltl and Devin Vassell have shined in lower volume offensive roles for their team.  On the downside, while Keldon Johnson has shown fairly solid all-around skills, he didn’t shoot the ball very well in his three games against the Warriors, and he generally struggled to make shots against them.

With San Antonio having struggled significantly on offense in their three games against the Warriors, they would have a major uphill battle to climb.  It would be very tough for the Spurs to defeat the Warriors, but with Popovich at the helm, it may not be an impossible task for them.

Prediction: The Golden State Warriors over the San Antonio Spurs

In conclusion, here are my picks as to what will happen at the end of the play-in tournament leading up to the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.

Final Play-In Game Predictions:

The Washington Wizards get the 7th seed in the East

The Boston Celtics get the 8th seed in the East

The Los Angeles Lakers get the 7th seed in the West

The Golden State Warriors get the 8th seed in the West

Also, in case if you were wondering how I would predict how the 2021 NBA playoffs would unfold, to me, it would probably go down like this:

Here are my current picks for the 2021 NBA Playoffs on NBA.com’s Playoff Bracket Challenge.
(Photo: NBA Playoff Bracket Challenge courtesy of
nba.com)

That is all for now, and thank you for reading.

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