The 2021-22 NBA regular season came to an end last night, and the complete playoff/play-in picture is finalized. In this article, I will be breaking down the play-in matchups which take place on Tuesday, April 12th and Wednesday, April 13th.
Cleveland Cavaliers (8) vs. Brooklyn Nets (7) (Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET; TNT):
The postseason begins with one of the more unlikely scenarios we could’ve imagined at the beginning of the year. The young and promising Cleveland Cavaliers take on the star-studded Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. These two teams faced off just three days ago in which the Nets were victorious 118-107. Brooklyn is 3-1 against Cleveland this year, and with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant hitting stride, the Nets do not meet the typical criteria of a “play-in team”. With that being said, Kevin Durant missed a chunk of the season due to injury and Kyrie was unable to play for the majority of it because of vaccination status. The Nets have won 4 straight heading into the play-in game, and they should like their chances against a struggling Cavs team.
Cleveland surprised a lot of people this season, myself included. What seemed like a team bound for the lottery became a playoff team and, recently, fell to a play-in team. The Cavaliers have struggled as of late, winning only 3 of their last 10 games. Their recent struggles can be attributed to the injury of Jarrett Allen. The absence of their dominant paint presence has created issues on the offensive and defensive end. Allen will not be active for Tuesday’s matchup against Brooklyn, which is obviously a massive letdown for Cavs fans.
I cannot see the Cavs stopping Kyrie and Kevin Durant on the offensive end. All-star Darius Garland has been impressive this year, however, we have yet to see how he performs on a stage other than the regular season. I could see Brooklyn leading all the way here, and I think they move on to face the 2nd seed Celtics in the first round.
Prediction: BKN 122 – 109 CLE
Charlotte Hornets (10) vs. Atlanta Hawks (9) (Wednesday, 7:00 PM ET; ESPN)
The 9-10 matchup in the East features two elite guards: Trae Young and LaMelo Ball. The Hornets are in the play-in for a second consecutive season, however, they will be seeking a different result from last year. On the other hand, the Hawks find themselves in a difficult position following a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. It will definitely be an entertaining matchup at the State Farm Arena featuring two young and explosive teams.
Both teams have the same record and share the season record at 2 games a piece. The Hornets will rely on LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Miles Bridges to carry the offensive load with Gordon Hayward out. The Hawks have one of the most under-appreciated players in all of basketball this year in Trae Young. The All-NBA guard is averaging 28.4 PPG and 9.7 APG on a very efficient 46% from the field. In my opinion, Trae has been the second best guard in the NBA this season, behind only Luka Doncic. We have seen what Trae is capable of in the playoffs last year as he infamously torched the Knicks and 76ers. The Hawks have been injury-riddled all season and, I think they are clearly the better team when healthy.
I still think the Hornets are a few steps away from making noise, and I don’t think their roster has improved enough to squeeze into the playoffs in a loaded Eastern Conference. I believe Trae Young will dominate this game and will his team into the final play-in game.
Prediction: ATL 116 – 109 CHA
Los Angeles Clippers (8) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (7) (Tuesday, 9:30 ET; TNT)
The LA Clippers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night at the Target Center. Both teams knew they were bound for this game a couple weeks in advance, so I expect the Clippers to have an advantage with Ty Lue being the stronger coach, in my opinion. The Clippers did win the season series 3-1, however, it is important to note that all three of the Clippers wins took place within the first 12 games of the season. Minnesota is finally seeing some success following an incredibly long rebuild, having made the playoffs only once since 2004. Led by a high-powered trio of Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell, the Timberwolves will rely on a stout offense to matchup against a tough Clippers defense.
Los Angeles recently got Paul George and Norman Powell back from injury, however, Kawhi Leonard seems to be shutdown until next Autumn. They’ve won 5 straight heading into this matchup, and it seems that they are coming together at the perfect time.
The Clippers are undoubtedly the deeper team, however, in a one-game, winner advances, format, I think depth is a heavily overrated metric to use. Experience, however, is incredibly important in high-stake games like these. A roster with Paul George, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, and Marcus Morris is much more experienced than one with Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell. I believe that Paul George cannot be contained in this one, and the Clippers barely edge out the Timberwolves.
Prediction: LAC 125 – 122 MIN
San Antonio Spurs (10) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (9) (Wednesday, 9:30 ET; ESPN)
The New Orleans Pelicans have had a roller coaster of a season, to say the least. With superstar sitting out the entire season with a multitude of injuries, Brandon Ingram has had a lot of weight on his shoulders to get the Pelicans in the position they’re in. Obviously, one cannot discredit the impact of CJ McCollum on this roster either. The Pelicans have gone 13-10 since the All-Star break and shocked a lot of people by making the play-in over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The San Antonio Spurs, led by Dejounte Murray, have been surprising in their route to the play-in as well. With the loss of DeMar DeRozan in the off-season, the Spurs seemed destined for a high-lottery pick. Murray has gone on a tear this season, averaging 21.1 PPG, 9.2 APG, 8.3 RPG. While he likely won’t win the award, Murray is definitely “in the conversation” for Most Improved Player this season.
Both teams are incredibly young, but the Spurs are deeper and have superior coaching. The Pelicans have home court advantage, however, I think the difference in coaching makes up for that difference. The Spurs also won the season series 3-1. In addition, I am excited to see what Dejounte Murray does in this game, which is why I am taking the Spurs to upset the Pelicans and move on to potentially clinch the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Prediction: SAS 104 – 98 NOP