NBA Lucks Out With Title Contenders Set for Play-In Tourney

The play-in will feature teams including the Lakers, 76ers, Heat and Warriors

LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
LeBron James and Stephen Curry could be on a collision course.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty

With other pro leagues potentially watching intently while considering adopting a similar postseason format, the play-in portion of the NBA playoffs tips off tonight with a couple of preseason title favorites set to take the floor. The NBA has to be stoked the 10th-seeded Warriors are coming out to play after capturing the last play-in spot in the Western Conference as it sets up the potential for Golden State to make a deep playoff run after barely qualifying for the chance…if they can defeat the No. 9 Kings in a win-or-go-home game.

Elsewhere in the West, the No. 8 Lakers and No. 7 Pelicans will face off in New Orleans, with the winner locking up a matchup with No. 2 Denver in the first round of the playoffs and the loser setting up a date with the winner of Warriors-Kings for the right to take on No. 1 Oklahoma City in a seven-game series. (For a refresher on the play-in format, see here.)

It’s a fascinating situation that should help the NBA score some killer ratings on ESPN and TNT as the star-studded Warriors and Lakers, who had the fifth- and sixth-best odds to win the championship during the preseason, could both advance, be eliminated or, best of all, have to play each other for the chance to face OKC.

“That matchup would again bring together two of the league’s foremost personalities in LeBron James and Steph Curry,” per Front Office Sports. “A Lakers-Warriors play-in game in 2021 remains the viewership standard-bearer for an individual game in this part of the postseason, averaging 5.62 million viewers.”

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While lacking the star power of James and Curry, the Eastern Conference play-in has quite a bit of juice of its own as the No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid and the No. 8 Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler will be involved and face each other to get things going. Similar to LA and Golden State, Miami (+1600), who went to the NBA Finals last year, and Philly (+1800), who have the reigning league MVP in Embiid, were decent preseason favorites to win it all.

The winner of the Heat-Sixers will lock up a first-round matchup with the Knicks, while the loser will get a date with the winner of No. 9 Chicago and No. 10 Atlanta. Whoever survives that second Eastern play-in game gets to take on the top-seeded Celtics in a seven-game series. As the Heat are well aware, that opportunity shouldn’t be taken lightly as Miami was able to make it to the Finals after emerging from the play-in and beating the top-seeded Bucks last season. While a play-in team has yet to win an NBA championship, maybe this will be the year (even if the updated title odds don’t suggest it).

The play-in fun starts tonight in the Western Conference with the Lakers heading to New Orleans at 7:30 p.m. and Golden State traveling to Sacramento at 10 p.m. The Eastern Conference play-in games start tomorrow night.

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