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2021 NBA Play-in Tournament: Explanation and Predictions

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The NBA play-in tournament was a major hit in the bubble last year, as teams played one-off, tense games with their season on the line.

After being unanimously approved by the NBA’s board of governors, it was announced that the NBA play-in tournament was back for the 2020-21 season.

How Does the NBA Play-in Tournament Actually Work?

The NBA play-in tournament will commence at the end of the regular season on May 18 and will finish on May 21, which means three days of one-game series playoff matchups.

The top six teams in each conference will go straight to the playoffs and will get an extra week break until the actual playoffs.

The 7-seed will face the 8-seed for the prize of being the 7-seed; however, it is not the end of the road for the loser of this game. They will then face the winner of the 9 vs 10 game; however, if they lose two in a row, it is game over and the end of the season.

So effectively the 7 and 8 seeded teams only have to win one game in order to progress to the playoffs, but the 9 and 10 seeded teams will have to win 2 games in a row to make it to the playoffs.

The two teams that miss out on the playoffs will be given a consolation prize of a lottery draft pick, meaning there is little risk for the 9 and 10 seeded teams, who would not be expected to beat one of the bigger teams in a playoff series.

Current NBA Play-in Tournament Teams

As it stands, this would be the play-in tournament if the regular season ended today:

Eastern Conference

Miami Heat (7) Vs Charlotte Hornets (8)

Indiana Pacers (9) Vs Washington Wizards (10)

Western Conference

Portland Trail Blazers (7) Vs Memphis Grizzlies (8)

San Antonio Spurs (9) Vs Golden State Warriors (10)

Play-in Tournament Predictions:

Miami Heat vs Charlotte Hornets

This could be the hardest game out of the initial four to predict as last season’s NBA finalists Miami Heat have severely underperformed this season. On the other hand, you have a very promising young side in the Charlotte Hornets, who have exceeded everyone’s expectations this year.

For this game, I’m going for a Heat win, as I think Jimmy Butler will turn up in their biggest game of the season, despite ROTY candidate Lamelo Ball being available.

Indiana Pacers vs Washington Wizards

For me, this game all depends on one player, Russell Westbrook, if he turns up for this game then it is an almost certain win for the Wizards; however, the Pacers could capitalize if Westbrook doesn’t show up on the night.

My prediction is a Wizards win as I think that Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook will be too much for the Pacers to handle.

Charlotte Hornets vs Indiana Pacers

For this game it’s pretty straight forward in my opinion, the Hornets outclass the Pacers in sheer quality, and I think the combination of Lamelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and PJ Washington will dominate.

Despite Hornets coach James Borrego saying he ‘doesn’t know’ when Hayward will return, I am still going for a Hornets win to clinch the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Western Conference

Portland Trail Blazers Vs Memphis Grizzlies

Now I would be very surprised if anybody had the Grizzlies in this matchup, and we can all use one player as reasoning, and that is Damian Lillard. I think this factor will be enough to beat the Grizzlies, along with CJ McCollum and others for the Blazers.

San Antonio Spurs vs Golden State Warriors

Another similar situation to the Blazers game, I think that it will be one individual player that heavily influences the outcome of this game, and that of course is none other than Steph Curry, who has put up unbelievable stats this season and put the Warriors on his back after Klay Thompson’s injury before the start of the new season.

So for this game I strongly believe that anyone can win it on their night, however, I am predicting a Stephen Curry masterclass for the Warriors to face the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot.

Memphis Grizzlies vs Golden State Warriors

I know I shouldn’t underestimate the Memphis Grizzlies as they have looked very strong this season, however, I struggle to see them beating the Blazers or the Warriors, despite being a higher seed than the Warriors.

For this game I am predicting a Warriors win, to cap off the 2020-21 play-in tournament.

Concluding Thoughts

No matter what happens in this year’s play-in tournament, it will most definitely be an entertaining and compelling three days of basketball.


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