Everything You Need To Know For The Eastern Conference Play In Tournament
Alright we made it! The postseason is kind of, sort of, maybe a little bit, here! It's been a wild ride from Christmas until now but here we are with the first day of the play in tournament. We kick things off with the Eastern conference 7/8 and 9/10 games so I figured why not get you ready for the action with a little preview. Considering these are games which include teams that were mostly bad all year, chances are you didn't watch a ton of their games but maybe you want to throw a little Hanukkah gelt around tonight responsibly of course on the Barstool Sportsbook app. This should give you everything you need to know.
Charlotte Hornets (9) vs Indiana Pacers (10)
Head to head: CHA won 2-1
This matchup would be way more entertaining had both of these teams been fully healthy, but sadly that is not the case
If you're a Pacers fan, I imagine you're hoping some of those questionables actually give it a go, but the good news as a Hornets fan is Miles Bridges wasn't on the injury report so that should give them a much needed boost. He was great in their most recent matchup on April 2nd, which the Hornets won with ease.
What I found interesting when looking at these to teams is you would think that a team like CHA, one with LaMelo Ball and all these athletic wings would play at a fast pace and get up and down. Well, did you know the Pacers are actually 4th in the league in pace compared to the Hornets at 18? If the Hornets want to make this a track meet, the Pacers will gladly comply. As a team, IND ranks 2nd in the NBA in fast break points. You're not going to want to turn it over against them because they are 5th in points off turnovers. Essentially, if you turn it over against IND, you're cooked. They do have the league leader in steals by the way. This is concerning as a Hornets fan because not only are they 19th in opponents points off turnovers, but they are 24th in total team turnovers. That's a recipe for disaster that could play into the exact way the Pacers want to play.
I'm interested to see how these teams attack each other. I would imagine we won't really get a lot of P&R with the ball handler on the CHA side, they rank in just the 13th percentile with that approach. Defensively, the Pacers are really good at defending the ball handler, ranking in the 82nd percentile. So, does that mean we get less of Terry Rozier attacking off the P&R and more LaMelo creating shots for his roll man? I'm not sure that's the answer either. They rank in just the 13th percentile in roll man offense too. So how the hell do the Hornets score?
Well…they don't really. Their offense is just 23rd in the NBA. They rank 23rd in points per game. Obviously not having Hayward for a huge stretch of the season has impacted their offense. You look at the Pacers on paper, and their team metrics are better pretty much across the board. Better offense, defense, score more points etc. They've just been destroyed by injuries all year. The thing that gives the Hornets life though is two main areas. First, their three point shooting. They are pretty much a feast or famine team when it comes to this. On the season they ranked 10th in 3PM and 14th in 3P%. They have microwave shooters that can get hot in an instant like Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier. Miles Bridges really improved his outside shooting this season and shot 40%. PJ Washington shot 38% this year. If this team makes their threes, they become dangerous.
The other area the Hornets thrive is in the clutch. Easily one of the best clutch teams we saw all year. Terry Rozier was basically Dame this year in the clutch. They will not panic if they find themselves in a close game, that's important.
On the Pacers side, the good news is that Caris LeVert looks like a goddamn stud since he came back. He absolutely has the ability to be the best player on the floor in any singular game. Since April 21st, he's putting up 24.7/4.7/6.4 on 46/36% splits in 34 minutes. That's legit. You combine that with Sabonis and Brogdon (if they both play), and there's no denying the Pacers have the better collection of talent. The Pacers like to keep you moving, a lot of their offense is based off cutting and off ball movement, a style they rank in the 93rd percentile in. The can always dump it down to Sabonis if they need post scoring, or run Brogdon in the P&R since he has great size and touch.
This is basically a matchup of styles. The Hornets are way more flashy and the Pacers just kind of mind their own business and execute. You watch a Hornets game and their highlights are fucking awesome. You watch a Pacers game and I wouldn't say you get the same type of excitement. If the Hornets are making their threes, this should be a competitive game. Any sort of drought though combined with some of those questionable guys on IND playing, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Pacers advance.
Boston Celtics (7) vs Washington Wizards (8)
Head to head: BOS won 2-1
I gotta be honest, I don't care what the seeding currently looks like, these two teams could not be more opposite right now. For starters, the Wizards have been pretty damn good for the last few months while the Celts have looked like one of the worst teams ot ever play in the history of the NBA. The Wizards have that "nobody wants to play them" narrative while everyone and their mother is probably begging they get the chance to play the Celts right now. As we did with the first game, let's start with the health
Bradley Beal wasn't listed, but we all know his hammy is a little iffy right now. On the Wizards side, I mean it's hard to argue against what we've seen from them lately. This team is 19-11 since the trade deadline which is more wins than MIA/PHI/BKN/LAC/MIL etc. Their success hasn't come how you might have thought either. It's not their offense, its been their defense. How about the 5th best defensive team in the league since the trade deadline? This team learned how to stop a nosebleed and look at what it's done for their success. Sure they might still have a 145-138 game, but they've been a whole lot better on that end of the floor and it's why you have to take them seriously.
They also have Russell Westbrook, who is playing at an insane level right now. He's the type of player that you know is going to be ready to roll and aggressive as shit, and he has the talent to completely dominate a game all by himself. It feels like the Celts always get cooked by Westbrook, and with no Jaylen Brown in the lineup, if Smart can't contain him I'm not sure who it'll be. I can see Westbrook taking Kemba to the block every single time. Fournier doesn't have the lateral speed to stay in front. I would fully expect a big Westbrook night. It's also going to be fun to see lifelong best friends Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal go at it. That matchup always delivers. I also wouldn't let that H2H record be the end all be all. It most likely should have been 2-1 in favor of WSH, but Bradley Beal stepped out of bounds in the final seconds and the Celts won 111-110. The game before that, they got their shit kicked in on the road in WSH because they came out flat.
What the Wizards don't really do is make threes. Since the deadline they are 28th in 3PM and shoot just 35%. Where they thrive and something that should have every Celts fan concerned is they live at the line. Over this stretch they are #1 in the NBA in FTA. You know who loves to fucking foul? The Boston Celtics. Cannot defend without fouling to save their lives. They are 25th on the year in opponent FTA. The Wizards also play at the fastest pace in the entire league, so it'll be interesting to see how that holds up against a top 10 fast break defense in BOS.
On the Boston side, you could make the case that they should actually want to lose this game to ensure they don't have to play BKN in the first round. Both PHI and BKN are going to be huge undertakings, but PHI is definitely the lesser of those two evils. The problem with that idea is who on earth would trust this Celtics team to win that second play in game? Imagine that's against CHA? You know Terry Rozier is going to want to send his old team home, Hayward probably gets activated for that one too. You may just say fuck it, win today so you know you're in and then see what happens.
For that to happen though, it all comes down to effort and energy. This is not the Wizards of old that you can just walk all over offensively. The Celts cannot simply rely on isolation basketball and think that's going to work. It's not, because they stink at it. Rob is a gametime decision, but if he plays they'll have as close to a full roster as we've seen all year. If they can limit their turnovers, guard in transition and actually move the ball on offense, things should go fine. The only issue is they don't do any of those things for a consistent 48 minutes. One bad quarter might be all Westbrook/Beal need.
They are going to need Tatum to get off to a good start, something he doesn't exactly do. He's much more of a second half player. Kemba's looked great these last few months so now is the time to show that all that load management was worth it. They have the talent to get it done, but that's been true all year despite their underachievement. One of the teams that you truly have no fucking idea which version will show up on any given night. One game they could look like world beaters, the next they are a team unable to beat opponents who are actively trying to lose. That is the story of their season.
Either way, it's just awesome that we are finally at this part of the season where things start getting good and the games actually matter. There is nothing like playoff basketball and while the play in tournament isn't quite that, it's about as close as you can get.