Now that the dust from the NBA's final day has settled, we now know our Play In Tournament seedings/matchups
With things in the East coming down to the final day, we didn't really know how this would shake out but now that we have the groupings it's time to dive in. This is something I plan to do before each round, so after the play ins are done I'll do a bigger Round 1 preview once we know who the 1/2 seeded teams are playing. Since the Play In comes first and those matchups are set let's dive in
Brooklyn Nets (7) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (8)
Head to Head: BKN won 3-1
This matchup is interesting for a few reasons. For starters, these two teams just played one another on 4/8 in a 118-107 Nets win with Durant/Kyrie putting up a combined 54 points. Things were a little more balanced for the Nets and they pulled that game out by having a huge fourth quarter (35-19). They didn't get much from their bench and Kyrie only shot 7-22 (1-7) and they still pulled it out because Kevin Durant is a fucking alien.
But what that game did show us was the Cavs are a team that can compete and hang around with anyone. In 2 of the 4 games against BKN, the Cavs kept things within 7 points. Their largest loss was only 11. At the same time, Wthen talking about these two teams, it gets a little tricky. For example, the first time these two teams played, Ricky Rubio was healthy and James Harden was a Net. In their second game, the Cavs were without Mobley, the Nets were without Kyrie, and Harden was still a Net. In the third game the Cavs were healthy but the Nets were without Durant. So really, the final meeting is the only one you can put any sort of stock into given how different the rosters were.
Then you get to the next part of why this matchup is interesting and that's the clear difference in styles. The Nets are an iso oriented team given the fact that they have two of the most gifted scorers the league has. You can give the ball to Kyrie and KD and simply get out of the way and watch them work. The Nets were the #1 team in the NBA in isolation frequency at 10.8% and they ranked in the 93rd percentile. They are 3rd in the league in points per iso possession (1.01) and they've maintained this standing even without Harden in the mix. Conversely, the Cavs are 17th in isolation frequency and come in at the 63rd percentile. They can do it as needed with guys like Garland and LeVert, but that is not really how they play when they are at their best.
When you then look at pace, these teams could not be more different. The Nets like to play fast and get out on the break. The Cavs? They rank 25th in pace. They want things to be slowed down so they can kill you in the half court. This is what I'm interested in seeing. Can the Cavs make the Nets prove they can defend at a high level over 48 minutes? The Cavs would much rather play through the post and in P&R, and when they do that we see the Cavs be able to really take advantage of their size. This is the case even without Jarrett Allen, and if he's back it's even better. At the same time, the achilles heel for this team is turnovers. When they turn it over, they are brutal at limiting opponent points. The Cavs rank 27th in the NBA in opponent's points off turnovers, and all you have to do is look at their most recent game. The Cavs only turned the ball over 8 times which is good right? Well, it led to 15 Nets points which isn't so hot. If you allow the Nets to get out in transition, you're simply asking for trouble considering the Nets are 8th in the NBA (2nd in East) in fastbreak points per game. Allowing KD/Kyrie to get easy transition buckets is not the way.
If you look past the stars on each side, you could make the case that the Cavs enter this game with the better overall depth. Guys like Love and Osman are proven NBA vets, and Playoff Rondo is a monster. The Nets have what, Patty Mills? Maybe some Nic Claxton? Good players for sure, but question marks. If this game comes down to the supporting cast, the Cavs should feel pretty good about those matchups.
The question of this matchup really comes down to who is each team really? Are the Cavs the team we saw for the majority of the year before their injuries where their defense was elite, Garland was a beast offensively and they won games through solid play with ball movement and clutch execution? Are the Nets who we've seen over the last 4-5 games where KD/Kyrie look unstoppable and Bruce Brown is playing the best basketball of his life? Or is there a chance that ultimately their defense will be their undoing? That's the beauty of the play in, all it takes is one game. The Nets may be the easy choice in a 7 game series, but this isn't a 7 game series.
Atlanta Hawks (9) vs Charlotte Hornets (10)
Head to Head: Split 2-2
There's a chance this game ends up being 135-128 and for that reason I am all in on this matchup. Both sides bring an elite offense to the table with the Hawks with the #2 ranked offense in the NBA and the Hornets with the 8th best. In terms of points, the Hawks average 113.9 a night to the Hornets' 115.3. On the other end, both are horrendous with the Hawks at 26th defensively and the Hornets 22nd. Basically, this is setting up to be a track meet and I am all for it. This matchup gives us an elite PG matchup of LaMelo Ball vs Trae Young which should be must watch stuff, and both of these teams are made for a game like this. Either side could easily explode for something nuts like 20 3PM and it wouldn't shock you in the slightest. Why would it when the Hornets rank 5th in 3PM and the Hawks 11th. Considering the Hornets are 23rd in opponent 3P% and the Hawks are 25th, my guess is the threes are going to be raining down all night.
I think more so with the Hawks, they are a team that has shown the ability to go on a deep playoff run if they get hot at the right time. Would it shock anyone if they won both their games, got into the 8 seed and then gave MIA a run for their money? As long as they're healthy it shouldn't. They shouldn't be phased by the elimination game or anything like that. This group has the playoff reps together of being through this before.
With the Hornets, there's no denying they are fun as hell to watch. Isaiah has come in and saved their season which personally I fucking love. But I do have matchup concerns here. I'm not really sure what they do about Clint Capela but I do know that throwing a Plumlee on him probably won't work out. Then there's the reality that Montrezl Harrell cannot stay on the court in the playoffs because every team just puts him in endless P&R. This is an issue for CHA because the Hawks are the #1 pick and roll team in the NBA. Doesn't matter if it's using the roll man or killing you with the ball handler, they are elite in both. For a team that already has defensive problems, going up against team that won't P&R is an issue. The Hornets rank in just the 10th percentile defending the ball handler in P&R and the 10th percentile guarding the roll man. You might see the Hawks do nothing but run P&R all game long until the Hornets can prove they can stop it. That's a big time concern.
In terms of depth, I'd probably lean to the Hawks mostly because I love Bogdanovic, and I really like how Okongwu is coming along defensively. Lou Williams can get you buckets, even with his past playoff struggles. The Hornets have some high powered offensive players that can get hot and carry, but defensively there are so many holes you have to pray you're getting a hot shooting night.
If the BKN/CLE game might get a little ugly offensively at times, that should not be the case in this matchup. Who knows, a hot shooting night can give a team confidence and then who knows what can happen. It wouldn't shock me if this ends up being the best game of the 4 from an entertainment standpoint.
Minnesota Timberwolves (7) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8)
Head to Head: LAC won 3-1
Poor Wolves. I feel for them and their fans, I really do. By all accounts, they had a pretty awesome season. Finishing 10 games over .500 and a 7 seed is arguably the second best season they've had in 19 years. Their reward? A date with a Clippers team that is getting healthier by the day. That's rough. I blogged last week about how the Clippers are one of the scariest 8 seeds in recent memory and this is even without Kawhi in the mix. This is probably where you see some fans giving push back for the play in qualifications. A team finishes 10 games over .500 and isn't guaranteed shit. Not only that, but they are now given the problem of facing a team many think can actually win the NBA title. That's a tough draw.
The Clippers are a hard team to gauge given all their injuries during the year, but now with George back I think it's important to point out a few things. Did you know the Clippers managed to have a top 10 defense (8th) all year despite missing their two All NBA caliber wings? Now you add in a two way monster like PG13 to the mix and that's a great test for the 7th ranked Wolves offense. What the Wolves can do on that end is what should give their fans hope. Guys like DLo, Edwards, and KAT are offensive monsters that can give you 50+ on any given night. As a team, the Wolves move the ball (10th in AST%) and can kill you in the open court. We know the Clippers will show up on both ends of the floor, they are a veteran team loaded with guys that have playoff experience. They have a coach who has won a title and is maybe the best in game adjustment coach in the league. What we don't know is if the Wolves will show enough defensively to now counter all this Clipper depth.
2021-22 was an improvement on that end for the Wolves, coming in at 13th in the league defensively. They are slightly above average, despite what Patrick Beverley will tell you. If they can find a way to be consistent on that end, they have the offensive talent to win this game. If they can't get stops, their offense won't matter. You know Lue will scheme ways to limit KAT/Edwards/etc, so it's imperative that the Wolves show up on the other end for a full 48 minutes. What makes the Clippers so tough is they just throw wing after wing after wing at you, all of which can score at all 3 levels. If you look at their last 7+ games, the Clippers have the #1 offense in the NBA over that span with a rating of 127.1. George looks great but then you also have to deal with Mook, Powell, Batum, Covington, Mann and Kennard. That's insane depth that not many teams have and it's what ultimately could be the difference. The Wolves just don't have that type of fire power after you get past their top 3 guys.
You hope as a Wolves fan that homecourt helps, but I'm not sure that'll be enough.
New Orleans Pelicans (9) vs San Antonio Spurs (10)
Head to Head: SA won 3-1
Will anyone care about this game? Probably not. Considering if either of these teams are fortunate enough to make it through the play in, their reward is the Suns. That's a 4-0 series no matter who it is against. So really this matchup is just about two young rosters getting some "playoff" reps. Nobody expects much of either, both have some pretty awesome players on their roster and even though maybe 15 people will watch this series I'm still interested to see how things look.
I'm not ruling out that we see Zion, but even if we don't the Pelicans have been one of the better stories all season long. Now healthy, there is real talent on that roster. Since the trade deadline the Pelicans have taken off and who knows, they could absolutely come out of this thing in the 8 spot. They'll immediately get waxed by the Suns but that's OK. Their offense has become a high powered machine with CJ McCollum in the mix and Brandon Ingram now healthy, and Herb Jones is legit about to make an All Defensive team as a rookie. There are real pieces there.
The same is true of the Spurs as well. Dejounte Murray is a stud. Keldon Johnson is legit. The Spurs are that one team that always seems to find a way regardless of what their roster looks like. Is it possible that Pop does some Pop shit and we see this team advance? Of course! Murray can win a game by himself. Really this matchup is more about seeing the development of each side's young talent and simply getting the reps. I'm really interested to see how the Pelicans look because given the steps they took this season, if they show more signs in the play in and then get to add a healthy Zion next year, we could be talking about a top 7/8 seed easy.
While neither option really blows your dick off, I think I have to lean towards the offensive potential of the Pelicans combined with how well they've been playing since the trade deadline. Plus playing at home and the Spurs being 18-23 on the road, my guess is the Pels advance.
This is the fun of the Play In though. We're all just guessing. One random shooting night can end someone's season which is why this idea is so great. You throw logic out the window and check ball. It's not about who is the better team, but instead who can be the better team for 48 minutes. If I had to guess, I'd say coming out of this first stage of the play in we'll see
move on. Having said that, if the Cavs want to pull off the upset I won't hate it at all.
With that, now that you're up to speed, we'll check back in later this week to see who made it out alive.