The Play-In tournament is easily the most exciting new addition to the NBA. Now instead of the playoffs simply being the top eight seeds in each conference, there will be a single-elimination tournament for the last two spots. The seventh seed will face the eighth seed and the ninth seed will face the tenth seed. The winner of the seven-eight matchup becomes the seventh seed and then the loser faces the winner of the nine-ten matchup. It sounds very exciting and will bring a new dynamic to an already ever-changing NBA.
There are currently six teams in the Western Conference within 1.5 games of the Play-In tournament. Let’s examine these teams and rank them based on how scary they would be in a single-elimination scenario.
The Play-In Tournament: Western Conference Contenders
6. The San Antonio Spurs free fall
It probably will not be too much longer before the San Antonio Spurs fall out of the top 10. They are in freefall mode right now. The Spurs were already overachieving by being in the playoff picture and the regression has come for them. After beginning the year 22-16, they have since gone 3-10 over their past 13 games. They went from six games above .500 to one game below in only three weeks. Sounds impossible considering they haven’t had any major injuries during that time.
The Spurs also have the second-lowest net rating amongst the six teams in play-in contention and do not have a superstar up top to carry them if they do make the play-in. Are you gonna put your trust in DeMar DeRozan in a single-elimination game? I didn’t think so.
5. The Memphis Grizzlies are not ready
The Memphis Grizzlies were expected to make a leap this season after the promise they showed last year. Injuries have been a major reason as to why the Grizzlies are in the same situation as last season. Memphis’ young stud, Ja Morant has been a slight disappointment this year after showing much promise in his rookie of the year campaign. His statistics are almost identical, but his shooting splits are down across the board. His ankle injury earlier in the year could be a reason why.
The Grizzlies do have some of the best role players in the league. Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks just to name a few. Like the Spurs, they are not reliant on a superstar to carry them. Unlike the Spurs, Memphis is actually trending upwards while also having their second-best player, Jaren Jackson Jr., coming back hopefully sooner than later.
4. The New Orleans Pelicans play-in tournament Potential
There is no more intriguing team in the NBA than the New Orleans Pelicans. A team with two all-star caliber players in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram should be doing much better than competing for the tenth seed out west. Their offense surrounded by these two scoring studs has been fantastic, ranking ninth in the NBA. The main issue for the Pelicans has been their defense. Specifically how many three-pointers they allow. No team allows a better effective field goal percentage than the Pelicans. Even abysmal teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers do a better job defending the three-point line.
New Orleans is bottom five in virtually every defensive statistic and yet are only two games behind the tenth seed out west. The way Williamson has been playing, nobody wants to see the Pelicans in the play-in. Over the past 12 games, he is averaging 31-7-5 on 64% from the field. That is outrageous! He hasn’t even played 80 career games yet and he is completely unstoppable. A scary sight indeed.
3. The Portland Trailblazers grind to a halt
The Portland Trailblazers have the best record on this list and yet are only ranked third. How come? Because their defense is even worse than the Pelicans. Portland has the 29th best defense in a 30 team league. When you are playing below-average defenders such as Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Enes Kanter significant minutes, that is going to hurt the defense. A lot. The Blazers actually have a negative net rating but are nine games above .500 because of one man; Dame Dolla.
Lillard has hit clutch shot after clutch shot all year long to keep the Blazers out of the play-in tournament but he is starting to wear down. Over his past 11 outings, Lillard is down to 22 points per game on 37 percent from the field and 33 from downtown. A huge drop off from his usual averages. The Blazers have also gone 5-6 in those games. Unless Lillard gets his legs back under him, and quickly, Portland’s playoff hopes could falter.
2. The Golden State Warriors ceiling is scary
There is exactly one reason why the Golden State Warriors are ranked this high; Stephen Curry. If the Warriors were half decent, Curry would be a legit MVP candidate instead of a fringe one. On the year, Curry is averaging 30-6-6 on 48-41-92 shooting splits. Nobody else has ever met or exceeded these averages and this isn’t even Curry’s first time doing so. Over his past six games, Chef is averaging 36 points per game, trying his best to carry an injury-riddled offensive nightmare of a team.
Curry is so good though that in a play-in tournament single-elimination game, it is safe to assume he will play a vast majority of the minutes and as long as he is on the court the Warriors are no easy out. Out of all the teams on this list, Curry is easily the best player so Golden State has a distinct edge over the other teams. Not to mention that they have championship experience with their head coach and former DPOY, Draymond Green.
1. The Dallas Mavericks could be the play-in tournament kings
After a 9-14 start, the Dallas Mavericks have managed to win 20 of their next 29 to jump up to the seventh seed in the western conference. Over that stretch, the Mavs have a net rating of 6.3 which would rank fourth in the league, right between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Mavs have not only been the best of these teams as of late, they also have the best overall net rating of the bunch and a top 10 player in Luka Doncic.
He’s not Curry but not many players come closer than Doncic. The young prodigy is averaging 29-8-9 on the year with a vastly improved three point shot. After being below average in each of his first two seasons and a major part of this season, Doncic has finally figured it out. He is shooting north of 41 percent from deep over his past 26 games. With marksmanship like that, there is no stopping Luka Legend. Anybody can win with the play-in tournament format, so having the best player in (almost) every matchup is a huge advantage.
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