LeBron James celebrates with Anthony Davis after a three-point basket in the second half against the Utah Jazz.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
The NBA postseason commences on Tuesday with the beginning of the Play-In tournament.
The Play-In has added a level of drama and excitement to an already gripping part of the basketball calendar and, with some big teams involved, this year’s edition is no different.
What is the Play-In tournament?
The Play-In Tournament is a concept which was adopted fully in July 2022 after being used in two previous seasons.
It was brought in to allow two more teams the opportunity to compete for the final two spots – seventh and eighth – in each conference’s playoff seedings.
In each conference’s end-of-season standings, the teams ranked between seventh and 10th compete in the Play-In.
The seventh-seeded team hosts the eighth, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and a best-of-seven first-round series against the No. 2 seed.
The ninth-seeded team hosts the 10th-ranked side, with the winner facing the loser of the game between the seventh and eighth seeds; the winner of this game will get the eighth and final spot in the playoff bracket, where it will take to the court against the top-ranked team in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
After a surge during the second half of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers booked their spot to the postseason following Sunday’s 128-117 win against the Utah Jazz.
In a jam-packed Western Conference, the Lakers had been in the running for an outright playoff spot right up until the final few games of the regular season but ultimately had to settle for a Play-In berth.
Los Angeles superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis possess the ability to take over a game almost single-handedly and, with the midseason addition of three role players – all of whom have previously played for the Timberwolves (D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt) – the team has a more settled feel to it.
James looks to pass the ball while under pressure from two Utah Jazz defenders.
Mark J. Terrill/AP
There are more questions surrounding Minnesota ahead of Tuesday’s game following a dramatic end to the season.
In the team’s final game, center Rudy Gobert was sent home for an altercation with his teammate Kyle Anderson. During a timeout, Gobert got into an argument with Anderson during a timeout and swung at the forward.
On Monday, the team announced that it was suspending Gobert for a game, meaning he would miss the game against the Lakers. If the Timberwolves lose, the Frenchman would be available for the game against the winner of the ninth vs. 10th clash.
On top of that, the team will be without one of its best perimeter defenders after it was assessed that Jaden McDaniels had suffered fractures in his right hand after he was seen punching a wall while walking to the locker room during Sunday’s game.
Minnesota announced that McDaniels had “been placed in a cast and will be out indefinitely.”
Even without Gobert and McDaniels, the Timberwolves are loaded with talent, primarily in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The scoring ability of both Edwards and Towns is a terrifying prospect for any team and could be enough to lift Minnesota out of the Play-In and into a playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The loser of this game will play the winner of Wednesday’s New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game.
Edwards celebrates against the Brooklyn Nets.
Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Miami Heat are another team who showed gradual improvement over the year to seal their place in the Play-In.
Led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the team has been a nightmare on defense for oppositions, regularly holding teams to measly scores.
But despite having a few star players, the team has struggled on offense, often being bogged down in their half-court system which has stunted their success.
In Butler though, they have one of the most effective crunch time players and the 33-year-old has routinely bailed Miami out with exceptional moments of brilliance with the game on the line.
Butler dribbles defended by Detroit Pistons guard Jaden Ivey.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
As a team with plenty of playoff experience and with a seasoned head coach at the helm, the Heat will be a tough proposition for anyone.
Traveling down to Florida are the Atlanta Hawks who have had a remarkably average season.
The team finished with the same amount of wins and losses, never really threatening to make a run up the standings but also never looking like a team in freefall.
With a line-up filled with top-level talent – Trae Young, Dejounte Murray and John Collins to name a few – Atlanta’s mediocre performances resulted in the mid-season firing of head coach Nate McMillan.
Young shoots a free throw against the Washington Wizards.
Brett Davis/X06796/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
McMillan was replaced by former Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder in February and, with games coming thick and fast, he’s found it difficult to implement his philosophies and tactics.
The Hawks possess the offensive firepower to overwhelm the Heat’s impressive defense, but the question remains: can Atlanta’s defense – ranked 22nd in the league – stop Miami’s often stilted offense?
The winner will go on to face the Boston Celtics in the playoffs while the loser will play the winner of Wednesday’s Chicago Bulls vs. Toronto Raptors game.