By John Hollinger, Eric Coren, Darnell Mayberry, Marcus Thompson II, Joe Wharton, La Murray and Will Guillory
The entire 2023 NBA playoff field is set following Sunday’s games. Here’s what you need to know:
- In the Western Conference, the Clippers moved into the No. 5 seed with a win over the Suns, while the Warriors moved into the No. 1 seed with a win over the Trail Blazers. 6, the Lakers’ no. 7 and the Timberwolves at No. 8. Defeat the Pelicans and finish 9th.
- The entire Eastern Conference side of the bracket was set entering the weekend.
- The play-in tournament starts on Tuesday and ends on Friday.
Eastern Conference Field
- Milwaukee Bucks (58-24)
- Boston Celtics (57-25)
- Philadelphia 76ers (54-28)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31)
- New York Knicks (47-35)
- Brooklyn Nets (45-37)
- Miami Heat (44-38)
- Atlanta Hawks (41-41)
- Toronto Raptors (41-41)
- Chicago Bulls (40-42)
Western Conference Field
- Denver Nuggets (53-29)
- Memphis Grizzlies (51-31)
- Sacramento Kings (48-34)
- Phoenix Suns (45-37)
- LA Clippers (44-38)
- Golden State Warriors (44-38)
- Los Angeles Lakers (43-39)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40)
- New Orleans Pelicans (42-40)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (40-42)
Full play-in schedule
Game 1 First Round Table
The Hawks draw tough competition in the Heat
Theoretically, the Hawks enter the play-in tournament in an ideal situation. They are 41-41 and have been within one game of .500 on all but two dates since mid-January. So if they split two games like they always do, they’re a playoff team!
The problem Tuesday, however, is that they’ve lost three of four meetings against the Heat this season and were rolled 4-1 by Miami in the first round a year ago. Atlanta is 3-10 against the Heat over the past two seasons, including 1-6 in Miami. Alas. — Hollinger
Raptors thanks to home play-in games
The Raptors didn’t exactly head into the play-in tournament with a ton of momentum, splitting their final six games. They beat the Hornets twice and the Bucks without any starters, but lost one road game to the 76ers and two to the Celtics.
However, the good news for Toronto is that it will play a 9-10 game at home. The Raptors went 27-14 at Scotiabank Arena this year, the fifth-best home record in the Eastern Conference, behind the conference’s top four seeds. Those 27 wins include two over Wednesday’s opponent, the Bulls. — Grow up
Which version of the Bulls will show up?
The Bulls are a team that has proven this season that they are capable of beating anyone, but losing to anyone. They have wins against the top two seeds in the East, Milwaukee and Boston, and the top two seeds in the West, the Nuggets and Grizzlies.
But Chicago also lost to five of the six worst teams in the league, the Rockets, Spurs, Hornets, Magic and Pacers. That’s why the Bulls find themselves in a play-in tournament. How far Chicago goes from here will be determined by how quickly they can figure out how to put together consistent performances. — Mayberry
Northern California War Collection
The Sacramento Kings drew the defending champions in the first round in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, marking the first time these teams will meet in the postseason.
Connections to the series are numerous, starting with Kings owner Vivek Ranathive being a former minority owner of the Warriors. Then Kings coach Mike Brown, a former Warriors assistant coach. There’s Harrison Barnes, a former Warriors first-round draft pick who was the cornerstone of a championship era. There’s former Kings guard Donde DiVincenzo, who was waived by Sacramento a few months later.
But the story of this series will be the drama of the backfield. Future Hall of Famers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson against the future duo of De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Huerter.
It will be a hard lesson learned by rising kings, coached by KG champs or part of a new Western contender. And, perhaps, the end of a dynasty.
How far can heat travel?
The Miami Heat were one shot away from the NBA Finals last season. So the play-in isn’t quite where this heritage-laden franchise would have hoped.
But Miami lost PJ Tucker from last year’s team and has no replacement. The likes of Gabe Vincent, Max Struss, Duncan Robinson — Kyle Lowry suffered through a miserable season, and the talented understudies the Heat thrived on over the years — didn’t make the same impact.
Miami added Kevin Love at the trade deadline and inserted him into the starting lineup. He played in this tournament last season with the Cavs, who, coincidentally, got bounced by the Hawks in the final game. Love couldn’t stay on the floor in that game because of the speed of the Hawks. Let’s see how long Erik Spoelstra stays with Love.
On the bright side, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are still in Miami and are capable of getting this team ready for the playoffs — a rematch with the Celtics in last year’s East Finals awaits. A shot separated them. — Worden
How the Clippers match up with the Suns
This might be the strangest first-round series of all.
The Clippers have an All-Star in Kawhi Leonard’s All-NBA candidate Paul George, who is making his first season appearance since tearing his ACL before the previous Clippers-Suns postseason meeting in the 2021 Western Conference. Finals, and a former MVP in Russell Westbrook replaced the Clippers at the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, the Suns played eight (undefeated) games with Westbrook’s former teammate Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. Chris Paul, a former Clipper, was traded for Westbrook in 2019 and played against him in the 2020 postseason.
Of course, the Suns and Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are trying to bounce back from an embarrassing end to their 2022 postseason run.
It will be the first time Leonard and Durant have played against each other since February 2021, and the first time they have met since Durant tore his Achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA Finals in Toronto and Leonard won his second Finals MVP. . That matchup is the title of a playoff series that should have the Suns heavily favored because of how well the Suns have played and the talent available.
But the Clippers are dangerous and a worthy opponent thanks to Tyronn Lue’s comfort in coaching in the playoffs and the talent surrounding Leonard and Westbrook in terms of shooting and size at every position except power forward. – Murray
Where the Pelicans stand after the loss
In Wednesday’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pelicans played the game they should have had. Minnesota lost two starters (Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels) when one punched a teammate and the other punched a wall.
Brandon Ingram had one of the best performances of his career. Still, it wasn’t enough as Anthony Edwards and the rest of the Wolves showed incredible skill to fight back from a 14-point deficit and earn a spot in the 7-8 play-in game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pelicans need to find a way to extend their season in a win-or-go game against the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and scrappy Oklahoma City Thunder. New Orleans is more reliable at home than they have been on the road. But after such a failure, it will be interesting to see how they respond.
Not to mention, there’s a Zion Williamson-sized shadow hanging over everything with this team as the season winds down. The next few days will be huge for this team. – Guillory
(Photo: Mark Blinch / NBAE via Getty Images)
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