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NBA Western Conference Play-In Tournament Betting Preview: Clippers, Timberwolves to Grab Spots

The Clippers, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Spurs will battle in the play-in tournament to secure the final two playoffs spots in the Western Conference.

The NBA play-in tournament begins this week and there’s a stark difference between the top-two and bottom-two teams in the Western Conference field.

The Timberwolves have the best record of any play-in team and would have made the playoffs outright in the East. Meanwhile the Clippers scrapped their way to 42 wins. The Pelicans and Spurs bring up the rear, each with sub.-500 records.

Since it’s still a new feature, here’s a brief explanation of how the tournament works.

The seventh-place team will host the eighth-place team. The winner claims the seventh seed, while the loser plays the winner of 9-10 game for the eighth seed. The loser of the 9-10 matchup is eliminated from playoff contention.

Games begin Tuesday and conclude Friday evening, so playoff matchups and seeds will not be officially set until later this week.

Western Conference Play-In Tournament Schedule:

Tuesday, April 12
9:30 p.m. ET (TNT): No. 8 Clippers vs. No. 7 Timberwolves (-3.5)

Wednesday, April 13
9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): No. 10 Spurs vs. No. 9 Pelicans (-5.5)

Friday, April 15
Time TBD (TNT): Winner of Spurs/Pelicans vs. loser of Clippers/Timberwolves

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Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) works around Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Minneapolis.

Western Conference Play-In Tournament Teams

No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves (46-36)

First play-in opponent: Clippers—lost season series, 1-3
Record since All-Star Break: 15-8

Minnesota won more games this year than it did the past two seasons combined.

Massive improvements on both sides of the ball have the Timberwolves on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2018. Their offensive rating improved from 25th to seventh and their defensive rating went from 28th to 13th.

The core of the team—Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell—remains the same. The offseason addition of Patrick Beverly and coach Chris Finch getting a full season at the helm helped spur these massive improvements.

The Timberwolves take and make the most three-pointers per game. Malik Beasley, Edwards and Russell each fire eight or more trey balls per game and they all shoot better than league average from outside. This trigger happy approach and a pace that tops the league contribute to Minnesota’s NBA-best scoring average (115.9 ppg).

The fast-paced approach the team operates at does have its drawbacks. The T-Wolves rank in the bottom third of the league in field-goal percentage and turnovers per game. They also commit the second-most fouls per game in the league and are only a league-average rebounding team as Towns’ rebounding numbers are a career low.

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Minnesota ma get figured out over a seven-game series—they didn’t fare particularly well against opponents with records better than .500—but having a trio of scorers in Towns, Edwards and Russell is intimidating in a play-in format.

No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers (42-40)

First play-in opponent: Timberwolves—won season series, 3-1
Record since All-Star Break: 12-9

Los Angeles is the play-in team no one wants to play.

Despite Paul George missing the majority of the season and no signs of Kawhi Leonard all year, the Clippers are a 40-plus-win team with aspirations of another deep playoff run. And they’re fully capable of putting one together.

The 25th-ranked offense doesn’t tell the full story of a team that played so much of its season without both of its All-NBA stars. Los Angeles having the eighth-ranked defense with no Leonard and 31 games from George is a testament to Ty Lue’s coaching and the toughness of this team.

Reinforcements in the form of George, Norman Powell and possibly Leonard join a team that includes the NBA’s best three-point shooter in Luke Kennard, defensive specialist Robert Convington, who recently drained 11 threes in a game, and a core of Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac, Terrence Mann and Nic Batum. All of them were on the team that went to the West Finals in the summer.

The Clippers are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league but they’re also a poor rebounding team, don’t pass the ball particularly well and get to the free-throw line at the lowest rate in the league. A lot of betting on L.A. is based on projection. George has only played in 31 games and there’s no assurance that Leonard will join him for a playoff run. But what we’ve seen from Lue’s teams in the playoffs inspires confidence in these overachievers.

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) drives on Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn.

No. 9 New Orleans Pelicans (36-45)

Play-in opponent: San Antonio Spurs—lost season series, 1-3
Record since All-Star Break: 13-10

There’s a distinct, Zion Williamson-sized hole in New Orleans’ starting lineup, but this team is getting by without him. The acquisitions the Pelicans have made in the past year (C.J. McCollum, Jonas Valanciumas, Devonte’ Graham) put them in position to potentially return to the postseason for the first time since 2018.

New Orleans isn’t necessarily intimidating with its 19th-ranked offense and No. 18 defense. Its record doesn’t strike fear into fellow play-in teams and certainly not its playoff opponents if it were to win a few games and sneak into the postseason.

The Pelicans, however, field their best team since Anthony Davis was a happy camper in the Big Easy. They’re .500 since acquiring McCollum at the deadline, Valanciunas is a legitimate three-point threat and Herbert Jones is a huge defensive plus.

The Pelicans have a size advantage when they roll out the frontcourt of Valanciunas and third-year center Jaxson Hayes. Throw in 6’8” Brandon Ingram, who’s had trouble staying on the court this season but still manages to get his 20-plus ppg, and NOLA has size and scoring. That’s important with a backcourt of McCollum and Graham.

There are plenty of weaknesses to ding the Pelicans for—chiefly, outside shooting—which will ultimately sink this team. It’s a matter of when, not if.

New Orleans is missing its star and won’t be complete until Williamson is back on the court, or at least his equivalent in terms of assets.

No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (34-48)

Play-in opponent: New Orleans Pelicans—won season series, 3-1
Record since All-Star Break: 11-12

San Antonio is the most surprising play-in team. The Spurs, the beneficiaries of the Lakers bottoming out, are one of the younger teams in the league and are led by budding star Dejounte Murray. He made his first All-Star team this season and flirted with a triple-double average. Along with Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell, Murray brought Greg Poppovich’s team back to the brink of the playoffs after San Antonio missed the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.

The Spurs rank 17th in offensive rating and 16th in defensive rating and are among the best teams in the league at rebounding and passing. San Antonio runs at the sixth-fastest pace and shoots the second-most shots and averages the eighth-most points per game as a result. The Spurs poor defense nearly negates their high-scoring offense, though they do still have a positive point-differential, something neither the Clippers or Pelicans can say.

San Antonio owns the worst record of any team whose season didn’t end Sunday. As such, the Spurs have a dismal record against teams with .500 or better records. The team had a good stretch in March and the beginning of April and it will enter the play-in tournament having won six of its last 10 games.

Seeding Predictions:

Los Angeles beats Minnesota in the seven-eight game to snag the seventh seed. And in the 9-10 game, New Orleans beats San Antonio to set up a Friday night game with the Timberwolves. Minnesota takes care of business against the Pelicans to end its playoff drought and enter the postseason as the eighth seed.

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