2021 NBA Play-in Tournament Predictions

Who will win? Here is everything you need to know about it and our predictions.
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The NBA play-in tournament is here! There has been a lot of discussion about the new playoff concept. Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck wrote in a column in late April that the tanking era is over, while players like LeBron James said whoever created it needs to be fired.

The format

The play-in tournament will begin Tuesday, May 18, and conclude Friday, May 21. The teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have two opportunities to win one game to earn a playoff spot. The teams with the ninth-highest and 10th-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have to win two consecutive games to earn a playoff spot.

Schedule

Eastern Conference

• No. 8 Wizards at No. 7 Celtics (9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 18, TNT)

• No. 10 Hornets at No. 9 Pacers (6:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 18, TNT)

• 9/10 winner vs. 7/8 loser (8 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 20, TNT)

Western Conference

• No. 8 Warriors at No. 7 Lakers (10 p.m. ET on May 19, ESPN)

• No. 10 Spurs at No. 9 Grizzlies (7:30 p.m. ET on May 19, ESPN)

• 9/10 winner vs. 7/8 loser (TBD on Friday, May 21, ESPN)

The Crossover staff made their play-in tournament predictions.

Chris Mannix

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Pacers

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No. 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most:

Quick notes for each series

The Hornets are stumbling into the play-in (that Wizards loss hurts) and they have major frontcourt issues, which will be exposed by Indy's superior big men. The possibility of a Malcolm Brogdon return only enhances Indy's chances.

Washington cares; Boston, frankly, doesn't. The Wizards are steamrollering into the postseason; the battered Celtics stumbled there. It will take more than a few sentences to diagnose Boston's issues, but the Wizards, on the road, will expose them.

The Grizz went 2–1 against the Spurs in the regular season, though neither team was at full strength for any of the games. Memphis, though, is as healthy as it can be, while the Spurs remain a M.A.S.H unit. The Grizz, with the memory of last season's bubble failure still fresh, will win at home.

The unknown: LeBron James’s ankle, which he tweaked at the end of the Lakers’ season-ending win over the Pelicans. Assuming James is healthy, the Lakers will be at full strength for the first time since midseason (hey, Jared Dudley is back!). As good as Stephen Curry is—and we could be in for a big time Curry scoring outburst in this one—the depleted Warriors just won’t have enough to hang with a healthy version of the Lakers.

But in terms of the best game to watch: Spurs-Grizzlies ... oh, come on. It's Laker-Warriors. Is there any other?

Michael Pina

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Hornets

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No. 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: Lakers vs. Warriors is the only answer. LeBron James vs. Steph Curry vs. Anthony Davis vs. Draymond Green, in one humongous battle that would place the winner on a much easier path toward at least cracking the conference finals. (Apologies to the Suns and the winner of Nuggets-Blazers.) The loser either has to face this season's best team in Round 1 (followed by a likely showdown against the Clippers), or could eventually get knocked out altogether. Again: This is the only answer.

Howard Beck

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Hornets

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No, 9 Grizzlies: Spurs

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: How about the game featuring a record-setting MVP, three other All-Stars and two teams who surely expected to make the playoffs without all this added drama? Yes, I’m talking about Wizards-Celtics, of course. I know everyone’s buzzing about LeBron vs. Steph, but there’s plenty of intrigue in the East’s 7–8 clash, too—and a lot at stake. The Celtics were supposed to be a contender with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If they gag the play-in, will management blow up the roster? The Wizards were supposed to end their playoff drought after acquiring Russell Westbrook. If they fail, will Bradley Beal finally ask out?

nba-play-in-tournament-schedule

Elizabeth Swinton

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Hornets

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Celtics

No. 10 Spurs @ No, 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: Lakers vs. Warriors is the clear standout from this group of games in terms of starpower and stakes. The Lakers may run away with this one with improved health, but Curry has a chance to put on a show and put L.A. in a more difficult position. Grab the popcorn.

Jeremy Woo

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Pacers

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No. 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: It’s hard to not immediately circle Warriors-Lakers as this week’s must-watch game. Steph and LeBron facing off this early in the playoffs should be illegal, but it’s a treat.

Ben Pickman

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Pacers

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No. 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Warriors

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: Warriors-Lakers. Frankly, while there’s definitely some appeal to the other three play-in tournament matchups, any other answer to this question is incorrect. It’s a game loaded with star power, full of potential long-term playoff implications, and it represents a new look at an old rivalry. The Lakers are understandably favored to defeat Golden State, but don’t be surprised if Stephen Curry shoots his team into the first-round of the NBA playoffs and makes LeBron James and the Lakers have to beat Memphis to secure a second straight playoff berth. L.A. is playing better of late, winning five straight games to close the regular season, but it also wasn’t that long ago that the Lakers lost to the Wizards, Kings and Raptors in consecutive games. In a season full of surprises, how about the reigning champs having to try to repeat as champions as the playoff’s No. 8 seed.

Robin Lundberg

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Hornets

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Wizards

No. 10 Spurs @ No, 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: The play-in tournament may as well be renamed Lakers-Warriors. That is as marquee a game as there could be, with stakes, and is why the person who came up with his whole idea shouldn't be fired but should get a promotion and a raise.

Michael Shapiro

No. 10 Hornets @ No. 9 Pacers: Pacers

No. 8 Wizards @ No. 7 Celtics: Celtics

No. 10 Spurs @ No, 9 Grizzlies: Grizzlies

No. 8 Warriors @ No. 7 Lakers: Lakers

Game you are looking forward to watching the most: Lakers vs. Warriors. There’s certainly some intrigue in Boston as the Celtics host the Wizards, but Lakers vs. Warriors is the only acceptable answer here. Steph Curry’s dominance was the most delightful story of the season, and knocking off LeBron and the Lakers in the play-in tournament would be a perfect exclamation mark on his superb season. Will Golden State actually pull off the upset? I’m a touch skeptical. LeBron James appears relatively healthy and reading to mount another Finals run, and despite Curry’s brilliance, this is still a paper-thin Golden State roster. Curry and Co. may keep this one close, though ultimately, the play-in game should serve only as a minor roadblock for the defending champions.

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