The 2023 NBA Playoffs are finally here...sort of. With the play-ins set to begin tomorrow (7:30 PM EST), we get our first glimpse of the post-season bracket.
The play-ins get underway in Miami, where the winner of the Hawks vs Heat match-up will travel to Boston to face the Celtics (My Celtics) in the first round. Let's take a quick dive into each play-in game.
-> Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat
Jimmy Buckets and the Heat face-off against Ice Trae and the Hawks. On the surface the Heat look like the pick. While Miami has looked less than hot for most the season, they've shown a higher level of maturity than the ATL. Trae and company have yet to find that chemistry that took them on a deep playoff run in their recent history. Young and newcomer Dejounte Murray have started to find a decent groove as the season progressed, but this team still looks far from a contender. With that being said, I will take the Hawks in THIS game. Miami is the better team in a 7-gamer, but for one night I will take the potential that the Hawks present in the backcourt. Both teams will face a Game 6 elimination at home regardless to my C's in the first round.
Pick: Atlanta Hawks
-> Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron in the playoffs...shocker. While the Lake Show have been a roller coaster, to say the least, for the entirety of the season, they've made just enough moves to slide into the play-in. Some of the moves came directly at the hands of their opponent. The trade deadline swap of assets between these two franchises led to wins for both. The Wolves have closed the season on a solid stretch. However, in typical lower-tier franchise fashion, they were forced to suspend star big-man Rudy Gobert for throwing a punch at a teammate. Mr. Gobert will miss the play-in game vs LA and the T'Wolves will be taking the L. Lebron and AD (assuming good health...heavy on the assuming) should be more than enough to handle the Wolves in this home game. Minnesota still has plenty of talent to lean on and Anthony Edwards, who I love, has the potential to carry this team on any given night. Just not on this night in my opinion.
Pick: Los Angeles Lakers, unfortunately
-> Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors
If you're looking for the match-up that can be a nail-bitter, this is it. If you're looking to watch two teams who have no chance in the first round of the playoffs, this is also your game. Both these teams have talent, that's not the issue here. DeRozan, Lavine, Vucevic, Siakam, VanVleet. All of these names brought up my spellcheck, but they also play at a high-level worthy of praise. Despite my previously displayed hate on this game, it should be a great one to watch down the stretch. This would likely be a 7-game series in a true playoff meeting. Unfortunately for both teams, neither found their stride throughout the season. This could honestly go either way, but I will lean with the better package of DeRozan and Lavine to deliver late in this battle. I believe Chicago presents the better opponent going forward than Toronto as well.
Pick: Chicago Bulls
-> Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans
Where I was wrong: The OKC Thunder will finish as a bottom 5 team this season. I was way off on this preseason prediction, but so was everyone else. If you would've asked anyone if the Thunder would make the playoffs (play-in) after hearing their first round pick, Chet Holmgren, would miss the season, they would've given you a profound NO. I would've picked the Oklahoma Sooners to make the NBA Playoffs before the Thunder. However, here they are. SGA is a stud. We know this. And the Pels have some firepower as well in Ingram, CJ and the occasionally present Zion. So this game should be a solid one. With that being said, I will lean towards experience and take the Pelicans. I do believe SGA and crew will make this interesting, but I have to believe that even a beat-up Pels team can overcome this Thunder roster. I have consistently believed that acquiring McCollum was the best thing this team could have done years back. When healthy, I believe this Pels team can give ANY playoff team a run for their money. Unfortunately "when healthy" never seems to happen.