The NBA postseason is here with the play-in games starting with two games. LeBron James’ Lakers and Jimmy Butler’s Heat have the history and stars to make postseason runs, but are stuck in the play-in tournament.
Tuesday’s games pit the teams with the seventh-best record in each conference against the teams with the eighth-best record in their respective conferences. The winner of both the games finished 7th. Tuesday’s losers will play home games with the eighth and final seed in each conference in the lineup. The teams with the ninth- and 10th-best records in each conference will host the winners of Wednesday’s games. Here is a further explanation of the play-in format.
During the NBA Playoffs, AthleticThe writers will make their own direct selections. Check here for selections, coverage and latest odds. Our in-depth NBA coverage picks are linked below. For BetMGM’s live NBA odds, click here.
7:30 pm ET on TNT
What are the odds against the Hawks vs. the Heat?
Good good good. They meet again.
In a rematch of last year’s 1-8 finish in the first round, the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks will face off Tuesday night in the first play-in tournament game of 2023. Enter the head, heat as solid favorites.
These are two teams in the midst of disappointing seasons. Ten months ago, Miami was a Jimmy Butler 3-pointer away from a trip to the NBA Finals. Two years ago, Atlanta took the 2021 champion Milwaukee Bucks to six games in that Eastern Conference finals — and a play-in tournament and the eighth seed in 2022 — pulling off a big trade for Dejaunde Murray last offseason.
But now, both are fighting for their playoff lives. The good news for fans is that it should be an interesting stylistic matchup.
The Heat finished the season 44-38, but finished 21st in the NBA with a -0.5 net rating. The 41-41 Hawks have outscored opponents by 0.1 points per 100 possessions this year (19th). However, they each butter their bread in different ways. The Heat’s offense, dragged down by poor 3-point shooting and a trudging tempo, ranked 25th in the NBA this season, but their defense — ninth with a 112.8 rating — has been solid. The Hawks, meanwhile, have a porous defense but are a potent offensive team (115.5 rating, ninth) that thrives in the midrange, takes care of the ball and attacks the offensive glass, despite low 3-point attempts.
Pardon the vanilla analysis, but the X-factor of this matchup will be the performance of each team’s best player: Trae Young for Atlanta and Butler for Miami.
En route to a gentlemen’s sweep of the playoffs last year, the Heat suffocated Young with an aggressive, switch-heavy defensive scheme, holding him to 15.4 points and six assists (against 6.2 turnovers) on 31.9 percent shooting. But that was before the addition of Murray and head coach Quin Snyder — and PJ Tucker (now a 76er) with a defensive practice average of 28.3 minutes.
As for Butler, despite Miami’s team-wide regression, he quietly authored the most productive season of his career in 2022-23 — and has a habit of dialing back his status well into the postseason.
The Heat took three of the four regular-season meetings between these two teams, holding Young to the second-lowest scoring average (19.8) and field goal percentage (35.6) of any Hawks opponent.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will fill the seventh seed and face the Boston Celtics in the first round. The loser will advance to Wednesday’s game between the Raptors and Bulls for the right to play the Bucks in the 1-8 series.
Expert picks for Hawks vs. Heat
10pm ET on TNT
Lakers vs. What are the odds for the Timberwolves?
Normally, the final day of the NBA regular season is all about rested stars and wonky stat lines. But the Timberwolves made Sunday an unfortunately eventful day.
Rudy Gobert tackled Kyle Anderson head-on (resulting in a one-game suspension). Jaden McDaniels suffered a fractured right arm. And, despite an impressive comeback win against New Orleans, a formidable opponent awaits Tuesday night in the opening game of the Western Conference play-in tournament. The Lakers are considered solid favorites for the matchup.
The Lakers finished the season 43-39, one game better than Minnesota. But since their trade deadline facelift to add Jarrett Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley while ousting Russell Westbrook — the Lakers have the best record in the West (18-9). With Anthony Davis and LeBron James both entering the postseason, the ability to use two of their best players in any matchup makes the Lakers dangerous, especially in a single-game situation.
As they’ve been pitching — Naz Reed has been sidelined indefinitely — the Timberwolves face an uphill battle. But Anthony Edwards is a candidate to take over any game he plays. Just ask the Pelicans, who were overwhelmed by the third-year superstar’s 26-point, 13-rebound, four-assist, steal and block performance on Sunday:
Karl-Anthony Towns is also back after a long injury layoff, adding some firepower to Minnesota’s offensive attack, and Mike Conley fits in nicely at the point guard spot.
As for the regular season series: Minnesota took two of three games, though the first win came in late October. They split two matchups in March, with the Timberwolves win coming earlier in the month when James was on the shelf and the Lakers win coming on March 31 with both sides at full strength.
The winner will face the Grizzlies for the seventh seed in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser will compete with the Pelicans-Thunder winner for the eighth seed — and a date with the Denver Nuggets.
Lakers vs. Expert picks for the Timberwolves
More on NBA Play-In Tournament
NBA Play-In Tournament Schedule, Format and Its Impact on the League
Full NBA playoff bracket roundup: What to expect from play-in games, first-round matchups
(Photo of LeBron James: Harry How/Getty Images)