2024 SoFi Play-In Tournament

10 stars set to take stage at 2024 SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament

Get ready for a star-studded showdown as 8 teams look to secure the final 4 spots in the 2024 NBA playoffs.

Can ‘Playoff Jimmy’ rise to the occasion again for the Heat in their Play-In clash against Joel Embiid and the 76ers?

Is this the NBA’s version of … April Madness? Perhaps so, if only because the SoFi Play-In Tournament is stuffed with the type of players and teams you wouldn’t normally associate with a win-or-else festival, at least this early in springtime.

Yet, here we are. There will be former NBA champions, MVPs and future Hall of Famers playing with a feverish spirit usually seen in June, all because the high competitive balance of the league this season put them in a tough spot.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stars of the eight-team tournament and what’s at stake in what should be a memorable week of hoops (listed alphabetically by last name):

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Butler just had an uneven season that was interrupted by injury — he played 60 games, five under the minimum for major awards — and red-flagged for his inability to carry Miami to more wins and secure a playoff spot. But that was Regular Season Jimmy, so take that for what it’s worth.

His Play-In experience: Last spring, Butler launched one of the more impressive postseason stretches in recent memory with a 31-point effort against the Bulls to capture the No. 8 seed. The Heat next played the top-seeded Bucks in the first round and we all know what happened next — Jimmy happened.

Key question: Does Butler still breathe fire and keep the chip on his shoulder whenever he’s playing against his old team, the Sixers, in a meaningful game?

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Curry was the lone consistently solid player for the Warriors this season and constantly rose to the occasion in urgent situations; he’ll be a candidate for the Kia Clutch Player Award. Well, there’s no urgent situation like now.

His Play-In experience: Curry was brilliant in his only previous Play-In taste, which was bittersweet. He had thrilling duels with LeBron James and then Ja Morant in 2021 but fell short on the scoreboard and watched the playoffs from the sofa (or golf course).

Key question: The last time Curry played the Kings in an elimination tip — Game 7 last spring — he dropped a 50-piece. Will the Warriors require that much energy from him again?

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Davis was the finest Laker this season at both rims, providing scoring balance with LeBron James while showing a high level of protection that’ll earn him some mention for Kia Defensive Player of the Year. He also gets up for the Pelicans, his former team.

His Play-In experience: Davis had 25 points and 12 rebounds in 2021 against the Warriors, getting 13 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the thrilling comeback win. Then last year, he dropped 24 and 15 against Minnesota to atone for committing a last-second foul in regulation.

Key question: Will Davis have any lingering issues with his back, which flared and caused him to exit last Sunday’s game against the Pelicans in the final five minutes?

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

In a season of mixed messages for the Bulls, the one constant was DeRozan, who quietly had a strong season, averaging 24 points, playing 79 games and was No. 2 in the NBA in total clutch points scored.

His Play-In experience: DeRozan was sturdy (41 minutes) and solid (26 points, nine assists) in his last Play-In game but was outshined by Butler in Miami’s win, which eliminated the Bulls.

Key question: If the Bulls fail to advance to the playoffs — and they’ll need to win twice to do so — will this be the last time DeRozan — a free agent this summer — plays in a Bulls’ uniform?

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

He is, perhaps unquestionably, the player carrying the most intrigue in this tournament. Embiid just returned from a knee injury that derailed a season shaping up to be his best. Now, suddenly, the reigning Kia MVP can transform the Sixers and maybe bring postseason suspense in the East, which was (is?) considered a Celtics stronghold.

His Play-In experience: He’ll make his first Play-In appearance.

Key question: Having won eight straight games, five with Embiid in the lineup since his return, will the Sixers even need to lean so heavily on their big man for one or possibly two games? And if so, can he handle the load after missing so much time?

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Curiously (and perhaps hilariously), it was James who wondered aloud a few years ago about the “genius” who came up with the Play-In idea. Well, well — the tournament has been a hit and LeBron flourished twice in such situations.

His Play-In experience: James got the best of Curry in an entertaining back-and-forth in 2021, then managed 30 points and 10 rebounds in a 2023 win against the Wolves.

Key question: LeBron continues to keep delaying Father Time here in his 21st season, but his playing time soared down the stretch run; will that be an issue?

Dejounte Murray, Atlanta Hawks

When Trae Young suffered a finger injury after the All-Star break and dealt the Hawks an obvious setback, it wasn’t a season-killer. That’s because Murray seized the chance to show his worth. He averaged almost 27 points with nine assists in March, including three 40-point games that month.

His Play-In experience: It was humbling for Murray in 2022 as he was hassled by the Pelicans’ defensive maven Herb Jones into a 5-for-19 night in the loss. It was his last game with the Spurs.

Key question: Can Murray supply the same or more energy on defense as he has lately on offense, especially with Young returning to reduce his scoring load?

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings

In a slightly disappointing season for Sacramento, Sabonis stood out with a performance that could land him on the All-NBA team. A double-double machine, Sabonis also showed marked improvement while running the offense from the high post, finding teammates cutting to the hoop.

His Play-In experience: This is his first try in the tournament.

Key question: The Kings are missing two important pieces with injuries to Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. This will undoubtedly place a heftier load on Sabonis, especially as a scorer. Is he up for that?

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

A healthy Zion? Yes, please, say the Pelicans, who’ve waited patiently for Williamson to finish a season the way he started it. While it hasn’t always been smooth for him this season — he famously flamed out in the In-Season Tournament semis — Williamson delivered over the last month, his bully ball resulting in high-percentage shots and Pelican wins.

His Play-In experience: Last season, Williamson strained his hamstring in January, causing him to miss the Pelicans’ Play-In loss to OKC. In 2022, a foot injury was the issue, but the Pelicans survived the tournament and moved on without him.

Key question: Williamson’s subpar play during the In-Season Tournament was a sour (non-injury) moment in his career. Now that he’s back on a stage bigger than the regular season, will he understand the significance and deliver in his first real taste of pressure basketball?

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

He missed 28 games with injury, mostly to his finger, and even when healthy he had lapses of inconsistency and inefficiency. Still, Young made the All-Star team and averaged 25.7 points and 10.8 assists per game. Always a threat with the ball and a creator of buckets for himself or others, Young remains one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players.

His Play-In experience: Young was brilliant two years ago against the Cavs, with 32 of his 38 points in the second half, sending the Hawks into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

Key question: Murray played his best ball since joining the Hawks while Young was injured. Can (or should) Young recognize that and yield more ball-handling chores to Murray?

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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