2023 Play-In Tournament

2023 AT&T Play-In Tournament Preview: Tuesday's matchups

A dozen teams are in the playoffs. Another 8 still have hope. The Play-In begins with Hawks-Heat and Wolves-Lakers.

The 2023 NBA postseason tips off with the AT&T Play-In Tournament. Get ready for the action with previews and predictions for Tuesday’s matchups, which will determine the No. 7 seed in each conference.

East: (8) Atlanta Hawks @ (7) Miami Heat (7:30 ET, TNT)

The Winner: Advances to face Boston in the first round as the No. 7 seed

The Loser: Plays the winner of Wednesday’s Bulls-Raptors game to determine the No. 8 seed

Regular season results: Heat won series 3-1

Keep Your Eyes On: Miami’s offense

Miami was the lowest-scoring team in the league, the only one to fail to muster at least 110 points per game in an NBA season where buckets came easy. What’s strange is the Heat have three players — Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro — who average at least 20 points per game, but the help has been spotty at best. Their volume 3-point shooters are just average, leaving the Heat to rely on Butler’s mid-range game and Adebayo’s paint presence. Also, there’s plenty of 1-on-1 ball being played, partly because Kyle Lowry, 37, isn’t the creative point guard he once was. The Hawks’ overall defense isn’t exactly shut-down, but might not need to work as hard.

Key Matchup: Miami’s Jimmy Butler vs. Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray

If Murray spends more time checking Butler instead of Herro, this will be a delicious game within the game between one of the league’s great clutch players and one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. Murray brings tremendous anticipation, which allows him to cut off passing lanes and use his freakishly long arms for deflections and steals while also challenging shots. He causes turnovers and makes the offensive player constantly aware of his presence. Butler, though, is always up for a challenge. He had one of his finest seasons, once again showing a knack for coming up big when a score is needed, especially when the game is tight in fourth quarters. Butler finished the season third in total clutch points scored (151) and shot 50.5% in clutch situations, too.

Prediction: Heat

These are two teams bringing a bit of disappointment into the Play-in. Two seasons ago, the Hawks reached the Eastern Conference finals, and last season the Heat made it that far. However, both have suffered significant slippage. Miami has an edge with this game being on its home court and favorable head-to-head results against the Hawks, and the Heat will need those advantages. Expect a rather close game to be rescued by one of the stars. In this case, Butler is the man in those clutch situations as he should finish among the top vote-getters for the Kia NBA Clutch Player of the Year. And if Trae Young continues to struggle with his shooting — 33% from deep, the lowest mark since his rookie season — then that’s a wrap.

(8) Minnesota Timberwolves vs. (7) LA Lakers (10 ET, TNT

The Winner: Advances to face Memphis in the first round as the No. 7 seed 

The Loser: Plays the winner of Wednesday’s Pelicans-Thunder game to determine the No. 8 seed

Regular season results: Wolves won series 2-1

Keep Your Eyes On: The ex-Wolves now on the Lakers

D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt have played various roles in the Lakers’ comeback this season, having arrived in L.A. at the trade deadline. All three are former Wolves, with Beasley and Vanderbilt acquired after a brief stopover in Utah as part of the Rudy Gobert trade. Russell is a more reliable point guard than the departed Russell Westbrook, while Beasley brings deep shooting and Vanderbilt is an energy guy. The three ex-Wolves proved to be problem-solvers and reduced the Lakers’ weaknesses, and now have a chance to be vengeful against their old team.

Key Matchup: L.A.’s Anthony Davis vs. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns

There’s some question as to how much time Davis will spend guarding Towns, but the Lakers have few other big man options and therefore it wouldn’t be a surprise if it’s significant. Towns returned just a few weeks ago from a calf injury that benched him for 51 games. He also surpassed 22 points in six of eight games upon his return but only reached 30 points once. He’ll need to ramp up his production against Davis, one of the league’s best defenders who also has the quickness to extend his coverage outside where Towns likes to work. Additionally, Towns must supply the necessary offensive balance for Anthony Edwards, who was terrific during Towns’ absence and made his first All-Star appearance. Towns will also be pulling some double duty in this one after Gobert was reportedly suspended by the team for the Lakers game because of his in-game punch of teammate Kyle Anderson in the Wolves’ season finale.

Prediction: Lakers

The Lakers have reinvented themselves on the fly, using some much-needed personnel changes to post the West’s best record since the All-Star break. It also helped that LeBron James returned from injury and Davis avoided any. Meanwhile, the Wolves could be without Jaden McDaniels, their solid young defender, after he injured his right hand throwing the second-most regretful punch Sunday in the Wolves’ season finale. Minnesota was already without Naz Reid, done with a wrist fracture, so the losses are piling up at the absolute wrong time. This seems like two teams going in opposite directions, and the Wolves will need their best effort of the season to prosper in a road game against LeBron and AD.    

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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 Twitter.

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