The 2023 NBA postseason tips off with the AT&T Play-In Tournament. Get ready for the action with previews and predictions for Wednesday’s matchups, which will set the stage for Friday’s Play-In finale.
- 2023 NBA playoffs schedule
- NBA playoffs: Bracket & complete coverage
- FAQ: How the Play-In Tournament works
East: (10) Chicago Bulls @ (9) Toronto Raptors (7 ET, ESPN)
The Winner: Advances to face the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup between the Heat and Hawks on the road in a game that will determine the No. 8 seed in the East
The Loser: Is eliminated and enters the NBA Draft Lottery
Regular season results: Raptors won the series 2-1
Keep Your Eyes On: Toronto’s length
Suffocating, overwhelming, whatever you want to call it, but Bulls coach Billy Donovan even mentioned Friday that “the biggest challenge we’ve had against them has just been their size.” Back in November, Toronto’s defense racked up 11 steals and 10 blocks in a 113-104 win, only to follow up in February by forcing 20 turnovers that led to 21 points to go with a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounding, as the Raptors — capitalizing on their advantage on the boards — fired up 23 more field goals than the Bulls. Both of those games at Scotiabank Arena ended in Raptors victories.
Key Matchup: DeMar DeRozan vs. Everybody
Facing his former team in the postseason for the first time since it traded him in 2018, DeRozan knows what’s coming given what he’s seen in three regular-season outings against the Raptors. Trapped relentlessly in Game 1 between the teams, DeRozan took nine shots, committing five of Chicago’s 17 turnovers. In Game 2, the Bulls leaned on a 30-point night from Zach LaVine for a win, as DeRozan struggled his way to 9 points in the face of constant double teams. DeRozan saw much of the same in Game 3 of this series, scoring 13 points on 11 attempts.
The Patrick Beverley effect on the Chicago Bulls has been fun, and we’ll see it on full display again in this matchup. But Beverley’s intensity won’t be enough to lift the visitors on the road against this lengthy Raptors team, which is 27-14 at home and appears to own the blueprint for slowing down DeRozan. Point guard Fred VanVleet is the only Toronto starter standing shorter than 6-foot-7, and we’ve seen enough evidence in three regular-season games to suggest Chicago won’t be able to rebound effectively or successfully shoot over the Raptors’ length on a consistent basis.
West: (10) Oklahoma City Thunder @ (9) New Orleans Pelicans (9:30 ET, ESPN)
The Winner: Advances to face the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup between the Lakers and Timberwolves on the road Friday in a game that will determine the No. 8 seed in the West
The Loser: Is eliminated and enters the NBA Draft lottery
Regular season results: Pelicans took the series, 3-1
Keep Your Eyes On: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Most considered Gilgeous-Alexander merely a nice piece acquired by the Thunder when they traded Paul George to the LA Clippers in 2019. But we’ve got a bona fide NBA star on our hands in the fifth-year veteran. He’s No. 4 in the NBA in scoring (31.4 ppg) and in four games against the Pelicans, Gilgeous- Alexander averaged 33.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 4.3 apg and 2.3 spg this season. The home team will surely keep its eyes peeled for the 24-year-old because the Pelicans know stopping him is the key to snuffing out this resurgent OKC squad, which appears on the verge of perennial playoff contention.
Key Matchup: Brandon Ingram vs. Lu Dort
Ingram missed 35 of New Orleans’ first 55 games and didn’t face OKC until the third matchup in the series on Feb. 13. He made it a night to remember, too, scoring a game-high 34 points on 58.3% from the field and 60% from deep (without CJ McCollum or Zion Williamson in the lineup) with Dort guarding him. Keep in mind the Thunder forward has held his own against the league’s best, and even slowed down former Kia MVP James Harden in the 2020 playoffs. So, expect a locked-in Dort this time in a clash that will be more evenly matched.
Prediction: New Orleans
Executive vice president David Griffin already ruled out Zion Williamson for the Play-In Tournament but left open the possibility of the star forward returning for the first round of the playoffs. Given the volatility of the Western Conference, the Pelicans know they’ve got as good a shot as anybody else, especially if Williamson is on the floor. So, to make a second-straight playoff run New Orleans needs to advance against a team it dominated in the regular season. The Pelicans appear to be better equipped defensively with Herbert Jones to slow down Gilgeous-Alexander than OKC is to neutralize Ingram.
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