2024 SoFi Play-In Tournament

2024 SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament: Your guide to Friday's matchups

The Play-In Tournament concludes with the final playoff berths in the East and West up for grabs.

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The 2024 NBA postseason tips off with the SoFi Play-In Tournament. Get ready for the action with previews and predictions for Friday’s matchups, which will determine the No. 8 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

East: (9) Chicago Bulls @ (8) Miami Heat (7 ET, ESPN) 

The winner: Advances to face Boston in the first round as the No. 8 seed 

The loser: Is eliminated

Regular season results: Series tied, 2-2 

Keep your eyes on: Coby White 

The Kia NBA Most Improved Player candidate showed precisely why he’s one of the favorites in the race Wednesday with a stellar showing in Chicago’s dominating Play-In Tournament win over Atlanta. In year five, White has displayed stunning growth as a scorer, more than doubling his points per game average (19.1 ppg) from last season (9.7). 

White dropped a career-high 42 points against Atlanta with nine rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. Miami’s banged-up backcourt will be forced to turn to depth in dealing with White and Ayo Dosunmu with Terry Rozier recovering from a neck injury and Duncan Robinson continuing to work his way into form from a back issue. 

Key matchup: Battle between the small forwards 

Miami forward Jimmy Butler suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter Wednesday that will sideline him Friday (and beyond), and Chicago’s Alex Caruso is reportedly dealing with a right foot sprain. That news greatly impacts the matchups on the perimeter.

Butler is one of Miami’s top offensive players, while Caruso is the Bulls’ best defender. Their injuries open the door for more minutes from the supporting cast. So, expect to see more of rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. in Butler’s spot, while Chicago will likely turn to Javonte Green, Dalen Terry and Torrey Craig to fill Caruso’s minutes if he can’t go. 

Prediction: Bulls 

We marveled at Miami’s rise from the final Play-In game to the 2023 NBA Finals. Even if Butler returns quickly from injury, we’re not likely to see a repeat of last year’s magical run. Like the Heat, the Bulls have been snake-bitten all season by injuries. Chicago is more whole now with Dosunmu returning after missing the last four games of the season due to a bruised right quadriceps. White, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic will pose problems for the depleted Heat.

West: (9) Sacramento Kings @ (8) New Orleans Pelicans (9:30 ET, TNT) 

The winner: Advances to face Oklahoma City in the first round as the No. 8 seed 

The loser: Is eliminated 

Regular season results: Pelicans, 5-0 

Keep your eyes on: Pels productivity sans Zion Williamson 

New Orleans wasted no time announcing Williamson would miss Friday’s game due to a strained left hamstring suffered late in Tuesday’s Play-In loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Williamson was coming off his first career 40-point, 10-rebound showing, and he outscored New Orleans’ other four starters 40-34. 

So, despite the Pels defeating Sacramento four times in the regular season and once during the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals, they stand on shaky ground without Williamson. Second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram and veteran guard CJ McCollum shot a combined 8-for-27 in Tuesday’s loss. Ingram is still working his way back from a knee injury and was benched for the final 7:38 vs. the Lakers. 

Key matchup: Sacramento’s Keon Ellis vs. New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram 

With Williamson out, Trey Murphy III likely rejoins the Pelicans’ starting lineup, enabling them to stagger minutes between Herbert Jones and Dyson Daniels on Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox. The Kings, meanwhile, likely hand off the responsibility of defending Ingram to Ellis, who played lockdown defense Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors. 

Ellis logged three steals and three blocks in the Play-In win over the Warriors, finishing a plus-27. Ingram owns the length advantage, but he has struggled in two outings since returning from a 12-game absence due to a knee injury. Ingram will also be under pressure to try to replace Williamson’s production against Ellis, who is currently riding high on confidence. 

Prediction: Kings 

New Orleans would make history with a win, marking the first time since 1994 a team finished 6-0 against a single opponent ahead of the playoffs. But Williamson’s absence, combined with the recent struggles of Ingram and McCollum might lead to sputtering on offense for the Pels. Defensively, as tough as Jones and Jose Alvarado are, they won’t be able to handle the Kings’ trio of Domantis Sabonis, Keegan Murray and Fox.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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