2024 SoFi Play-In Tournament

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

The Play-In Tournament continues with 4 East teams looking to clinch a playoff berth.

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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 Wednesday’s matchups, which will determine the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and the two teams that will play Friday for No. 8.

East: (8) Miami Heat @ (7) Philadelphia 76ers (7 ET, ESPN)

The winner: Advances to face New York in the first round as the No. 7 seed.

The loser: Plays the winner of Wednesday’s Hawks-Bulls game to determine the East’s No. 8 seed.

Regular-season results: Series tied, 2-2.

Keep your eyes on: Playoff Jimmy

Next to Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler was the conversation piece last spring and summer, a player who raised his game, hauled a team from the Play-In Tournament through the East landmine, toppling higher seeds along the way.

What’s interesting this time? Butler is facing his former team and, in the past, didn’t mince words about the way the Sixers allowed him to sign with Miami in 2019 (Philly kept Tobias Harris instead).

That’s ancient history — or is it? Butler is prideful and would take great pleasure in sending the Sixers to an elimination game. Anyway, Butler brings a solid playoff rep to this game and is keen on keeping it.

Key matchup: Joel Embiid vs. Bam Adebayo

Of all the centers in the NBA, Adebayo holds his own, for the most part, against Embiid. He’s a smart and aggressive defender and knows how to make Embiid work hard for buckets, which is all you can do against the reigning Kia MVP.

Also, Adebayo — the best Miami player in last year’s Finals — will force Embiid to spend energy on defense. Against almost every other team, Embiid would hold a significant positional advantage. In this one? Marginal.

And this is assuming Embiid, who only recently returned from a knee injury, will be at his dominant self. The Sixers discovered Tyrese Maxey during his absence so they won’t need to lean so heavily on him. But they need him to win.

Prediction: 76ers

For some reason, this isn’t the same Miami team as last season. Maybe it’s because of the defections last summer, maybe because of Butler’s constant injury absences or Tyler Herro’s.

But the Heat need to regroup, and quick, and it’ll take more than Butler. Like: Jaime Jaquez Jr. rediscovering his rookie edge or Terry Rozier (who will miss tonight’s game due to neck spasms) finally fitting in after inconsistencies following his midseason arrival.

The biggest problem for Miami, aside from Embiid, is Maxey. The young guard is coming off a tremendous breakout season where he shined as fill-in lead singer without Embiid. And the Sixers were 29-7 when Embiid and Maxey both played this season.

(10) Atlanta Hawks @ (9) Chicago Bulls (9:30 ET, ESPN)

The winner: Advances to play the loser of Wednesday’s Heat-Sixers game to determine the East’s No. 8 seed.

The loser: Is eliminated.

Regular-season results: Bulls, 2-1.

Keep your eyes on: The frontline matchup

The Hawks will be without Jalen Johnson and perhaps more importantly, the more physical Onyeka Okongwu, which puts them at a disadvantage against Bulls center Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic is a former All-Star and still a dependable offensive player (he averaged 18 points per game this season) with a variety of ways to score. He’s very rhythmic and should he get into a groove, the Hawks have no one besides Clint Capela to bring resistance.

As an aside, backup center Andre Drummond — who is questionable on the league’s injury report — had rebound games of 25, 18 and 11 against the Hawks. The backup.

Key matchup: Alex Caruso vs. (pick ‘em) Trae Young or Dejounte Murray

Caruso is certain to make All-Defense this season, a reward for his alertness on the passing lanes (he’s one of the league leaders in steals) and solid man-to-man chops. Which of course means he’ll be placed on whichever Hawk guard gets hot.

He will have his hands full. Murray was tremendous in March when Young was out following finger surgery, while Young of course is one of the league’s better offensive creators.

So Caruso must pick his poison, either the taller guard who specializes in pull-ups in the lane, or the smaller All-Star who’s tricky with the lob pass and (sometimes) deadly from deep.

Prediction: Hawks

This is a matchup of injury-depleted teams, missing key components, and the winner will be lucky to advance to the playoffs. That’s no shade thrown at the Hawks and Bulls, just the reality.

DeMar DeRozan is destined to have a solid game; he had scoring nights of 31, 29 and 25 against the Hawks this season and will enter free agency this summer, which will give him incentive to extend his season as much as possible.

But the Hawks, even with missing parts, bring a bit more quality in their depth (Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter) than Chicago (Coby White). A Bulls’ win wouldn’t be a surprise, especially at home, but this conversation feels more like Hawk Tawk.

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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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