Starting 5 Daily Newsletter

Starting 5, April 16: The title chase begins tonight

The road to the NBA Finals begins with a pair of SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament games featuring superstars LeBron James and Steph Curry.

Starting 5

That feeling when the postseason gets here…


What’s inside today’s edition? 

Play-In 101: Everything you need to know about the 2024 SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament

Play-In history: Steph vs. LeBron, Miami’s Finals run & more classic moments from the 1st 4 years of the Play-In

Lakers-Pelicans: A regular-season finale and In-Season Tournament Semifinal rematch

Warriors-Kings: After needing 7 games to decide their 2023 1st round matchup, it’s a 1-game series in 2024

Regular-season standouts: The players, stories and stats that defined the 2023-24 season


What went down Monday and what to do today.

2024 WNBA Draft: Caitlin Clark went No. 1 to Indiana and we were there for all the behind-the-scenes access. See where the rest of the top picks landed with the season less than a month away.

OKC wins NBA G League title: The Oklahoma City Blue are NBA G League champions for the first time in team history, taking home the title in 3 games vs. the Maine Celtics.

Bracket Challenge: Think you can predict the path to the Larry O’Brien Trophy? Prove it in the NBA Pick ‘Em Bracket Challenge.

1. PLAY-IN 101

Over the next four days, eight teams will compete in the SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament for the last four spots in the 2024 NBA Playoffs – along with the chance to extend their season and keep their hopes of an NBA title alive – while the other four go home.

How Does The Play-In Work? Dating back to 2020 and officially adopted in 2022, the Tournament features the 7-10 seeds in both conferences in a two-round, three-game bracket – one bracket in the East, one in the West.

  • 8th Seed at 7th Seed: The top two seeds square off, with the winner taking the official No. 7 seed in the Playoffs. If you lose, you get one more shot to nab the No. 8 seed
  • 10th Seed at 9th Seed:  It’s win-or-go-home for the bottom two seeds. Win, and you draw a matchup with the loser of the 7 vs. 8 game for the No. 8 seed in the Playoffs. Lose, and your season’s over.

Who’s Playing This Year? And when?

  • The West tips off tonight, with No. 7 Pelicans vs. No. 8 Lakers at 7:30 ET followed by No. 9 Kings vs. No. 10 Warriors at 10 ET, with both games on TNT
  • The East follows on Wednesday, with No. 7 Sixers vs. No. 8 Heat at 7 ET, and No. 9 Bulls vs. No. 10 Hawks at 9:30 ET – both on ESPN
  • Both win-or-go-homes follow on Friday on TNT

What Should I Know? Beyond the fact that one of the NBA Finals teams last year emerged from the Play-In after an iconic run through the East …


The Heat made history last year when they became the first Play-In Tournament team to win a series, let alone reach the Finals … but even through four years, the new tournament’s already minted classic moments. The History


When the Lakers and Pelicans take the court in New Orleans tonight (7:30 ET, TNT), it will be their second meeting in three days in the bayou and their 3rd meeting this season with higher-than-usual stakes.

  • Dec. 7, 2023: Their 1st meeting came in the Semifinals of the inaugural In-Season Tournament in Vegas with the Lakers handing the Pelicans their largest loss of the season (-44 pts) to advance
  • April 14, 2024: Both teams entered the regular-season finale looking to hold their postseason seeding – 8th for L.A. and 6th for NOLA – with a win. The Lakers never trailed as they dropped the Pelicans from 6th (and a guaranteed Playoff spot) to 7th and a matchup in the SoFi Play-In Tournament
  • April 16, 2024: A win secures the 7th seed and a first-round series with the defending champs. A loss leads to an elimination game with the winner of Kings-Warriors for the 8th seed

Star Watch For L.A.: LeBron James and Anthony Davis have led the Lakers all year, including their meetings with New Orleans.

  • LeBron has put up 28.3 ppg on 55/60/93 shooting splits and 11.8 apg and in four games vs. NOLA, topping his already unprecedented Season 21 numbers. His 41% shooting from 3 this season is a career-high and a testament to his ability to adapt his game as the game evolves
  • Davis had 30 pts and 11 reb on Sunday while playing in his 76th game of the season – a career-high in his 12 NBA seasons
  • LeBron and AD combined to play 147 games this season, their highest total as teammates and the highest percentage of games (89.6%) since their title season in 2019-20 (90.8%)

Star Watch For NOLA: The Pelicans were the only team to have three players – Zion Williamson (22.9), Brandon Ingram (20.8) and CJ McCollum (20) – average 20+ ppg

  • Zion’s Postseason Debut: Similar to AD, Zion has reached a career-high in games played (70). He’ll play in his first postseason game after missing NOLA’s Play-In appearances the last two years
  • BI Is Back: Ingram returned Sunday (13 pts in 23 min) after missing the previous 12 games with a knee contusion. The Pelicans went 7-5 during Ingram’s absence, but will need him with their playoff fate on the line this week


How do you follow up an epic 7-game series in your first-ever playoff matchup? How about a single-elimination Play-In game in the same arena where last year’s series was decided?

That’s what we’re getting from the Kings and Warriors as the budding NorCal rivalry heats up with a win-or-the season’s over game in Sacramento tonight (10 ET, TNT).

  • Flashback: With a performance for the ages, Steph Curry dropped a playoff career-high and then Game 7 record 50 points to carry the Warriors to a 120-100 series-clinching win. Watch EVERY highlight from the series
  • Last 3 Games: Rivalries are built on drama. After getting a taste of that in last year’s playoffs, this season has seen the Warriors and Kings split their four games, with each of the last three games decided by a single point
  • Since 2022: Played 15 games against each other with an average margin of victory at 8.2 points, which is the 2nd lowest behind Heat-Knicks (7.8) for two teams who met at least 10 times (including postseason) over the last two seasons

Experience Factor: Looking for separation between the teams, the Warriors bring a wealth of postseason experience – both in the playoffs (winning four titles during the Kings’ record playoff drought) and the Play-In (0-2 in 2021).

  • Elimination Games: The trio of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green are 9-5 with their backs against the wall. Warriors coach Steve Kerr is 13-8 in elimination games as a player and coach
  • Elimination Stats: Steph (29.4 ppg on 36.3% 3pt shooting), Klay (20.1 ppg on 42.6% 3pt shooting) and Green (+55 plus/minus)

Clutch Play: With so many close games in their history, tonight has a high probability of featuring clutch time. And each team has a proven closer.

  • De’Aaron Fox: The inaugural Kia Clutch Player of the Year led all players in total clutch points (194 on 52.9% shooting) last season and finished 5th this season (122 pts)
  • Curry: This season’s leader in total clutch points (189) with 32 3-pointers on 45.7% shooting from deep (no other player had more than 13 clutch 3s)

Win To Play Again: The winner of this game faces the loser of Lakers-Pelicans on Friday for the 8th seed.


Luka Youngest PTS King Since KD: Luka Doncic won the first scoring title of his career, finishing as the leader in total points (2,370) and points per game (33.9) and becoming the youngest player to lead the league in PTS since Kevin Durant in 2011-12.

  • First Time Ever: Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren led the league in total blocks, becoming the first pair of rookies to do so since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74
  • Tyrese Haliburton led the league in assists per game (10.9) and total (752), while he and Trae Young became the 5th and 6th players since 2000-01 to average 20+ PPG/10.5+ APG
  • Domantas Sabonis led the league in rebounding, at 13.7 rpg and 1120 total, while his 77 straight double-doubles made him the first to hit that total since Moses Malone in 1978-79

Wild To Wilder To … Wildest: For many around the hoops world, the day after the regular season means a deep breath before the postseason. Not for our video team, who went off with a few Best Of Regular Season mixtapes – including the wildest endings of the season, getting progressively wilder.

  • Clutch, Clutcher, Clutchest? Same thing, but make it clutch buckets
  • Top 50 Handles: Tyrese Haliburton’s anklebreaker on the Pacers’ In-Season Tournament floor comes in at No. 2 … but what’s the No. 1 handle on the list?
  • 2 Hours Of Wemby: As one of the greatest all-time rookie seasons comes to a close, let these gravity-defying, time-bending, brain-twisting plays live on

Year In Social (And IRL): LeBron, Curry and Wemby led the 10 most-viewed players on social, Steph & Wemby both made appearances in the Top 5 most-viewed plays, and the league saw record-setting attendance numbers.