Starting 5 Daily Newsletter

Starting 5, April 19: Win or go home

The final 2 spots in the 2024 NBA Playoffs will be secured tonight once Bulls-Heat and Kings-Pelicans wrap up.

Starting 5

What’s coming tonight?

Last 2 Playoff seeds up for grabs. Two win-or-go-home elimination games. One epic Friday of hoops.

So if you’re feeling like this, you’re not alone.


THE LINEUP 🏀

What’s inside today’s edition? 

Déjà vu: For the second straight year, the Heat and Bulls meet in an elimination Play-In game

Round 6: The Pels and Kings meet for the sixth time this season in what’s been a one-sided series so far

Fan favorites: Watch, vote, share and connect – check out this new feature in the NBA App

What they’re saying: Hear from six key players set to make their Playoff debuts this weekend

Exclusive early look: Steph leads top-selling jerseys list, while Lakers lead merch sales from 2023-24


BUT FIRST … ⏰

Tonight’s schedule.

The SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament concludes tonight with a pair of win-or-go-home games – winner gets the 8th seed, loser sees their season end – beginning with Bulls-Heat (7 ET, ESPN) in the East followed by Kings-Pelicans (9:30 ET, TNT) in the West.

NBA Playoffs start Saturday: A quadruple-header across ESPN, TNT & ABC tips off Saturday at 1 ET, with another four games starting at 3:30 ET on Sunday, in one of the wildest hoops weekends of the calendar year.


1. DÉJÀ VU: A BULLS-HEAT PLAY-IN REMATCH

We meet again: For the second straight year, the Bulls and Heat will meet in Miami for the East Play-In finale to determine which team earns the 8th seed … and which team goes home.

  • One year and five days ago, the Heat beat the Bulls in this exact situation to begin their unprecedented run from the Play-In to the NBA Finals
  • The two players that scored 31 points apiece to spark that Heat win over the Bulls? Jimmy Butler and Max Strus – both of whom will not be suiting up for Miami this time around
  • Strus is in Cleveland, as the Cavaliers get ready to host the Magic on Saturday
  • Butler has been ruled out with a right knee sprain suffered in Wednesday’s loss to Philly

How will the Heat fare without Butler? Miami went 13-9 (.591) in the 22 games that Butler missed this season, compared to 33-27 when Butler was in the lineup. Expect more minutes from rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr., who averaged 15.1 ppg in 20 starts this season.

What does Coby White have for an encore? White dropped a career-best 42 points to lead the Bulls past the Hawks and keep their hopes of the 8th seed alive. A leading candidate for the Kia Most Improved Player, he’s nearly doubled his scoring average this season to 19.1 ppg.

What about Alex Caruso’s status? He’s listed as questionable after sustaining a right foot sprain on Wednesday night. Caruso is Chicago’s top perimeter defender, so keep an eye on his status and who would fill his role of defending Tyler Herro (who has yet to play Chicago this year).

What’s at stake? A date with No. 1 Boston in the first round – a team that neither the Heat nor Bulls have been able to solve so far this season


2. ROUND 6: FAMILIAR FOES MEET WITH SEASON ON THE LINE

After enduring the longest playoff drought in NBA history, the Kings made it back to the dance a year ago. If they hope to return to the playoffs, they’ll need to do something they haven’t been able to do all season – beat the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans are 5-0 against the Kings this season. In early December, it was New Orleans that ousted Sacramento from the inaugural In-Season Tournament. Now, four months later, they’ll try to end their run in the SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament as well.

  • No Zion: The Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson, who had 40 points in their Play-In loss to the Lakers before exiting late in the 4th with a strained hamstring
  • New Orleans is 7-5 without Zion this season, with one of those wins coming against Sacramento on Jan. 7
  • No problem: Even with Zion sidelined (quad) in that January matchup, the Pelicans rolled past the Kings in Sacramento, leading by as many as 50 points and finishing with a 133-100 win

The Kings are coming off a Play-In win over the Warriors to avenge last year’s Playoff loss to Golden State. Can they do the same against the Pelicans and survive the Play-In after New Orleans eliminated them during the In-Season Tournament? Is the sixth time a charm?

The Pelicans have been here before, having survived the win-or-go-home game in 2022, defeating the Clippers on the road to secure the 8th seed in the West. This time around, New Orleans has this pivotal game on their home court.

  • But is that an advantage? Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers marked the sixth straight loss that the Pelicans have suffered at Smoothie King Center. They’ll have to snap that streak to secure a Playoff berth

What lies ahead? The top-seeded Thunder are waiting to see which team will head to Oklahoma City to face them on Sunday. The Pelicans are 1-2 against OKC this season, while the Kings are 2-2.

Both teams have lost their last two meetings with the Thunder, but are eager to get another shot at them this weekend.


3. NBA APP LAUNCHES FAN FAVORITES

For the first time ever, the NBA App launched a global celebration of fandom – dedicated to the greatest players and fans in the world, and a regular season unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Dropping TODAY, NBA Fan Favorites, powered by NBA ID gives fans of all types the opportunity to watch, vote, share and connect through all-new experiences inside the NBA App, made possible by NBA ID personalization.

>> Sign Up Now For Your Free NBA ID

What’s In Fan Favorites?

  • Fan Favorites VotingA chance for NBA ID members to vote on their favorite dunk, handles, style and more from the 2023-24 season, making their voices heard and rewarding their favorite players
  • Fan Favorites: The Season – A first-ever look at how millions of NBA ID members & fans from 214 countries and territories around the world watched a record-breaking amount of minutes across the NBA App & NBA.com this season
  • Fan Favorites: My Season – The NBA App’s first personalized year-in-review story for a select group of its most highly engaged NBA ID members
  • Fan Favorites: My Team – A curated story of your favorite team’s season, delivered to members based on their favorite team in the NBA App

Join the celebration in the NBA App.


4. WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: FIRST PLAYOFF EXPERIENCES

These six players – like many others – have been able to check ‘Make the NBA Playoffs’ off their bucket lists this season. Hear what they had to say about reaching this stage for the first time:

  • OKC’s Chet Holmgren: “Oh, extremely excited. I mean, the regular season is huge, you can’t overlook it, but you don’t play the 82 games and hope that you’re done after 82 games. You hope for this stage, you hope for this opportunity and nobody in our locker room is taking it lightly.”
  • Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton “We all grow up big basketball fans, watching the Playoffs and watching our favorite players have big moments. Now for me to be able to get that opportunity, I’m just really excited and as a group that’s been our goal the whole year.”
  • Philadelphia’s Buddy Hield (after the Sixers clinched the 7th seed, ending his 632-game stretch without a Playoff appearance, which was the longest of any active player): “I’m just glad we got a win. I’m glad I can go to the Playoffs for the first time. I’m ready.”

  • Orlando’s Franz Wagner: “Most of the guys on the team were here when we won like 22 games or something like that. So that’s what makes it really cool that we grew together as a group and can enjoy it as now together.”
  • Orlando’s Paolo Banchero: “It feels great. That’s what we’ve been working towards the last two years and I’m just proud and excited that everyone gets to experience this. Everyone deserves it.”
  • Dallas’ PJ Washington: “It means everything. Obviously, to make it in Dallas, my hometown, a lot of family and friends are gonna be there. I’m just excited. It’s a dream come true for me and I can’t wait to get it going.”

5. TOP-SELLING JERSEYS & TEAM MERCH

For the 2nd straight season and the fifth time in his career, Golden State’s Stephen Curry holds the title of having the most popular jersey in the NBA. Based on NBAStore.com sales for the entire 2023-24 season, Curry’s No. 30 topped the list.

Five of the top 15 players on the list are international players, led by rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama of France with the fourth most popular jersey. He’s joined by Giannis Antetokounmpo (5th), Luka Doncic (6th), Joel Embiid (12th) and Nikola Jokic (13th).

Let’s dive deeper into the top five and what made them stand out from the pack this season.

  1. Stephen Curry: The four-time champion, two-time MVP and 10-time All-Star led the NBA in 3-pointers made (357) for the eighth time in his career and posted his highest total of 3-pointers since the 2015-16 season when he made a record 402 that still stands today
  2. LeBron James: The NBA’s all-time leading scorer surpassed 40,000 career points in his 21st season as he continues to win the battle against Father Time. The four-time champ, four-time MVP and record 20-time All-Star completed his 20th straight season averaging at least 25 ppg
  3. Jayson Tatum: The five-time All-Star led the Boston Celtics to the best record in the league (64-18) – seven games better than any other team in the NBA. He joined Dallas’ Luka Doncic as the only players to win Player of the Month honors twice this season
  4. Victor Wembanyama: Touted as a generational talent upon entering the NBA in 2023-24 as the No. 1 pick, Wemby lived up to the hype, providing jaw-dropping highlights and incredible numbers. He led the league in blocks (3.6 bpg), became the first player with 1,500+ points, 250+ blocks and 100+ 3s in a season, and the second rookie to record a 5×5 game
  5. Giannis Antetokounmpo: The two-time MVP made history this season, becoming the first player ever to average at least 30 ppg while shooting 60% or better (30.4 ppg, 61.1% FG). He joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to ever average at least 30 pts, 11 reb and six ast

The Lakers led all teams at the midway point of the season and maintained that ranking to close out the 2023-24 campaign.

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