The NBA play-in games are set

The NBA play-in games are set

/ 08:46 AM April 15, 2024

LeBron James Lakers beat Pelicans NBA

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, April 14, 2024. The Lakers won 124-108. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are staying in New Orleans for a couple more days. Stephen Curry and Golden State will head back to Sacramento to face elimination again. And the Miami Heat are back in the play-in, which started their run to the NBA Finals last year.

The play-in field is set. On Tuesday, it’s the Lakers facing the Pelicans for a No. 7 seed in the NBA Western Conference, then the Warriors and the Kings in an elimination game. On Wednesday, it’s the Heat going to Philadelphia to decide No. 7 in the NBA Eastern Conference, followed by Atlanta at Chicago in a win-or-else matchup.

“Look, this is the best time of year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “These kind of environments, the games, the context … you can’t expect it to be easy.”

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Of the 20 postseason seeds, 15 were decided on Sunday, as were three of the four play-in matchups and three of the four first-round series that don’t include play-in teams.

The final order in the East: Boston, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Orlando, Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta. In the West, the order from No. 1 to No. 10 is Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas, Phoenix, New Orleans, the Lakers, Sacramento and Golden State.

“Good momentum going into the playoffs,” Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said after his team finished No. 1 in the West. “Nothing to complain about. … We won a lot of basketball games. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what everybody laces their shoes up for, to win basketball games and have a chance to win a championship.”

The only first-round series that was set before Sunday was Clippers-Mavericks in the West. Added to the list now: Bucks-Pacers and Cavaliers-Magic in the East, along with Timberwolves-Suns in the West.

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The games themselves didn’t bring much drama on the regular season’s final day. Of the 15 games, only one was decided by one possession — and it was at Madison Square Garden, where New York got a big win. The Knicks held off Chicago 120-119 in overtime, a result that let them leapfrog Milwaukee for No. 2 in the East.

“A hell of a regular season,” Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo said. “Let’s get ready for the playoffs.”

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Among the biggest blowouts on Sunday: Oklahoma City beat Dallas by 49 to wrap up No. 1 in the West, Indiana stayed out of the play-in by beating Atlanta by 42, Sacramento downed Portland by 39, San Antonio topped Detroit by 28 and Orlando — which could have been in the play-in with a loss — rolled past Milwaukee by 25.

Orlando won 47 games to capture the Southeast Division and get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

“So proud of them,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “There’s not really a lot of words for it. You talk about a group who has been up, been down, battled back, resilient … they proved it. Big stakes, they took it in their own hands.”

The Heat-76ers winner will face No. 2 seed New York in Round 1 of the playoffs, and the loser will play host to the Hawks-Bulls winner on Friday night for the chance to meet No. 1 overall seed Boston. The Lakers-Pelicans winner gets the No. 7 seed and will play defending champion Denver in Round 1 — the Lakers were swept by the Nuggets last season — and the Lakers-Pelicans loser will face the Sacramento-Golden State winner for the right to play No. 1 Oklahoma City.

Golden State won a Game 7 at Sacramento last season to advance. The Warriors will have to win a play-in game there Tuesday that’ll have Game 7-type consequences.

“It’ll be a great atmosphere,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were there last year, obviously. They’ll have their crowd behind them. It’s nice to not get on a plane. So, we’ll take the bus up there tomorrow, have a day to prepare and be ready to go.”

The only spot that switched in the East on Sunday was No. 2 and No. 3 between the Knicks and Bucks. The West saw two flips on the final day: Denver passed Minnesota for No. 2 and helped send the Timberwolves to No. 3, while Phoenix jumped up one spot to No. 6 and the Pelicans dropped one to No. 7.

Phoenix won at Minnesota on Sunday, and now will head back there for a Game 1 next weekend.

“It’s time now,” Suns guard Bradley Beal said. “It starts now.”

Cleveland is the No. 4 seed in the East for the second consecutive year. The Cavaliers had a chance to move to No. 2 or No. 3 with a win on Sunday and led lottery-bound Charlotte by 13 with 10 minutes remaining.

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And yet they didn’t seem to want to move up much, getting outscored 30-7 the rest of the way. Charlotte won 120-110 in coach Steve Clifford’s final game with the Hornets.

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