The NBA postseason is here where the play-in games will begin in two games. LeBron James’ Lakers and Jimmy Butler’s Heat have history and stars who have made postseason runs, but have come up short in the Play-In Tournament.
Tuesday’s games pit the teams with the seventh-best record in each conference against the teams with the eighth-best record in their respective conferences. This is the winner to enter as No. 7 seed in both games. Tuesday’s losers will play home games with the eighth and final seeds in each conference on the line. Those teams will host the winners of Wednesday’s games, featuring the ninth- and 10th-best records in each conference. Here is a further explanation of the Play-In format.
During the NBA Playoffs, The AthleticWriters will make their straight-up choices. You can find picks, ranges and latest odds here. Our in-depth NBA coverage is linked below the picks. For live NBA odds from BetMGM, click here.
7:30 pm ET on TNT
What are the odds for Hawks vs. Heat?
Well, well, well. They meet again.
In a rematch of last year’s 1-8 matchup in the first round, the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks will face off on Tuesday night in the first game of the 2023 Play-In Tournament. In keeping with recent head-to-head history, the Heat went in as solid favourites.
These are two teams in the midst of disappointing seasons. Ten months ago, Miami was a Jimmy Butler 3-pointer away from a trip to the NBA Finals. Two years ago, Atlanta took the 2021 champion Milwaukee Bucks to six games in that Eastern Conference finals — and followed up with a Play-In Tournament regression and an eighth seed in 2022 by swinging a big trade for Dejounte Murray last offseason.
But now, both are fighting for their playoff lives. The good news for fans is that this should be an interesting stylistic matchup.
The Heat finished the season 44-38 but had a -0.5 net rating that was 21st in the NBA. The 41-41 Hawks have narrowly outscored opponents by 0.1 points per 100 possessions this year (19th). However, they each butter their bread in different ways. The Heat’s offense, dragged down by poor 3-point shooting and a trudging tempo, is 25th in the NBA this season, but their defense — ninth with a 112.8 rating — remains solid. The Hawks, meanwhile, have a porous defense, but remain a strong offensive group (115.5 rating, ninth) that, despite a low amount of 3-point attempts, thrives in the midrange, taking care of the ball and attacking the offensive glass.
Sorry for the vanilla analysis, but the X-factor in this matchup is the performance of each team’s best player: Trae Young for Atlanta and Butler for Miami.
En route to a gentleman’s sweep of last year’s playoffs, the Heat suffocated Young in an aggressive, switch-heavy defensive scheme, holding him to 15.4 points and six assists (against 6.2 turnovers) per game in 31.9 percent shooting. But that was before the addition of Murray and head coach Quin Snyder — and with a key defensive cog in PJ Tucker (now a 76er) averaging 28.3 minutes.
As for Butler, he quietly authored perhaps the most effective season of his career in 2022-23 despite Miami’s team-wide regression — and he’s made a habit of dialing his level up even come postseason time.
The Heat took three of the four regular-season meetings between these two teams and held Young to the second-lowest scoring average (19.8) and field goal percentage (35.6) of any Hawks opponent.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will clinch the seventh seed and face the Boston Celtics in the first round. The loser will play the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Raptors and Bulls for the right to play the Bucks in the 1-8 series.
Experts pick for Hawks vs. Heat
10 p.m. ET on TNT
What are the odds for the Lakers vs. Timberwolves?
Normally, the final day of the NBA regular season is all about resting stars and wonky stat lines. But the Timberwolves made Sunday an obscene event day.
Rudy Gobert tackled Kyle Anderson in a timeout huddle (which resulted in a one-game suspension). Jaden McDaniels broke his right hand. And, despite a thrilling comeback win over New Orleans, a formidable opponent awaits in the opening game of the Western Conference Play-In Tournament on Tuesday night. The Lakers are considered solid favorites for the tournament.
The Lakers team finished the season 43-39, one game better than Minnesota. But since their trade deadline facelift — which included Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley while firing Russell Westbrook — the Lakers have the best record in the West (18-9). With both Anthony Davis and LeBron James available entering the postseason, the potential to use two of the best players in any matchup makes the Lakers dangerous, especially in a one-on-one scenario.
As crazy as they are — Naz Reid is also sidelined indefinitely — the Timberwolves have a fight coming up. But Anthony Edwards is also a candidate to take over in any game in which he plays. Just ask the Pelicans, who fell victim to the third-year superstar’s 26-point, 13-rebound, four-assist, steal and block performance on Sunday:
Karl-Anthony Towns is also back after a long injury layoff, adding firepower to Minnesota’s offensive attack, and Mike Conley is a snug fit at the point guard spot.
As for the regular season series: Minnesota took two of three games, although the first win came in late October. They split two games in March, with the Timberwolves’ win coming earlier in the month while James was on the shelf and the Lakers’ win coming on March 31 with both sides near full strength.
The winner will face the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs as the seventh seed, while the loser will battle for the eighth seed — and a date with the Denver Nuggets — against the Pelicans-Thunder winner.
Experts pick for Lakers vs. Timberwolves
More than the NBA Play-In Tournament
NBA Play-In Tournament schedule, format and its impact on the league
Full NBA playoff bracket set: What to expect from Play-In games, First Round matchups
(Photo of LeBron James: Harry How / Getty Images)