After introducing the Play-In tournament in 2022, the NBA has brought the competition back for the 2nd consecutive year. The tournament is a single and double elimination competition where the 7 through 10-seeds in both conferences battle for the 7th and 8th spots in the NBA Playoffs.
The Play-In tournament consists of a matchup between the 7 and 8-seed, with the winner earning the 7-seed in the playoffs. The loser of this matchup will then go on to face the winner of a matchup between the 9 and 10-seed, with the losing team being eliminated. These two remaining teams will then battle it out in one final game for the 8th and final spot in the playoffs.
Although the regular season has less than two weeks left, there is still a lot that needs to happen before the Play-In Tournament is finalized. Below I will lay out the many teams in both conferences that are fighting for a spot in the 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament.
The Western Conference has been absolute chaos the past few months, as a number of teams have climbed the standings into a playoff position, while many others have fallen flat on their faces and have quickly lost hope for the postseason. Although there are currently four teams that have solidified themselves in the Play-In Tournament, the teams ahead and behind in the standings are still within striking distance.
The 7 through 10-seed in the Western Conference are currently the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With roughly five to six regular season games for each team left, each of these four teams are within a single game of each other. This means that in a matter of days we could see an entirely different order of these teams.
However, there is still the question of the teams that are in the playoffs trying to stay out of the Play-In and the teams outside of Playoff contention, hoping they can sneak their way into the Play-In. The Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, and Golden State Warriors currently hold seeds 4 through 6 in the playoffs, but each of these teams only sit 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota and very well could fall in the Play-In Tournament before the end of the season.
I personally, don’t think this will be the case as those three teams have all shown improvement over the past few months and would require a total meltdown in order for one of the teams behind them to catch up. However, what is somewhat likely is one of the teams behind the 10-seed going on a run and sneaking into the Play-In. The Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz currently sit in 11th and 12th place and are both within 1.5 games of the 10-seed Thunder.
Both the Jazz and Mavericks have suffered horrific stretches over the past few months, as both teams were in Playoff position heading into 2023, however, both teams have the rosters capable of making a run to get into the Play-In Tournament. I think it’s less likely for the Jazz, but the Mavericks have the talent to make noise in the Playoffs and only sit 1 game behind the Thunder.
As I mentioned, there’s still a lot to play out, but I think either the Pelicans or Thunder won’t be in the Play-In Tournament, as the Mavericks will be able to sneak into that final spot. It will be very interesting to see how these teams line up when the regular season comes to a close.
The Eastern Conference, similar to the Western Conference, is still open to a number of hopeful teams vying to secure a spot in the Play-In Tournament, but their Playoff picture definitely seems a bit more solidified. The 7 through 10-seeds in the Eastern Conference are currently occupied by the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, and Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are currently 3.5 games behind the Heat, which demonstrates the more significant gap between these teams than in the West.
The Bulls are really the only team currently in the Play-In Tournament that could possibly get bounced, as the remaining three teams all sit at least 4 games ahead of the 11-seed, the Washington Wizards, with roughly five to six games remaining in the regular season. Similarly the Heat are the only team that could climb into a regular Playoff position instead of the Play-In tournament as each of the remaining three teams all sit at least three games behind the 6-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
The Miami Heat sit 1.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets and I could definitely see the Heat being able to take over their spot. The Nets have obviously struggled following the departures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but they’ve proven that they are still a formidable squad. The Heat will need to be nearly perfect if they want to make that jump.
Conversely, the Bulls sit 2 games ahead of 11-seed Washington Wizards with six games remaining on their schedule. The Bulls seem to have caught a second wind in their season and have begun to string together solid play from their numerous weapons, following a disappointing few months. Despite their loss yesterday to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls still remain in the driver’s seat and are in control of their own destiny. Barring a complete meltdown, I definitely think that we’ll be seeing the Bulls in the Play-In Tournament in a few weeks time.
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