NBA Playoff Prediction: Play-in winners scare the top of the Western Conference
The play-in games have already served their purpose. The last month of the NBA regular season is typically an unapologetic tankathon for a lot of the league’s basement dwellers. And while there is still some of that, the opportunity to qualify for the play-in games and have a chance to make the playoffs has kept teams at the bottom of each conference more competitive for longer than they would be without it.
But, at least in the Western Conference, the teams who come out of those play-in games will provide more of a challenge to the top seeds than we are used to seeing. There’s an interesting dynamic in the West this year where the teams at the top (Utah and Phoenix) aren’t traditional contenders, and the play-in game candidates are no fun to play against.
Do you think anyone wants to see Damian Lillard or Steph Curry in a first-round series? How about an ultra-deep Grizzlies team that has Jaren Jackson Jr. returning from injury just in time for the playoffs? Even San Antonio, who has the weakest roster on paper of that group, is led by arguably the greatest coach of all time who has a history of getting his team to play above the sum of their parts.
Utah and Phoenix are great teams and should win a series against any of the four teams who will be in the play-in tournament. But these are not going to be traditional 7/8 seeds that roll over and get swept. These are teams who will have full belief that they can win a series against either of those teams at the top, and that’s dangerous.