Eastern Conference: Potential matchups for the 2022 Play-In Tournament

Darius Garland (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Darius Garland (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Play-In Tournament is beginning to take shape as the NBA Playoffs quickly approach.

The NBA’s Eastern Conference has been a true dog fight this year and the standings continue to change every day, even with less than two weeks left in the regular season. The NBA Playoffs bring a whole new intensity to the game and the true superstars shine the brightest in the post-season.

Before the true playoffs start, the Play-In Tournament must happen. Higher seeds will sit back and enjoy the short rest they get, while seeds 7-10 battle it out for the final two playoff spots in their respective conference.

Who will earn the seventh and eighth seeds and the right to have a spot in the 2022 NBA playoffs?

The league introduced the Play-In Tournament last year and it added some intensity to the end of the regular season. For some, a playoff spot is already locked in. Others are not as lucky and they will have to compete to earn one.

The Play-In will start on Tuesday, April 12th, and will conclude on Friday the 15th. Only four teams will be lucky enough to play for the final two spots.

How the NBA Play-In Tournament works

The team with the 7th highest winning percentage will play the team with the 8th highest. The winner of that game will earn the 7th seed. The “Nine-Ten Game” will include the team with the 9th highest and 10ht highest winning percentages. The winner of that game will play the loser of the “Seven-Eight Game” for the final playoff spot, the eighth seed.

If the season ended today, the East Play-In Tournament would be:

  • 7th-Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 8th-Brooklyn Nets 
  • 9th- Charlotte Hornets vs.10th- Atlanta Hawks 

Cleveland vs. Brooklyn:

The Cavaliers and Nets both have had to overcome adversity to get to where they are at. Cleveland has lost some key players to season-ending injuries. They lost Collin Sexton in early November to a left meniscus injury that required surgery. Along with Sexton, the team is without Rajon Rando, Dean Wade for the remainder of the season, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen who still has no timetable as to when he make a return. He’s missed 10-plus games in a row.

Brooklyn has had their own variety of issues during the season. Very early into the season the Nets were at the top of the East and were rolling. In mid-January, Kevin Durant got injured and was sidelined for 21 straight games, and Brooklyn lost 11 straight in his absence.

In addition, James “too good for Brooklyn” Harden could not handle the adversity of losing 11 games in a row. He requested a trade from the team close to the trade deadline. Harden jumped ship, but luckily NYC vaccine mandates being uplifted got Kyrie Irving back on the court to help the team win.

One more regular season matchup is still in store for the Nets and Cavaliers. The two will meet on April 8, in Brooklyn. Tune into that game to see a possible Play-In game scenario, depending on how the next week and a half goes.

In a one-game series, I’d like to think that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be able to flip the switch and sense of urgency. Don’t count out Cleveland though. They still have a very good basketball team that can battle with the best. Brooklyn vs. Cleveland will be a primetime viewing event!

Hornets vs. Hawks 

Play-In spots have not been 100 percent solidified yet, but expect these four team to be the ones playing. The two lower seeds in the tournament are Charlotte and Atlanta. Only three games separate the four teams. Cleveland is 6.5 games back from first, and the 10th seed Hawks are only 9.5 games back. The season is almost over and each team has anywhere from 5-7 games left to play to try and secure a playoff berth or compete in the Play-In.

Charlotte is a young team with a lot of exciting talent and I can see them being dominant in years to come. I think the Hornets roster is similar to Miami’s in that they have a lot of really good players, and not one superstar. The driving force of the Hornets, in my opinion, is LaMelo Ball who was a first-time All-Star this year, in just his second season as a pro.

Ball is a very unique type of player for his position. Not many point guards in the NBA are 6’7, let alone as agile and talented as the 20-year-old. He is the second-highest scorer on the Hornets with 20.0 points scored per game, while leading the team in assists (7.5) and steals (1.6) per game. LaMelo took a unique path to the NBA and that is why he came into the league so polished and did not need much time if any to adjust.

The Hornets have a lot of great role players on the team. Scoring is not an issue with for Miles Bridges (20.3), Terry Rozier (19.4) , or Kelly Oubre Jr (15.2). Other contributors like PJ Washington and Cody Martin both play hard on offense and defense, while Montrezl Harrell and Mason Plumlee clean the boards and are bullies in the paint.

Atlanta is only two games behind the 41 that the team won last season, earning them the 5th seed in the 2021 playoffs. The Hawks reached the Conference Finals where they would lose to the Milwaukee Bucks who won it all. With 39 games won this season, the Hawks are in a much different situation than last year. They are the final seed in the Play-In tournament, looking to make an upset.

Trae Young is the leading scorer on the Hawks by a longshot averaging 28.1 points per game. The next closest is John Collins with 16.2 per game. Young is responsible for running most of the offense for the team as well. He averages and leads the team with 9.6 assists per game which is the third-highest average for assists in the league.

No question that Trae Young playing well leads to the team’s success. Atlanta has done a great job surrounding Young with scorers who he can facilitate for, and create his own offense if needed. Clint Capela was traded to Atlanta last season and he was the big man that the Hawks were missing. The Hawks roster is filled with other key contributors like John Collins, Cam Reddish, and Danilo Gallinari.

Next. The Utah Jazz are dangerously trending in the wrong direction. dark

The Eastern Conference playoffs will be exciting for sure, but the Play-In tournament needs to happen first to have the final seeds set. It’s going to be a tall task to be the best team in the East this season. Who is your pick to win it all?