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In a season filled with countless injuries and COVID-related absences, a condensed schedule and arenas largely devoid of fans, it's only fitting that the postseason begins under similarly unprecedented circumstances. While the NBA used a smaller version of the play-in concept last season in the Orlando bubble, this season marks the true beginning of the play-in era. Eight teams are fighting for four spots in two conferences. The play-in round as a whole will feature the defending champions, three former league MVPs and nine recent All-Stars. It's been a long and winding road to get to the postseason, but these appetizers were well worth the wait

The action tipped off on Tuesday with two Eastern Conference play-in games as the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics both won and advanced. Boston clinched the No. 7 seed while Indiana moved on to face the Washington Wizards, who lost to the Celtics. The Charlotte Hornets, meanwhile, are done after losing badly to Indiana. 

The same process will be repeated in the Western Conference, starting with the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs and concluding with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. On Thursday, the winner of the first East game will play the loser of the second, and on Friday, the same process will play out in the West. At that point, we will know what the final playoff brackets look like. Until then, here's everything you need to know about the play-in round.

Charlotte Hornets vs. Indiana Pacers

Date: Tuesday, May 18 | Time: 6:30 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: TNT

Featured Game | Indiana Pacers vs. Charlotte Hornets

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Bill Reiter
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Colin Ward-Henninger
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James Herbert
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Brad Botkin
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Michael Kaskey-Blomain
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Jack Maloney
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Sam Quinn
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Jasmyn Wimbish

Reiter's take: In a war-of-attrition game, Charlotte, even minus Gordon Hayward, has fewer injury woes and therefore the advantage. LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier will have their way with the Pacers, Charlotte's go-small approach will befuddle Indiana, and the W will be theirs. Pick: Hornets

Ward-Henninger's take: The Pacers haven't been able to stop anyone on defense recently, and I don't see that changing against an offense helmed by LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. Domantas Sabonis should have a field day, but ultimately the Hornets pull it out. Pick: Hornets

Herbert's take: I'd feel more confident about this pick if Gordon Hayward were healthy, but I still expect Charlotte to keep its composure, move the ball and find clean looks against Indiana's aggressive defense. Pick: Hornets

Botkin's take: The Pacers are banged up and their coach is on the ropes. The Hornets have more options to turn to for offense. Domantas Sabonis isn't enough. Pick: Hornets  

Kaskey-Blomain's take: The Pacers just feel like a team that's ready for the season to be over, while the Hornets and younger, and looking to build toward a bright future. Charlotte has a lot of young players that will be eager to advance to the postseason for the first time, and that could translate to a more desperate team on the floor. Pick: Hornets      

Maloney's take: I know the Pacers have been a mess lately and have their own injury problems, but the Hornets just aren't very good without Gordon Hayward (9-19). In a one game setting I'll go with the team with the best player and that's the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis. Pick: Pacers  

Quinn's take: Five of Indiana's six best players are either out or questionable due to injury. In a single-game setting, I'm trusting the team with better ball-handling and more (healthy) ways of generating baskets. Pick: Hornets    

Wimbish's take: Domantas Sabonis has played great against the Hornets' bigs this season, and I expect him to carry Indiana to a win against a young Hornets team who will be without Gordon Hayward. Pick: Pacers

Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics

Date: Tuesday, May 18 | Time: 9 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: TNT

Featured Game | Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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Bill Reiter
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Colin Ward-Henninger
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James Herbert
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Brad Botkin
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Jack Maloney
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Michael Kaskey-Blomain
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Sam Quinn
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Jasmyn Wimbish

Reiter's take: The Boston Celtics remain an inconsistent mess and won only three of their final 10 games. And Jalen Brown's absence will loom large. The Wizards have surged - over the final one-third of the regular season they played like a 61-win team - and their Beal-Westbrook duo will turn that momentum into a play-in win. Pick: Wizards

Ward-Henninger's take: Talk about two teams headed in different directions. The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in basketball, while the Celtics seem to be ready to put this disappointing season to bed for good. Boston's only hope is Jayson Tatum putting up a ton of points, but the Wizards defense has actually been in the top 10 in the NBA over their last 20 games. Pick: Wizards 

Herbert's take: Washington ended the season on a tear, but Bradley Beal's hamstring is a concern and I don't trust this team to adequately defend Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker in the pick-and-roll. Pick: Celtics

Botkin's take: I have a feeling I'm going to get burned by what I'm about to say, but I trust Russell Westbrook right now. He's not settling for 3s but he's not just lowering his head either. Assuming Beal can give meaningful minutes and production, I'll take Washington over a Boston team that just doesn't have it this season. Pick: Wizards  

Kaskey-Blomain's take: The Celtics won two of three meetings between the two teams during the regular season, but they haven't played each other since February, and the Wizards are a much-improved team since then. If the Celtics were at full strength the story would be different, but without Jaylen Brown, they'll have a tough time keeping up with Washington on both ends. Pick: Wizards

Maloney's take: The Wizards have been playing great basketball lately, and if Bradley Beal was 100 percent I might have picked them. But he's not, and the Celtics will be at home. Those two factors swing this to the Celtics for me, who even for all their problems this season are still really talented and should be able to win this game. Pick: Celtics  

Quinn's take: Washington is 17-9 since April 1. Boston is 13-11, and many of those games were played with Jaylen Brown. Washington's offense and defense have both been ranked higher than Boston's since then. These teams are close in the standings, but in terms of recent performance, it's no contest. The Wizards are better right now. Pick: Wizards

Wimbish's take: I just want a K.D. and James Harden vs. Russ matchup in the first round, to be honest. Pick: Wizards

San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Date: Wednesday, May 18 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: ESPN

Featured Game | Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs

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Bill Reiter
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Colin Ward-Henninger
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James Herbert
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Brad Botkin
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Jack Maloney
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Michael Kaskey-Blomain
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Sam Quinn
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Jasmyn Wimbish

Reiter's take: They're the better team. Ja Morant will be the game's best player. And a young, up-and-coming team with the memory of last summer's bubble heartbreak will push them past Pop's Spurs. Pick: Grizzlies 

Ward-Henninger's take: The Spurs gave up 119, 129 and 133 points to the Grizzlies in their three matchup this season. If Memphis can come anywhere close to that, the Spurs just won't have enough firepower to keep up against the league's seventh-ranked defense. Pick: Grizzlies 

Herbert's take: The Spurs are surely going to surrender space to Ja Morant, and I'm optimistic that he'll take advantage of it. The Grizzlies need their floater game to be on point, though, and they must, must, MUST push the pace at every opportunity. Pick: Grizzlies

Botkin's take: Ja Morant is Russell Westbrook with a floater and I worry about the same things with both -- namely the shooting. The Grizzlies aren't just about Morant, but he's the best player and he has the "it" factor in a one-game setting. I think he wears San Antonio down in the second half with the pedal to the floor. Pick: Grizzlies  

Kaskey-Blomain's take: The Grizzlies won two out of three matchups between the two teams on the season, and they've been playing better ball recently. Plus, they'll have the best on the floor in Ja Morant, so they should have the edge. Pick: Grizzlies

Maloney's take: I'm not sure I entirely trust Ja Morant and this young Grizzlies team, but the Spurs were so bad down the stretch that I just cannot pick them in this game. The only five teams with a net rating worse than the Spurs (-7.9) the last three weeks were all desperately trying to out-tank each other. Pick: Grizzlies  

Quinn's take: If this game is close at the end, who do you trust to carry their team to the finish line? I'm taking DeMar DeRozan's track record over Memphis and its' minus-6.2 net rating in the clutch this season. Pick: Spurs

Wimbish's take: This will be the game that everyone begins singing the praises of Xavier Tillman -- if they haven't been already. Pick: Grizzlies

Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Date: Wednesday, May 18 | Time: 10 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: ESPN

Featured Game | Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors

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Bill Reiter
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Colin Ward-Henninger
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James Herbert
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Brad Botkin
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Jack Maloney
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Michael Kaskey-Blomain
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Sam Quinn
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Jasmyn Wimbish

Reiter's take: Steph Curry is again the game's most potent scorer, the Warriors have reclaimed their defensive mojo (they boast a Top 5 defensive rating for the first time since 2016-17), and a more talented Lakers team still lacks the continuity needed for a one-game, high-pressure showdown. There's a hedge here on LeBron James' and Anthony Davis' health -- a fully good-to-go duo might be insurmountable -- but all signs point to the upset. Pick: Warriors 

Ward-Henninger's take: Golden State had the league's best net rating and defense over their last 20 games of the regular season, and won a playoff-level matchup with Memphis in the finale. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers certainly aren't the Grizzlies, but Steph Curry and Draymond Green are playing at a high enough level to frustrate even an elite Lakers defense. Pick: Warriors 

Herbert's take: While the Lakers are favored for obvious reasons, everybody's predictions are meaningless without knowing how they're going to manage their center rotation. I'm picking Golden State because, when in doubt, I pick chaos. Pick: Warriors 

Botkin's take: LeBron James and company will cut off a decent amount of Steph Curry's off-ball action, and listen, we're talking about LeBron James and Anthony Davis here. Let's not forget that. The Lakers should not lose to the Warriors in any kind of postseason setting, but I will say, Steph Curry in a one-game setting is about as terrifying a player as exists on the planet. Pick: Lakers

Kaskey-Blomain's take: This is a game that would scare me if I were the Lakers given Curry's ability to completely go off at any given night. But what that said, the Lakers are the defending champions for a reason, and when they're healthy, they're a better team than the Warriors. In short, the combined greatness of James and Davis should outweigh the singular greatness of Curry in this one. Pick: Lakers

Maloney's take: Steph Curry has been so good this season, and him putting on a virtuoso performance to lead the Warriors to an upset would be such an awesome story that you can almost start talking yourself into it. But the Lakers are the Western Conference favorites for a reason, and with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis they'll be too much. Pick: Lakers  

Quinn's take: The Warriors are going to win the first quarter of this game. They're going to pick-and-roll the Laker centers to death and Stephen Curry is going to start out hot. And then the Lakers are going to put Anthony Davis at center at some point in the middle of the second quarter and order will be restored. The defending champs take care of business from there. Pick: Lakers

Wimbish's take: [Insert the "Paul Rudd look at us, who would've thought" gif here]  Pick: Lakers


Thanks for checking us out, and good luck with your picks!