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Western Conference Play-In – 9th vs 10th Place
9. Memphis Grizzlies -167 (38-34)
10. San Antonio Spurs +140 (33-39)
After the conclusion of the first set of Eastern Conference Play-In games, we now have the Western teams going up against each other. With that, we have a not so interesting of a game first up between the Grizzlies and Spurs. These two teams may appear as though they’re the same in regards to stats, but I do believe there’s a great deal of separation between the two when push comes to shove. For starters, the Grizzlies are coming off a five game span where they were able to capture four victories, while the Spurs have managed to only put together one win in their last five. The Spurs’ struggles have been going on long before these last five games, though, as they managed to lose 10 of their last 12 games. This says a whole lot about this Spurs team. You’d think a team this close to the bubble would have been able to string some wins together late in the regular season when it mattered, but the Spurs were unable to do that. Instead, they showcased as a team not deserving of this Play-In opportunity and for that reason it’s hard to get behind any chance of them winning this one. The only thing I can say in favor of the Spurs is that a lot of the teams they’ve went against recently are contenders in the playoffs this year. With the Grizzlies being at the bottom end of these contenders, I think there’s a chance the Spurs can make this a game. That will be tough, though, as they take on one of the “Top 5 PGs in the game” – Pending you ask Ja Morant. He’s coming off a great season where he’s been able to average 19.1 points and 7.4 assists. He’s become a great leader and I believe he’ll play a huge role in this Play-In game as well. Both teams are not big on shooting from beyond the arc, so expect Morant to string together some pick-and-roll plays to try and force players from the Spurs out of position. Preparing for this, and putting players in spots to allow for proper rotation, will be key for the Spurs today if they want to come out victorious. Demar DeRozan will have an opportunity to be the one to shut this down, alongside putting up numbers that mirror his averages of 21.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. He’s become the work horse for the Spurs, responsible for upwards of 35% of the Spurs offense this season. He’ll create a lot of open space and opportunities for the rest of the squad, but it will be up to players like Patty Mills, Lonnie Walker IV, and Rudy Gay to take advantage of those opportunities created. As I said earlier, Morant is the focal point of the Grizzlies, but he also has a supporting cast to be concerned of. Dillon Brooks has become a player to look for on both sides of the ball. Jonas Valunciunas is the big man underneath, who is capable of popping off a double-double on any given night, and Kyle Anderson has showcased to the world that he’s a good candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year. If we’re looking at the head-to-head series between these two this season, the Grizzlies took it 2 games to 1. The first match, which was opening night at the end of December, the Spurs managed to defeat the Grizzlies even though Morant put up 44 points, but the following two games the Grizzlies were victorious. The last two were won by double digits, so it does appear as though things changed for the better following their loss to the Spurs on opening day of the regular season. This will be a game where you see lots of post shots and in the paint scoring, but the team that can drop back and let it fly from three late may end up getting ahead in this game. I believe the Grizzlies will be making the Spurs run around too often throughout this one and will eventually get ahead and stay ahead. Give me the Grizzlies by a few points.
PICK: Memphis Grizzlies (-167 ON DRAFTKINGS)
Western Conference Play-In – 7th vs 8th Place
7. Los Angeles Lakers -210 (42-30)
8. Golden State Warriors +170 (39-33)
The second Play-In game of the day will be against the Lakers and Warriors. This one is what everyone is waiting for, but you’ll be waiting up till 10:00 PM EST in order to watch it. I’d say that the NBA fumbled this one, but either way it’s the second game tonight. The winner of this game will move on to the playoffs, while the loser plays the winner between the Grizzlies and Spurs. This will be the 23rd time in postseason play where LeBron James will be taking on Stephen Curry. This one is particularly interesting in regards to history not only because these two Hall of Famers are going up against one another again in the postseason, but because it’ll take place in the first ever Play-In game between them. This is a game that has severe repercussions for the loser, so to see two legends playing in it will make it that much more intriguing to the viewers and overall fans of the sport. The reason this is so important to say is because these teams understand, more than anyone, that it really takes a 7-game series to determine the better team and most of the time a single game doesn’t dictate the better team. Either way, the two teams will square off tonight and I personally believe it’ll be a great one. One thing to look for will be the size difference between the teams. The Lakers present as one of the tallest and most powerful teams in the league as they have not only LeBron James, but Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond as well. They hold the best defense in the league, holding teams under 110 ppg. This will forth Coach Kerr to utilize players like Draymond Green in more defensive rolls. An interesting thing to look for is who exactly Green is tasked with guarding. I’d assume he’ll be on Davis most of the game, which will make it interesting to see if players like Juan-Tuscano-Anderson can press up on Drummond and force him out of position, allowing the Warriors to be able to play inside. Kerr may even have to look into his depth and find players like Kevon Looney to play more minutes just to try and challenge the players underneath for the Lakers. You may have two Hall of Famers in this matchup, but this will be a game won by the centers and big men for each of these teams. Between Curry and LeBron, it seems more likely that LeBron will have himself a game. It’s also likely that Andrew Wiggins will be the one matched up against LeBron and, in the past, LeBron is 12-2 against him. Wiggins won’t have the big men to assist him, so it’ll be up to him alone to ensure that LeBron stays in front of him. Wiggins was a #1 overall pick for a reason, so it should be an interesting matchup. I personally believe that even a 36 year old LeBron, still recovering from an ankle injury, is going to do well against the defense of Wiggins. I believe this simply because you need not only a great defensive player, but a big man to assist in order to properly cover James. On the contrary, it’s been easier for the Lakers to shut down the Warriors offensive weapon in Stephen Curry. They have, what you could argue, is one of the most successful defenders against Curry over the years in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He’s been successful at chasing around shooters as they wait for openings presented to them by screens. With the help of the big men on the Lakers, I think today will be no different and, in turn, Curry will be held in check for most of the game. If the Warriors want any chance at beating the Lakers, they’ll need to land shots consistently from beyond the arc. I don’t think there’s anyone capable of doing that quite like Curry. Regardless, the Lakers win this one and cover the spread of 5 points. I see it being close throughout the majority of the game and then the Lakers taking off late in the fourth.
PICK: Los Angeles Lakers (-210 ON DRAFTKINGS)