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NBA Playoffs: Will a Play-In Team Reach the Second Round?

Play-In Tournament History

The NBA changed the playoff format in 2020 to give more teams a chance. The league decided that the seventh and eighth seeds would be filled with a tournament featuring the teams 7-10 in the standings. That gave teams whose NBA playoff odds may have been lowered due to injuries or an early season slump still a chance of making it.

So far, the play-in tournament has been a massive success. It has led to more teams trying to make a run late in the season, creating must-watch games. However, despite the tournament’s success, no play-in team has made it to the second round of the playoffs.

NBA Playoffs: Will a Play-In Team Reach the Second Round?
Harry How / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

This could be the season that it happens, especially with the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 7-8 matchup. The Lakers will face the second-seed Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.

Due to the history of play-in teams, it might be hard to see envision the Lakers in NBA predictions. In 2021, only one play-in team would force a Game 6. There was a slight improvement in 2022, with two teams getting to a Game 6.

Will Lakers Be First Play-In Team in Second Round?

After the season the Lakers just had, it is almost a surprise they are in the playoffs. They had a 27-32 record headed into the All-Star break, with NBA lines leaning toward the team missing the playoffs. Russell Westbrook could not find a role and was traded, along with many other moves the front office made in the offseason. On top of that, LeBron James and Anthony Davis dealt with injuries all season.

However, at the trade deadline, the Lakers revamped the team. They acquired D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley, who have been impactful players. James quickly recovered from a foot injury, and Davis managed to stay healthy. That resulted in the Lakers winning 8 of the last 10 games to make a play-in push.

It all ended with an ugly win over the Timberwolves in the play-in. The Timberwolves led for nearly 43 minutes, but a 19-12 fourth-quarter Laker advanatage led to overtime, which they eventually won.

Despite losing for most of the game, the Lakers were able to drag the Timberwolves into a gritty final quarter, which is how Los Angeles would prefer to play. This is the biggest reason why they have a chance against the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are a team that loves to play in transition, averaging the second-most points in that type of game. Half-court and late-game scoring is not where the team is at its best. Memphis averages the fourth-lowest points per game in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, the Lakers average the most points in the final 12 minutes.

To take it further, Los Angeles still has James and Davis on the roster. When healthy, they are one of the better 1-2 punches in the league. The Grizzlies could be without two key members on their roster with Steven Adams, probable to return for the series, and Brandon Clarke, out for the remainder of the season.

Finally, the betting world is seeing something. While the Lakers are +125 underdogs in the series with the Grizzlies, both teams have the same NBA Finals odds on BetUS, +650.

The Issue With The Rest

In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics have the two best records in the league, making it hard to imagine that the Atlanta Hawks or Miami Heat winning their series. The Hawks don’t match up well with the Celtics, with Boston having a switchable defense that can slow Trae Young. The Bucks don’t have a massive schematic advantage over the Heat, but that might not even matter because of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

We already talked about the Lakers having a chanc, of beating the Grizzlies, if the pace can be slowed. The Timberwolves will face the Denver Nuggets, and while Minnistoa has the size to deal with the back-to-back MVP, Nikola Jokić, it likely won’t be sustained over seven games. Safe to say the Nuggets hold the advantage.

The NBA spreads do not favor any of these seven- or eight-seed play-in teams. However, if one team could do it, that might be the Lakers, with one of the greatest players in league history.

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