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NBA 2024 Playoffs: Lakers vs. Warriors highlight the five best potential Play-In Tournament matchups

SportsNBA 2024 Playoffs: Lakers vs. Warriors highlight the five best potential Play-In Tournament matchups


We’re five years into the Play-In Tournament experiment, and I think it’s safe to say at this point the NBA’s gamble to make games matter in late March and early April has paid off tremendously. Just last week, we had two playoff-like matchups between the Mavericks and the Kings because of the potential playoff implications at stake. Both teams wanted to avoid the Play-In Tournament, so winning was paramount, and as a result, we had players coming out with a level of competitiveness we hadn’t seen this late in the season. 

We also have Draymond Green talking about ending the Houston Rockets‘ season. The Rockets sit 11th in the West and they were teetering with unseating the Golden State Warriors for the final seed. This type of trash talking and level of caring this late in the season just didn’t happen before the league decided to make the final two spots in each conference up for grabs.

The Play-In Tournament has made reaching the playoffs more attainable for teams, and this year’s potential matchups may be one of the best slates we’ve gotten. There’s a possibility that LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic will headline the Western Conference. Meanwhile, in the East, Joel Embiid and the Sixers may have to fight their way through the Play-In in order to secure a playoff spot, and the Heat have already shown us that you can make a deep postseason run coming off the Play-In.

Things will have to fall a certain way for all these matchups to happen, so it isn’t guaranteed these games will happen. But let’s dream for a second and take a look at the five best Play-In Tournament matchups we could get by season’s end.

This particular matchup would be a high-scoring affair. Any game involving the Pacers has that potential, given that they have the second-best offense this season. At the same time, they also defend poorly, so it’s not uncommon to see a boxscore featuring scores over 130. In one of the three previous matchups this season, Tyrese Maxey dropped 50 points. Meanwhile, in another game, Joel Embiid almost reached 40 in a loss. In the final go around, Indiana beat the Sixers without Tyrese Haliburton because of their depth. All three games were high scoring, and if they met in the Play-In Tournament, it would be no different. Another wrinkle that would make this game interesting is Buddy Hield facing the Pacers for the first time since being traded back in February. He’s shooting the ball slightly better with the Sixers, and he would certainly be motivated to show the Pacers what they gave up.

4. 76ers vs. Heat

Jimmy Butler has a penchant for showing up in the playoffs 
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All three matchups between these two teams this season have been decided by seven or fewer points, so this matchup would be a really close, competitive game. It’s just a shame that there would be only one game and not a full series. Now that Embiid’s back in action, it only adds to the potential excitement around this matchup, and we all know what Jimmy Butler does when he’s extra motivated. The Heat could also have Tyler Herro back, as the dynamic guard is expected to return this week after being sidelined since February. This matchup would pit the fourth-best defense of the Heat against a Sixers team that, prior to Embiid going down with a meniscus injury in January, had the third-best net rating in the league. This matchup may or may not happen depending on what happens over the last week of the season, but if this is the No. 7 vs. No. 8 seed matchup in the East, it would certainly be a compelling one.

3. Kings vs. Warriors

Who could forget the electric seven-game, first-round playoff series between these two teams a season ago? It was filled with vintage Curry performances, including a 50-point barn burner in Game 7 to send Sacramento home packing. It also featured the infamous Draymond Green stomp on Domantas Sabonis‘ chest that led to the Warriors forward getting a one-game suspension during that series. Now, imagine all that excitement, pressure and competitiveness in one game. This could happen in a No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup if the Lakers pass the Kings for the No. 8 spot, or it could happen if Sacramento loses in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup and Golden State wins the No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup, which would create an epic showdown for the final spot in the West playoffs.

2. Mavericks vs. Suns

These teams don’t like each other, and the fans don’t like each other, either. The players have bought into the budding rivalry and the two stars that created this distaste — Luka Doncic and Devin Booker. Both All-Stars always toe the line of enemies or respected adversaries. Once you throw in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, you have a powder keg for what would be a highly anticipated matchup. 

The Suns have not lived up to expectations this season due to various injuries to their stars, but they always seem to turn it on when they know a win is needed. The same is true of the Mavericks, who have gone through highs and lows of their own. We’ve seen on numerous occasions that Dallas can buckle down and pull out a tough win, just like Phoenix. It has the best clutch win percentage in the league, and against a top heavy team like Phoenix, that would certainly come in handy. With the Mavericks and Suns sitting at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, the chances of this matchup happening right now are slim, but a couple of losses in the final week could set the table for this matchup to happen.

1. Lakers vs. Warriors

LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry is of the game’s most iconic rivalries.
Getty Images

There’s a strong likelihood that this matchup will happen, and all eyes will be glued to the television as soon as the ball tips when it does. I don’t think anyone expected either of these squads to be in a win-or-go-home situation at the beginning of the season. But what could be more entertaining than LeBron James and Stephen Curry going at it for a chance to… compete in another Play-In Tournament game for the West’s No. 8 seed? That may sound anticlimactic given the stakes, but if one of these teams secures a playoff spot, I wouldn’t be counting out Curry or James in a best-of-seven series. And for the team that loses this matchup, a very long offseason awaits them with important decisions to make on each end.

Looking for more NBA coverage? John Gonzalez, Bill Reiter, Ashley Nicole Moss and special guests dive deep into the league’s biggest storylines daily on the Beyond the Arc podcast.





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