With the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament just around the corner, let’s take a look at the interesting match-ups in the Eastern Conference.
The Eastern Conference Race
Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards
The Celtics have been very inconsistent this season, and falling to the Play-In is a disappointment to say the least. If you told me at the start of the season that the New York Knicks will finish with a better record than the C’s, I would have questioned your basketball knowledge.
Conversely, the Wizards have found their groove at just the right moment. After being one of the bottom-rung teams of the East, they went on an eight-game win streak to vault themselves into the Play-In.
Meanwhile, the Hornets and the Pacers have both been ravaged by injuries throughout the season, but have kept their heads above water to at least fight for a chance to make the playoffs.
Match-ups to Watch Out For:
Boston Celtics vs Washington Wizards
(Boston won reg. season 3-1)
With the improvements that the Wizards have shown over the past month, they look like a vastly different team than the one that lost to Boston three times earlier this season. Washington looks like an offensive juggernaut over their last 20 games (that included an eight-game win streak!), averaging almost 125 points per game.
However, the Celtics are a well-coached team that has a pretty deep bench. Losing Jaylen Brown to injury will no doubt be a huge blow for their chances to go all the way, especially with the all-around numbers that the first-time All-Star is producing. But they still have the likes of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and trade-deadline-acquisition Evan Fournier to support Jayson Tatum in their postseason run.
Things are bound to get chippy with these two teams with Smart and Russell Westbrook bound to collide in some playoff-type foul.
Washington Wizards vs Charlotte Hornets
(Charlotte won 2 games, the third game is the last on both their calendars)
The Wizards are feeding off Westbrook’s fourth triple-double season, one which saw him break Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record. You could almost forget that Bradley Beal carried this team on his back last season to a potential playoff appearance.
Then there’s Charlotte. The Hornets are a feisty young team that has been surprisingly fun to watch despite losing Gordon Hayward earlier in the season. LaMelo Ball’s passes and monstrous dunks from Miles Bridges are staples in highlight reels of this season.
Facing off against the Wizards in a high-stakes game will be a good test for them, as they get to compete against two elite players while being actually competitive enough to beat them as a team. Expect a fast-paced, insanely high-scoring game, filled with highlights and a loaded stat sheet when the dust settles.
Boston Celtics vs Indiana Pacers
(Boston won reg. season, 2-1)
To say that the Pacers are reeling from injuries is a bit of an understatement. That is when you consider the fact that they’re starting a guy named Oshae Brissett and supplementing him with Goga Bitadze. Oh, and Cassius Stanley actually gets minutes.
Still, there’s the talented Caris LaVert and Domantas Sabonis who could pose a problem for just about anybody the Celtics throw at them.
A battle between these two limping teams doesn’t look good on paper, but they have decent talent and great coaching to make this matchup a good game to watch from a competitive standpoint.
Who Comes Out: Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics
It’s tempting to put the Hornets in instead of the Celtics, but at least for one game, I think the Celtics will be too talented to bow out in the Play-In. Hence, it’s important that they win the 7vs8 matchup in order to save their energy for a playoff series instead of playing more games in the Play-In.
The Wizards are hitting their stride at just the right moment, and if they lock into the 7 or 8 spot at the end of the regular season, watch out because they are not going to lose two in a row.
Unfortunately, the prize for getting the 7th and 8th playoff spots is a date with either the Brooklyn Nets or the Philadelphia 76ers, which certainly won’t be a picnic.
Article written by Voltaire Lozada. Follow his blog on https://voltlozada.com/