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3 predictions for tonight’s Western Conference play-in games

In Sports
April 16, 2024

The NBA’s play-in tournament begins Tuesday in the Western Conference. Who wins the Lakers-Pelicans matchup for a chance to play the defending champion Nuggets in the first round? And who avoids elimination — the Kings or Warriors? Our writers make their picks.

1. Lakers vs. Pelicans: Who wins?

Vincent Goodwill: Lakers. Whenever the Pelicans have played against the Lakers in a high-stakes game, Zion Williamson hasn’t shown up and his teammates followed suit. The Pelicans could’ve put themselves in solid playoff positioning and simply didn’t treat it with seriousness. Perhaps they fare better, but it’s hard to see them beating a Lakers team that will beat them up when they play small, and Zion can’t bully them. Zion needs a signature game, and we’re still waiting. See you guys in NOLA on Friday.

Tom Haberstroh: Pelicans. Sunday was little more than an exhibition for the Pels — it was Brandon Ingram’s feel-it-out game and Jonas Valančiūnas’ lemme-get-82-games-and-sub-me-out game. The Pelicans will be whole in this one and in front of the home crowd.

Ben Rohrbach: Lakers. Did you see what they did to the Pelicans on Sunday, when New Orleans had its first shot to clinch a guaranteed playoff seed? Same thing they did to them in the in-season tournament semifinals. When games matter, the Lakers put the Pelicans to bed early. That is the benefit of having LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their side. The former relishes in leveraging his experience over New Orleans’ Zion Williamson, once The Next LeBron James, and the latter does not mind flexing on his former team, either.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 25: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after he made a three-point basket on Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings in the first half at Chase Center on January 25, 2024 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Warriors vs. Kings: Who wins?

Rohrbach: Warriors. We could overthink this and concoct some reason why the Kings’ youth and athleticism will win the day, but the Warriors are four-time champions, featuring Stephen Curry at the helm. Sacramento is missing two rotational cogs, Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter, both of whom boost what was a middling offense on the season. Besides, the Kings still have no solution to how the Warriors schemed around Domantas Sabonis‘ defensive weaknesses in last year’s first-round series between the two division rivals.

Goodwill: Warriors. Being without Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter means a lot will fall on Keon Ellis’ shoulders, and it’s a lot to ask him to play at this pressure point, with the increased minutes. Stephen Curry has been wearing down a bit over the last month and change, but he can probably conjure up some magic for one game in a building where those rims like him. Domantas Sabonis can dominate Anthony Davis but does nothing against Draymond Green and the Warriors. It’s such a weird thing. You want good things for the Kings, but man, it’s hard to see it tonight.

Haberstroh: Warriors. If the Kings weren’t without the services of Kevin Hurter and Malik Monk, I’d feel differently. Stephen Curry dropped 50 the last time he was playing a win-or-go-home postseason game in Sacramento. I expect more of the same.

3. Which of these teams has the best chance to get out of the first round?

Haberstroh: Warriors. They’ve been arguably the best team in the West over the past month. Something tells me they’re relishing the opportunity to resurrect the We Believe Warriors 2.0 in OKC. A date with the youthful Thunder may produce the largest experience gap in NBA history. I’m not saying the Warriors win, but they’d have the best chance of pulling off the upset.

Rohrbach: The Lakers, only if they draw the eighth seed. I do not think any of these teams can beat the second-seeded and defending champion Denver Nuggets. I guess when you have James and Davis, you have a shot — always, even as cliché as it may sound. Especially against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, though, James unlocks physical and mental advantages — respectively as a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward who fits in any lineup combination as arguably the game’s greatest thinker. His experience would cast doubt in OKC.

Goodwill: If the Lakers could match up against the skinny OKC Thunder, I’m all the way there. They “could” lose to New Orleans, some would even say they should tank the matchup, but that’s dangerous in itself. Whomever plays against the Thunder will have an advantage of experience, especially a team with the jewelry Golden State has. But the Warriors are 1-3 against the Thunder this season, with all four matchups happening in the first quadrant of the season. Both teams are different, but they are in the play-in for a reason.

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