Game 1 of the Sixers versus “To Be Determined” is set for Sunday, so Philadelphia hoops fans have plenty of waiting to do this week. Fortunately, the NBA’s new Play-In tournament provides us with a ton of exciting hoops action in the meantime. Last night, we were able to do some scouting, as the Sixers’ as-yet-undetermined first-round opponent took the court. Tomorrow night will decide whether Doc Rivers will be showing Pacers or Wizards games in upcoming film sessions. First, though, the Western Conference takes center stage tonight. While a scenario where the Sixers play any of these teams again this season is unlikely, what hoops junkie could stay away?
No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 10 San Antonio Spurs - 7:30pm ET (ESPN)
A true win-or-go-home contest — the loser of this game will see their season end, while the winner will have a chance to win one more game to grab the final playoff spot in the West. San Antonio limps into tonight’s meeting, losers of four straight and eight of their last 10. Derrick White remains out with an ankle injury.
On the other sideline, the Grizzlies are healthier than most, and have had a few weeks now to reacclimate Jaren Jackson Jr. into the lineup after he missed most of the season with a knee injury. Triple-J logged more than 30 minutes for the first time this season in Sunday’s regular season finale. The young Grizz sport the more talented roster, but DeMar DeRozan will be the most playoff-tested player on the court, and you can never count out a Gregg Popovich-led team with everything on the line.
It’s the stakes of March Madness with NBA-level talent. Should be fun.
No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Golden State Warriors - 10:00pm ET (ESPN)
When the NBA first tossed around the idea of the Play-In tournament, I bet they never could have imagined a game headlined by LeBron James and Steph Curry. The two all-time greats will meet in a much different setting than the perennial NBA Finals meetings of a few years ago. Curry should appear on everyone’s MVP ballot after winning the league’s scoring title at 33 years old and carrying this young and oft-injured Warriors club even this far.
Meanwhile, the Lakers dropping to the Play-In is a disappointment coming off last year’s title in the Bubble. Injuries obviously played a huge factor, with LeBron and Anthony Davis both missing large chunks of the season. They’re finally back to full strength, although there are some concerns about a rolled ankle LeBron suffered on Sunday. Los Angeles clearly has more weapons, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see them put things together and advance deep in the playoffs, but Steph going on one of his legendary hot streaks is the ultimate cheat code.
While this isn’t a knockout game, neither team wants to have to play two nights later with the season on the line. There’s high drama with top talent on the court tonight. Oh, and apologies to Phoenix for drawing the winner of this game in the first round.