Last night was a fun start to the 2022 NBA postseason. The Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves both held serve at home and earned the seven seeds in their respective conferences. Boston, congrats on the terrific season, now try to slow down Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Tonight is the 9-vs-10 games. As a reminder, the losers tonight see their seasons come to an end. The winners will play the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers for the chance to earn the eight seeds. It’s teams that aren’t that great becoming utterly captivating by virtue of playing in true one-game eliminations — the NBA version of March Madness! Let’s get to the matchups.
Atlanta Hawks (43-39) vs. Charlotte Hornets (43-39) - 7:00pm ET - ESPN
The Hawks did not follow up their Eastern Conference Finals appearance last summer nearly as well as they might have hoped. Atlanta has been hampered by injuries all season, and will be without John Collins (finger, foot) and Lou Williams (back) tonight. Still, they closed their season strong, winning seven of their last nine games, and if you have Trae Young, you’re very dangerous across a small sample size (just ask us Sixers fans). No one is more capable of lighting it up for 40 points in a given night.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is on the come-up, finishing with their first winning record since the 2015-16 season. They scream “happy to be here” and are probably the most lopsided team in the postseason setting, with a top-10 offense, but a top-10 defense. Gordon Hayward is back out tonight with his foot injury and will be re-evaluated in a couple weeks. The future is very bright led by LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges (if they retain him in restricted free agency, I’m sure they will). Winning tonight and getting to the real postseason (and becoming first-round fodder for the Heat) would be a fun story and a step in the right direction for the Hornets.
New Orleans Pelicans (36-46) vs. San Antonio Spurs (34-48) - 9:30pm ET - ESPN
I’d be in favor of some sort of rule where you need to at least finish .500 to enter the Play-In Tournament. Apologies to the Pelicans and Spurs, but no 36- or 34-win team needs to have a crack at the postseason. You already had 82 games to prove yourselves. Better luck next year.
Nevertheless, there are intriguing storylines tonight. The Pelicans played .500 basketball (13-13) in games CJ McCollum appeared in, after swinging the trade for the veteran guard at the deadline. Brandon Ingram is listed as probable tonight with his strained hamstring. I guess the Pelicans want to show that they have a solid foundation even aside from Zion Williamson, who played exactly zero games this season, and somehow slipping into the actual postseason would help their case.
Meanwhile, the Spurs had a deserved first-time All-Star in Dejounte Murray, who is a walking triple-double now and always fun to watch. They have some nice young pieces in Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Lonnie Walker. Jakob Poeltl is very good and a Game of Zones legend (Jacob Puddle). But you can’t be a seller at the deadline — San Antonio traded Derrick White to Boston for a first round-pick, a future swap, and the salary cap filler known as Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford — and expect me to take you seriously as a postseason team. The Clippers better beat whoever comes out of this game victorious.