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Play-In Open Thread: Heat host Hawks, Lakers look to dodge Wolves’ punches

It’s not the playoffs, but it’s the postseason.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Two more teams will clinch a berth in the playoffs tonight, as the 7- and 8-seeds in each conference will take part in the beginning of this year’s NBA play-in tournament. The winner of tonight’s games will face the 2-seed Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. The losers will play the winners of the 9-vs-10 games for one more chance to continue their seasons against the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets.

Let’s quickly preview tonight’s games.

Miami Heat (44-38) vs. Atlanta Hawks (41-41) - 7:30pm ET - TNT

Let’s get this out of the way first. These teams are not any good. Atlanta finished 18th in the league with a plus-0.3 net rating, while Miami was 21st at minus-0.3. However, from the Sixers’ perspective, you probably want the Heat to win this game and go on to face Boston. Just judging from the past week of play, Miami at least went out and smoked a Sixers team that was playing only a handful of regulars. Atlanta, though, was at full-strength and needing to win and lost in overtime to Jaden Springer, Georges Niang and company (all due respect to our guys, but that’s a rough loss for the Hawks). If anyone is going to make the Celtics work for things and maybe take a first-round series to six games, you’d much rather put your money on Jimmy Butler once again upping his game in the postseason and Erik Spoelstra working some coaching magic.

Miami went 3-1 against Atlanta this season, including winning both games in South Beach, where tonight’s game will take place. On Miami’s injury report tonight, Nikola Jovic is out (back), Max Strus is probable (finger), and Kyle Lowry (knee soreness) is questionable, as of this writing. Lowry has been coming off the bench for the Heat since returning to action last month. Atlanta has an entirely clean injury report for tonight. I’m not going to say this game will make for “good” basketball, but with a win-and-you’re-in environment, it should be exciting basketball. Let’s root for Jimmy Butler again and hope the Heat advance to throw some body blows against Boston.

Los Angeles Lakers (43-39) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40) - 10:00pm ET - TNT

After a season that fell well short of any ginned-up expectations set by the Lakers-thirsty national media, Los Angeles has fallen into a very favorable draw in the seventh spot. First, they get a Minnesota team at home that enters the postseason in as dysfunctional a manner as possible. Wolves center Rudy Gobert was suspended by the team for tonight’s game after throwing a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson in Sunday’s regular season finale. I’m sure this is not what Minnesota was hoping for when they sent a boatload of draft capital and useful players to Utah to bring in Gobert. Defensive ace Jaden McDaniels is also out after fracturing his hand punching a concrete wall hidden behind a plastic curtain (I mean, this is true cursed franchise stuff).

Additionally, Karl-Anthony Towns is listed as questionable with a strained right calf. Even if he gives it a go as expected, we’ve seen firsthand in Philadelphia lately how those calf issues can nag at a player. Backup big Naz Reid is already out with a broken wrist. As for the Lakers, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell are all listed as probable for the game.

As I said, things have fallen into place for the Lakers. They first have these Wolves limping into the game, and if they win, the Lakers would play a Grizzlies team in the first round who have lost key frontcourt pieces Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke. But the Lakers have made a habit of stepping on rakes, so to speak. So would it shock me to see Anthony Edwards go off tonight and lead the Wolves to victory? Not one bit. We’ll find out tonight.

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