NBA Play-In Tournament 2023: Favorites Should Be On Upset Alert, OKC (+185) and ATL (+175) Are Great Value Plays

Updated: 6 Sport

Mike Calabrese previews the NBA's four Play-In Tournament games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

NBA Play-In Tournament 2023: Favorites Should Be On Upset Alert, OKC (+185) and ATL (+175) Are Great Value Plays
Michael Calabrese US Content Manager

Experienced sports journalist, College sports expert and broadcaster, hailing from Pennsylvania

Mike Calabrese breaks down his best NBA picks for Tuesday and Wednesday night's Play-In Tournament on TNT and ESPN. 

All wagers can be placed with licensed Sportsbooks in the US.

(8) Atlanta Hawks @ (7) Miami Heat-5.5 (226.5)

Tuesday - 7:30p on TNT

The Miami Heat are an anomaly, at least by modern NBA standards. The Heat finished dead last in points per game and enter the Play-In Tournament with a negative point differential. No team, in the history of the NBA, has ever won a playoff series after finishing the regular season dead-last in scoring. They eke out victories with their defense and elite foul shooting. The Heat are top five in scoring and transition defense and allow just 46 points per game in the paint (2nd). They play at the second-slowest pace in the league and close better than just about any team in the NBA with a +1.3 point differential in the fourth quarter (4th). In their four meetings with Atlanta this season, the Heat went 3-1 SU but split the season series against the spread 2-2.

The Hawks have a decidedly different résumé than their opponent in this play-in game. Atlanta likes to play fast, taking the third most shots per game in the league. They are reliable with the basketball, turning the ball over on just 11.1% of their possessions (2nd). That’s critical against the Heat’s elite defense which feeds its transition game off of forced turnovers. Beyond their overall offensive efficiency (7th), the Hawks have a superstar point guard who thrives in playoff situations, particularly on the road. Two years ago, Young went thermonuclear in the first two rounds of the playoffs, torching New York and Philly for 29 points and 10 assists per game before getting injured in the Eastern Conference Finals. He enters on a similar hot streak, having averaged 25 points and 16 assists in the month of April. It will require a massive performance against the Heat to orchestrate an outright upset, but Young has proven he’s capable of ending team’s seasons on their home floor in the playoffs before.

(8) Minnesota Timberwolves @ (7) Los Angeles Lakers-7 (229.5)

Tuesday - 10p on TNT

After a disastrous 2-10 start to the season, the Lakers are now a threat to win in the play-in and take a full series in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They’ve done it by remaking their roster via trade and summoning a handful of vintage LeBron James performances down the stretch in the past six weeks. Their retooled starting lineup is capable of putting up 130+ on just about anyone, and their defense has incrementally improved down the stretch. This facilitated a 9-2 SU/6-5 ATS close to their regular season. Statistically, the Lakers are a force getting to the rim, (4th in transition/6th in paint pts) and attempt more foul shots than any team in the league. Defensively they never put teams on the line (1st) and are excellent defending the three-point line (34.4%, 2nd). They led the league in defensive efficiency since the trade deadline and Anthony Davis is healthy (knock on wood). This team could be a problem for the top seeds in the coming rounds.

While optimism abounds for the Lake Show, Minnesota has been inconsistent down the stretch, beating lackluster teams and getting pounded by quality opponents. Their defense is undeniably special when KAT and Rudy Gobert are on the floor together, but their offense is overly dependent on the enigmatic Anthony Edwards. The high-volume shooter has the potential to be put up MVP-level production, but he’s also capable of dreadful performances from long range. That’s not ideal against the Lakers' elite perimeter defense that will send LeBron James and Austin Reaves at him, a pair of top-40 perimeter defenders. In their last meeting, with the Lakers at full strength, Edwards scored just 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field. With Edwards neutralized, the Lakers boat-raced Minnesota in the second half, dusting them 68-46 in the final 24 minutes. And that game was in Minnesota, the Lakers should look even better playing in front of a raucous home crowd.

(10) Chicago Bulls @ (9) Toronto Raptors-5 (214.5)

Wednesday - 7p on ESPN

Toronto has battled through injuries throughout the season but will have Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup on Wednesday night in Toronto. Both stars missed double-digit games this year, which is why their presence will be pivotal if the Raptors hope to win two play-in games. Offensively, it’s been a work-in-progress for Toronto all season long. The Raptors are buried deep in the 20s in shooting efficiency, three-point shooting, and assist-to-FGM ratio. Their secret weapon, as a team, has been their ability to kill teams on the offensive glass. Those second-chance opportunities won’t come easily against the Bulls who are arguably the best defensive-rebounding team in the league. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LeVine are two of the best rebounding guards in the league and Nikola Vucevic is a vacuum around the basket.

The Bulls have been pretty mediocre all season long and lost the season series 1-2 against Toronto. The Bulls' biggest issue is that they lack the three-point shooting to put together big runs. Chicago finished dead last in the league in threes per game on 36.1% shooting (16th). So while their defense is arguably the best in the Eastern Conference, it’s difficult for them to run away from anyone. This spread is predicated on facing a full-strength Raptors team and not the MASH unit they trotted out at times this season. The Raptors' Vegas win total was set five games higher than Chicago’s back in October and they’re a cut above the Bulls with Siakam and VanVleet running the show on their home floor.

(10) Oklahoma City Thunder @ (9) New Orleans Pelicans-5 (228.5)

Wednesday - 9:30p on ESPN

New Orleans had such potential in the early going, but that hope gave way to despair due to injuries and lackluster stretches. An 18-8 start was followed by a 24-32 finish, with star Zion Williamson sidelined for most of that swoon. He won’t be available for the play-in tournament in any capacity, which will hurt a Pelicans’ team that relies so much on rebounding and interior scoring to bully their opponents. Speaking of bullying, OKC won’t be afraid of NO. This season the Thunder beat the Pels once, and fell by a single possession on two other occasions. So while New Orleans has more experience and played at a higher level this year, they won’t outclass the young guns from Oklahoma City.

This Thunder team has the potential to be the youngest roster to ever win a playoff series in NBA history. Their players average just 22.8 years of age. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, at just 24, has transformed himself into an elite All-NBA level scorer. He was the most efficient high-volume shooting guard in the league, averaging north of 31 points per game on 51% shooting from the field. They also attack teams in waves, with an uptempo style (4th in pace) and six scoring options, in addition to SGA, that average between 8.5 and 16.5 points per game. Their athletic and fluid offense leads to a lot of looks around the hoop while staying spaced enough to facilitate open three-point shots. The Thunder finished 10th in Rim & Three rate this season and closed the regular season as the league’s second “unluckiest” team according to ShotQuality. What that indicates is that their style of play should have led to five more wins had they caught they normal amount of breaks in close games this season. That aligns with the eye test that says this is a team on the rise.

No Comments

There are no comments here. Be the first to comment...

Keep Reading

By using this site you confirm you are 18+ and consent to our use of cookies and processing of personal data as set out in our Privacy Policy
Got it!