In the first game of the NBA play-in tournament on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Clippers faced the Minnesota Timberwolves to determine the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
In an intense, grind-it-out affair, both teams played each other to a standstill, and when the Clippers led by 10 points in the fourth quarter, it looked like Paul George and company were on their way to the playoffs.
The Clippers will have another chance to clinch the eighth seed when they face the winner of the San Antonio Spurs-New Orleans Pelicans tilt.
Who will come away with that final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs?
The Clippers Have Held It Together
Coming into this season, knowing that their best player, Kawhi Leonard, would likely be out the entire time, the Clippers could’ve easily packed it in and treated 2022 as a gap year.
Instead, head coach Ty Lue got his men to fight hard and play with pride, and it has gotten L.A. a chance to make the playoffs.
In addition, guard Norman Powell, who was supposed to play a key role once he was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers, only appeared in five games due to a foot injury.
Someway, somehow, the Clippers continued to win enough games to remain within striking distance of a playoff berth.
Much like they did three seasons ago right before George and Leonard arrived, the team has embraced an image as a bunch of cast-offs and scrappy men who win in spite of others’ dismal expectations.
New Orleans Is Better Than Some Think
At first glance, the Pelicans, who finished with a mediocre 36-46 record, may seem like a pushover team.
Actually, they possess some players who can do plenty of damage.
Forward Brandon Ingram, who was an All-Star two years ago, averaged 22.7 points and 5.6 assists per game this season, and he is a skilled one-on-one scorer who is efficient from mid-range.
— DukeLights (@duke_lights) April 11, 2022
Guard CJ McCollum, acquired in the Trail Blazers’ fire sale, put up 24.3 points a game in 26 games for New Orleans, and he is still a lethal 3-point shooter who made 39.4 percent of his treys during that span.
Center Jonas Valanciunas can score, hit 3-pointers, rebound and throw his weight around as a 6-foot-11, 265-pound specimen.
If the Clippers aren’t careful, the Pelicans could end their season if they first get past San Antonio.
The Spurs Are Still A Threat
But Dejounte Murray will, and he got his first All-Star Game nod this season for averaging 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game.
From DREAMS to REALITY.
— NBA (@NBA) April 7, 2022
In the end, one may be tempted to go with the Clippers, but their history of falling short of expectations is concerning.
The most likely pick for the eighth seed in the West right now seems to be the Pelicans.