Most dangerous NBA Play-In Tournament teams

In a blink of an eye, the NBA Regular Season has come and gone. After a season full of entertaining basketball and storylines, it’s time for big boy basketball.

Before the postseason starts Saturday, the seventh and eighth seed in both conferences need to be determined. 

The NBA Play-In Tournament begins Tuesday with the New Orleans Pelicans taking on the Los Angeles Lakers to play for the chance at the seven seed and the right to play the reigning NBA Champions, the Denver Nuggets. The loser will take on the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors. 

In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Miami Heat for the seven seed Wednesday. The loser will play for the eight seed against the winner of the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks matchup Wednesday. 

Last season taught us that we can’t completely write off these play-in teams. Here are three teams that can make a deep run this postseason. 

1. Miami Heat 

If there was ever a case to be made for a play-in team having a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs, it’s last year’s Heat. After losing their first play-in game to the Hawks, the Heat beat the Bulls to secure themselves the eight seed. Their reward was facing the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks. 

How did they fare you might ask? Well they dismantled them in five games in what will go as one of the most improbable playoff series wins. They then went through the New York Knicks in the second round before beating the Boston Celtics in a wild seven-game series they were up 3-0 in. The Heat’s magical run was ended by the Nuggets in the NBA Finals. 

Similarly to last season, they have not ended the regular season well. Despite that, this iteration of Heat with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Eric Spolstera have earned respect when it’s playoff time. They’ve improbably made the finals twice in the last four seasons and aren’t afraid of any team they could face in the East. 

The main thing that will need to happen for them to make a deep run is for “Playoff Jimmy” to be activated by Butler. They will also likely not have Caleb Martin playing like Michael Jordan in his prime like he was in the Celtics series, so they need others like Terry Rozier and Tyler Herro to help with scoring load. 

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Just like the Heat, the Lakers made a deep run in last year’s playoffs after surviving the play-in tournament. They too saw their championship hopes crushed by the Nuggets. For the Lakers it was in the Western Conference Finals. 

This season for the Lakers has been a strange one. They’ve been inconsistent throughout despite having a relatively healthy Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Their season high was winning the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament. They’ve also gathered some momentum heading into the play-in games as they have won 11 of their last 14 games. 

A big stumbling block for them making another deep playoff run would be if they were to win their matchup with the Pelicans which would force them to play the Nuggets in the first round. Now there won’t be a soul that would pick the Lakers in this potential matchup, but their best chance of beating Denver could be in round one as there would be more time to rest between games for Davis and James than there would be later in the playoffs. If they were to find themselves playing the number one seed Oklahoma City Thunder instead, it would be much more ideal as they have shown they have the Thunder’s number this season. 

3. Philadelphia 76ers 

The 76ers season was somewhat halted when Joel Embiid had a meniscus injury that kept him sidelined for a couple of months. It was a shame because he was having another MVP-caliber season before he got hurt. Apart from the Embiid injury, this season has been about the next step Tyrese Maxey took in his career. Maxey ended the regular season averaging 25.9 points and 6.2 assists.  

Now they enter the play-in tournament red-hot and on an eight-game winning streak. If they can beat the Heat and get that seven seed to avoid playing a Celtics team that has owned them in the playoffs over the past several years, they could make some noise. They traded for Buddy Heild to help with some offense, added some experience with Kyle Lowry and they now have Nick Nurse at head coach. The most important thing is if Embiid can get himself up to speed and back to playing his best ball quickly. He’s the one guy that almost nobody has an answer for.  

Header Photo: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up for a dunk next to Memphis Grizzlies center Trey Jemison during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 12, 2024, in Memphis, Tenn. (Brandon Dill/ The Associated Press)

Write to Mohamed Warsame at

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