The NBA’s new play-in tournament begins Tuesday night, and it took until the 146th and final day of this compressed season to determine who is going where for the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference matchups are set: No. 7 Boston will host No. 8 Washington, and No. 9 Indiana host No. 10 Charlotte in the NBA’s first elimination game this season. Both of those games are Tuesday.
The Boston-Washington winner goes straight to the playoffs as the East’s No. 7 seed and will play No. 2 Brooklyn; the loser of that game will host the Indiana-Charlotte winner on Thursday to determine the East’s No. 8 seed and who will face top-seeded Philadelphia in Round 1.
In the Western Conference, Golden State — behind NBA scoring champion Stephen Curry — beat Memphis to be the No. 8 seed; Memphis will be the No. 9 seed and play host to No. 10 San Antonio on Wednesday.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance to play games that matter,” Curry said.
The Warriors will visit either the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers or the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. The Lakers or the Blazers will be No. 7, that seeding still hanging in the balance entering Sunday’s night slate of games.
That means the play-in could see a superstar showdown: Curry vs. LeBron James on Wednesday night, unless the Lakers avoid the play-in round.
The winner of the Golden State game will be the No. 7 seed in the West playoffs; the loser of that game will play the Memphis-San Antonio winner on Friday to be the No. 8 West seed.
Getting to the No. 8 spot for the play-in round is a massive comeback story for the Wizards, who started the season 0-5 and 3-12, were shut down for two weeks in January for coronavirus-related issues, had to play 38 games in the season’s final 67 days to make up for all that lost time and were 17-32 early last month.
They’re 17-6 since, rallying from 16 points down to beat Charlotte on Sunday and with Russell Westbrook — the league’s all-time triple-double king — getting his 38th one of the season.
“Obviously, Washington’s rolling,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re a heck of a basketball team. ... They’re a handful. Tuesday night’s going to be one heck of a challenge.”
Meanwhile, New York — which was sent home after the regular season in each of the last seven years — not only is back in the playoffs but will open them at home. New York’s win over Boston locked the Knicks into the East’s No. 4 seed and a first-round matchup against No. 5 Atlanta.
That means reigning East champion Miami will open as the No. 6 seed. The Heat will open the playoffs at Milwaukee, the No. 3 seed. That was sealed when Brooklyn beat Cleveland on Sunday night, giving the Nets the No. 2 seed in the East and a matchup with the Boston-Washington winner in Round 1.
One other matter of importance was decided Sunday — the scoring title.
Bradley Beal scored 25 points for Washington and ended the season averaging 31.3 points per game. That meant Curry needed only three points in the Warriors’ game against Memphis to ensure he finished ahead of Beal.
Curry scored 46, pushing his final average to the season to a career-best 32.0 per game. It is Curry’s second scoring title, and he becomes just the second player age 33 or older to win one in NBA history. The other is Michael Jordan.