Lakers, Heat get 2 chances in NBA’s play-in tourney

by Jacob Fuller

Rob Issa, FISM News

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have two more chances to make the NBA playoffs. It’s the same for Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.


The play-in tournament for teams that finished sixth to 10th begins Tuesday night with Miami hosting the Atlanta Hawks and the Lakers at home taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Heat were the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed last year but couldn’t secure a playoff berth in 82 games after going 44-38. The Heat-Hawks winner gets in. The loser faces the Raptors-Bulls winner to earn the eighth seed. Toronto hosts Chicago on Wednesday.

“You have to embrace this new experience,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To the old heads in our locker room, each of us have experienced long NBA careers and not have had this opportunity. I think it’s been great for the league. How harrowing this has been, the last six, eight weeks for 16 teams in the West and the East. It’s just been great for competition and overall. it’s been great for the league.”

The East’s No. 8 seed will play a best-of-seven series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The No. 7 seed takes on the Boston Celtics. The Philadelphia 76ers will play the Brooklyn Nets in the 3 vs. 6 matchup. The Cleveland Cavaliers face the New York Knicks in the 4 vs. 5 matchup.


In the Western Conference, the Timberwolves-Lakers winner advances. The loser gets a second chance against the Pelicans-Thunder winner. New Orleans hosts Oklahoma on Wednesday.

The Lakers had the best record in the West after the All-Star break, going 16-7.

“We put ourselves in a position where we can move on,” James said. “That’s all we could ask for, to put ourselves in a position to be able to move on. We had obviously a very, very slow start, starting 2-10 … to know where we are today, we can be happy about that, but not satisfied.”

The Lakers’ road got a little easier Monday when Minnesota suspended star center Rudy Gobert for one game because he threw a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson during an argument in the huddle in the middle of a timeout in Sunday’s game.

“It’s not something we condone. Veterans can get upset, too, so I don’t want to be too hard on him,” coach Chris Finch said after the game. “But obviously it’s not something we’re going to be able to tolerate here.”

Gobert apologized to his teammates in a group text. He was playing with back spasms and didn’t appreciate Anderson questioning him.

The Wolves also won’t have forward Jaden McDaniels, who is out indefinitely with a broken right hand suffered when he hit a wall in the tunnel that leads to the locker room after being called for his second foul in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. McDaniels is in a cast and there’s no timetable for his return.

Still, the Lakers realize it’ll be a challenge.

“It’s different because usually in the postseason, we have multiple days to prep for a team,” said James, who will participate in the first play-in game of his 20-year NBA career. “We literally have one day to prep. … For us, it’s good that we don’t have to travel. It’s good that we get to stay here, but we shouldn’t be comfortable. We need to stay on edge and get ready for the game.”

In the first two years of the NBA’s new play-in tournament to determine the final two seeds, none of the winning teams advanced past the first round.

The West’s No. 8 seed will play the Denver Nuggets. The No. 7 seed will take on the Memphis Grizzlies. The 3 vs. 6 matchup features the Sacramento Kings against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The 4 vs. 5 sees Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Clippers.