Three things to keep an eye on in the first two games of the NBA Play-In Tournament
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The Brooklyn Nets will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Play-In Tournament tonight, while the Los Angeles Clippers will face the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The winner in each case will get the No. 7 seed in their respective conference, while the loser will have to play the winner of tomorrow’s games between the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds to determine who stays at No. 8.
There’s a lot riding on tonight, so keep an eye on these crucial strategic problems.
Can the Nets stop the Cavs’ big men from stretching?
The Cavaliers will be missing Jarrett Allen, who is currently healing from a fractured finger, which will have a major impact on their defense.
The Cavs will, however, most likely play with considerably more stretch, partnering Lauri Markkanen or Kevin Love with Evan Mobley for most of the game, giving them a drastically different look on offense.
Markkanen had a strong season finale, averaging 18.2 points per game in under 30 minutes and shooting 17-of-33 (51.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Durant played the majority of the minutes at 4 and took defensive duty for Love and Markkanen when the Cavs played the Nets last week.
Mobley poses enough of a danger to drag Andre Drummond or Nic Claxton away from the basket, putting further pressure on Durant to be a shot-blocker on the weak side.
Markkanen and Love’s shooting provided plenty of gravitational pull in the opposite direction, and Durant was caught more than a few times hanging ineffectively in the middle.
When Durant kept close to Markkanen on the outside, Garland and Mobley were frequently able to win two-on-two chess matches in the paint.
It’s worth noting that the Nets did win this game, with Kevin Durant scoring 35 points on 20 shots and Seth Curry, Bruce Brown, and Andre Drummond scoring 45 points on just 32 shots.
The Cavs’ defense is hurting without Mobley and Allen, but if they can keep the Nets’ role players in check and get some hot shooting from Love and Markkanen on the other end, they should be able to make up for their lack of star power.
Which version of Kyrie Irving will suit up for the Nets?
The good news for the Nets is that Kyrie Irving should be well-rested for this game, as there has been a significant difference in his scoring efficiency between games with zero or one day of rest (55.6 true shooting percentage) and games with two or more days of rest (55.6 true shooting percentage) in his career (63.7 true shooting percentage).
However, Irving’s game log contains nearly as many duds as jewels this season, and his splits in Nets victories and losses are vastly different.
Irving, like many other ball-handlers, struggled against the Mobley and Allen combo this season, but with Mobley on the court but Allen out, he scored 23 points with 11 assists on 9-of-22 shooting in 40 minutes against the Cavs.
If he plays well, he presents the Cavaliers with two major defensive problems to solve with little resources, making it easier for players like Curry, Drummond, Brown, and Patty Mills to have an impact.
How important will the Clippers’ previous experience be?
The Timberwolves’ starting lineup has only 88 postseason games under their belts, with Patrick Beverley accounting for 59 of them.
Paul George has 108 postseason games under his belt, and he’s not the only one—Reggie Jackson (69 games), Marcus Morris (64 games), and Nicolas Batum (58 games) all have nearly as much postseason experience as the Timberwolves’ whole team (58).
During the regular season, the Clippers dominated the Timberwolves, outscoring them by 40 points and winning three of their four meetings.
Against the Lakers’ defense, the Timberwolves failed to execute their offense and create efficient looks; they only made 48 free throws in four games, and 90 of their total shot attempts (24 percent) were pull-up jumpers.
However, all three of those losses were in November, and the Timberwolves won their most recent encounter by 18 points in January. The Clippers, on the other hand, are a unique squad in many ways.
Since his comeback, Paul George has averaged 22.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in just over 30 minutes per game, indicating that he is ready to make an impact. At the trade deadline, the Clippers also acquired Norman Powell and Robert Covington.
The Timberwolves have the talent to win, but with the stakes so high — a chance to secure only their second postseason berth in the last 18 seasons — they’ll have to play a far more precise and controlled game than they did against the Clippers earlier this season.
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