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NBA Play-in Tournament 2021: Predicting the 4 participants from the Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner
Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner
ANALYST
Modified 08 Apr 2021
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Due to the shortening of the 2020-21 regular-season to 72 games, the NBA decided to continue with the play-in tournament format that made its debut last season.

The top six teams from each conference will qualify for the NBA playoffs. The seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th seeds will play amongst each other to decide the final two teams that will head to the playoffs.

With less than a third of the regular season left, there are still plenty of teams battling for a play-in tournament spot in both the Western and Eastern Conference.

The East has been far more competitive and has produced higher quality games this season compared to previous campaigns. The battle for playoff spots will likely go down to the final game of the regular season. Currently, only five games separate the fourth-placed Atlanta Hawks and the 10th-placed Chicago Bulls.

The teams in the hunt for a playoff spot will be hoping to avoid the NBA play-in tournament out of fear of what could happen in a one-off tie.

But which teams are likely to miss out on automatic qualification for the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and will have to contend with a place in the play-in tournament?

NBA Play-in Tournament 2021: Predicting which teams from the East will be competing

Both the 7th and 8th seeded teams will have two opportunities to advance to the playoffs through the NBA play-in tournament. The two will play each other, with the winner claiming the seventh seed and the loser facing the winner of the game between the ninth and 10th seed.

Let's take a look at our predictions of which teams will likely finish the regular season with a spot in the play-in tournament.

7th seed - Charlotte Hornets

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Charlotte Hornets star Gordon Hayward has been ruled out for at least four weeks
Charlotte Hornets star Gordon Hayward has been ruled out for at least four weeks

The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the surprise packages in the NBA this season. But with LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward ruled out for several weeks, they may struggle to stay in the top six of the Eastern Conference standings.

Also, with the Miami Heat getting stronger after the trade deadline and the Boston Celtics likely to win more games than the Hornets, they will drop in the standings.

The Hornets currently sit six games ahead of the Pacers, who are currently ninth in the East standings. Therefore, Charlotte should be a lock for the play-in tournament. It would be a huge step forward for a team that has failed to qualify for the postseason since 2016.

They will be hoping that Hayward can return in time to help them make it to the play-in tournament as the seventh or eighth seed. Until then, Terry Rozier will have the majority of offensive responsibility. The guard leads all Hornets players in scoring and is shooting the ball with career-high accuracy.

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8th seed - New York Knicks

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle has had a monster season
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle has had a monster season

The New York Knicks' final two games of the regular season are against the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics. Those two games could be crucial in deciding the Knicks' playoff future this season.

But it is more likely we will have a clearer idea of where coach Tom Thibodeau's team is going to finish in the race for the play-in tournament spot before those fixtures. At the start of May, the Knicks have a nasty West coast trip where they will face both LA franchises, the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets.

Although the Knicks are back in contention and have finally given their extensive fanbase a team to be proud of, they have lacked offensive firepower all season. Their defense is undeniably stingy, ranking fourth in efficiency, which could well get them through to the NBA play-in tournament.

But to get there, they are going to have to rely on the all-around ability that Julius Randle has shown this season in carrying his side to a spot in the play-in tournament. The forward leads all Knicks players in points, assists and rebounds.

9th seed - Chicago Bulls

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Chicago Bulls team huddle
Chicago Bulls team huddle

Although they have the worst record of any team in our predictions, the Chicago Bulls have the offensive talent to guide them into the NBA play-in tournament.

Adding Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline was a statement to their rivals that the Bulls are ready to compete this year as well as the seasons to come.

Combining the big man with Zach LaVine gives the Bulls' young star the best teammate he has had in his four seasons with the franchise. Vucevic leads all NBA centers in three-point attempts and drains over 40% while LaVine also averages eight attempts from beyond the arc, making 41.8% of his three-point shots.

Wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers suggest that the Bulls are trending in the right direction. Furthermore, their fixture list in April is favorable, as they face five of the league's worst sides this season and not a single team currently in the top ten.

We predict that the Bulls will comfortably make it to the NBA play-in tournament and will give either the Knicks or Hornets a serious challenge for the eighth seed.

10th seed - Indiana Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers are trending in the wrong direction
The Indiana Pacers are trending in the wrong direction

2020-21 NBA season record: 22-27

Sitting just one game ahead of the Bulls, the Indiana Pacers are our final pick for the Eastern Conference's play-in tournament.

After what was expected to be another successful season led by All-Star Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers have gone backwards recently, losing 13 of their last 20 matches.

They have the offensive assets to pair with Sabonis and Brogdon, however, they have lacked consistency. With their fixture list easing up, the Pacers will likely have another crack at breaching the East's top-eight, however, we believe they have left it too late and could fall as low as the tenth seed.

Their roster lacks playoff experience and gives up too many rebounds. In fact, they rank in the bottom five for offensive boards allowed and in the bottom ten for defensive rebounds. With the Toronto Raptors floundering and no serious competition after them, the Indiana Pacers should be able to secure the final play-in spot.

Published 08 Apr 2021, 07:28 IST
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