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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were early favorites to win their respective conference finals. However, both teams went through their fair share of struggles, leaving the Purple and Gold on the outside looking in.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will have to make their way through the play-in tournament to enter the first round of the playoffs. They face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, with the loser going on to play the winner of the Charlotte Hornets vs. Atlanta Hawks.
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled off a miraculous season without their two biggest stars, earning the eighth seed and a slot in the play-in. Paul George and company will have to contend with the up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves.
The NBA play-in tournament will take place Apr. 12-15. Unlike last season, the 12 teams set for this year’s bracket won’t have a week to prepare. The first round of the playoffs will begin on Saturday.
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David Dermer/Associated Press
The play-in tournament will return with the same structure as last season. As such, the seventh seeds from each conference will play the eighth seeds, and the ninth-ranked team will square off against the 10th seeds.
The winner of the matchup between the seventh and eighth seeds will claim a spot in the first round against the No. 2 seed. The loser will enter a sudden-death scenario against the winner of the games featuring the ninth and 10th seeds.
On Tuesday, The Nets and Cavaliers will open the play-in tournament, followed by the Clippers and Timberwolves. The following day, the Charlotte Hornets face the surprisingly inconsistent Atlanta Hawks.
The San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans round out the second night of the tournament on Wednesday.
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The postseason will officially begin on Saturday.
Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat were a pleasant surprise this season as top seed in the Eastern Conference. The South Beach squad will play the winners of Wednesday’s elimination game.
The Boston Celtics will take on the winner of the Nets vs. Cavaliers. Philadelphia dropped out of the top three spots putting them on a collision course with the Toronto Raptors. The Chicago Bulls endured a string of injuries to secure the sixth seed and take on the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.
In the West, The Phoenix Suns will enter the first round with 64 regular-season wins, giving them the best record in the league. The reigning Western Conference champions will play the winners of the second elimination game on Wednesday.
The Memphis Grizzlies take on the winner of the Timberwolves and Clippers. The Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz will meet in a matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds. Lastly, the Golden State Warriors will enter into a first-round encounter against the Denver Nuggets.
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Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
We don’t know the schedule after the first round, but a rematch from last year’s finals seems likely.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Suns have the best odds to win the NBA Finals at +270. The Bucks are the second favorite as they begin their quest to repeat at +550. Although Brooklyn landed in the play-in tournament, the Nets are next up at +650.
DeMar DeRozan is having an incredible season, making Chicago a scary matchup. Milwaukee will probably make it past the Bulls, but they will still have to deal with the winner of Boston and possibly Brooklyn. It could be a tough road for the champions, but they’re still the team to watch in the East.
Meanwhile, Phoenix seems like the easiest contenders to predict as it seems determined to avenge its loss to the Bucks.
Chris Paul was just two games away from claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in his career, but his window for achieving that is closing. This could be the 36-year-old’s best chance to add a championship to his resume.