The NBA’s new play-in tournament begins on 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 play host to No. 8 Washington, and No. 9 Indiana will play host to 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; the loser of that game will play host to the Indiana-Charlotte winner on Thursday to determine the East’s No. 8 seed and who will face top-seeded Philadelphia in Round 1.
The Western Conference play-in games will be set depending on results later Sunday. Golden State, Memphis and San Antonio will all be in the play-in round there; either the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers or the Portland Trail Blazers will be the No. 7 seed for those games, with the West play-in contests starting Wednesday.
Getting to the No. 8 spot 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.
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 either Brooklyn or Milwaukee.