Play-In Tournament predictions 2024: Steph Noh’s expert bracket picks include Lakers win, Warriors elimination

The 2024 NBA Play-In Tournament is set. Eight teams will vie for four playoff spots in games taking place from April 16 through April 19. 

There will be some big stars and great matchups in these high-pressure games. The Warriors vs. Kings rematch is the game I’m most looking forward to in the West. In the East, we will see how far Playoff Jimmy can go against his former teammate Joel Embiid.

When it’s all said and done, there’s a chance one or more of the Lakers, Warriors, 76ers and Heat won’t advance to the 2024 NBA Playoffs.

Here’s what to look for and predictions for all of the Play-In games. 

MORE: Everything to know about this year’s NBA Play-In Tournament

Lakers vs. Pelicans Play-In prediction

These two teams met in the final game of the regular season, with the Lakers coming out on top 124-108. Los Angeles seemed to have New Orleans’ number all year, going 3-1, including a 44-point drubbing in the In-Season Tournament Semifinals. 

The Lakers’ size and paint pressure have given the Pelicans serious problems. They had 50 points in the paint in the first half alone in Sunday’s regular-season finale. LeBron James has averaged 28.3 points and 11.8 assists on 55.1 percent shooting from the field against New Orleans this season

It hasn’t all been the LeBron show, though. Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell have all averaged over 20 points as well. The Pelicans haven’t been able to stop anything or anyone despite finishing as the No. 6 defense in the league

This Lakers team has hit their stride at the exact right time, going 22-10 after inserting Rui Hachimura into the starting lineup. They’ve been the No. 3 offense during that stretch and much improved from their blah 25-25 start. Davis suffered an injury in the season finale, but there is optimism that he’ll be good to go for Tuesday’s game.

The Pelicans had been playing well to close out their season as well. They won four in a row before running into the Laker buzzsaw. Brandon Ingram returned from a 12-game absence and logged 24 minutes on Sunday. New Orleans should have its big three of Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Ingram ready to go. 

An interesting twist to this game is that the winner will face the Nuggets, where they will likely get destroyed. The loser will enter a must-win game to play the Thunder as the No. 8 seed.

The Lakers have played the Thunder great this year and have a much, much better chance of advancing in that pairing. It would be crazy to throw this game on purpose to try and game that matchup, but it is a nice consolation for whichever of the two does end up losing. 

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand over the last two decades, you know that LeBron is going to step his game up to the next level in the playoffs. Given the Lakers’ domination over the Pelicans and the fact that The King is going to be geared up, I have to take the Lakers in this one.

Prediction: Lakers clinch the No. 7 seed

Stephen Curry and De'Aaron Fox

(Getty Images)

Warriors vs. Kings Play-In prediction

This is a rematch of last year’s playoffs. The Warriors sneaked past the Kings in a seven-game series in the first round. Fox fractured his finger before Game 5, played through the injury and didn’t have his shooting touch in the pivotal elimination game. 

The Kings have some more playoff experience now, and they’re healthier. They’re better prepared to guard Golden State’s unique attack, and they’ve been plotting their revenge for a full year.

The season series between these two was incredible — they split it 2-2, and the last three games were all decided by one point. 

Kevon Looney gave Domantas Sabonis a huge headache in last year’s playoffs. Sabonis was destroyed on the glass and wasn’t as effective offensively with the Warriors sagging way off him. Looney has declined considerably this year, and his minutes have been cut. That could help the Kings in this rematch. 

The Kings have dealt with brutal injuries to starter Kevin Huerter and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Malik Monk, but they’ve had some other guys step up. Keon Ellis has come out of nowhere to become a defensive stopper and good 3-point threat. Fox and Keegan Murray have both improved dramatically defensively. 

The Warriors have had their own guys step up, too. Jonathan Kuminga is a candidate for Most Improved Player, and all of the team’s young players have played extremely well. After an up-and-down season, Klay Thompson ended it hot, shooting 42.3 percent from 3 and averaging 23.8 points over the team’s final six games. 

This is going to be the best game of the Play-In. I’m taking the Kings with home-court advantage. 

Prediction: Kings win, Warriors eliminated 

MORE: TSN’s Steph Noh shares his expert All-NBA picks

Heat vs. 76ers Play-In prediction

The Sixers are only in this game because Embiid missed two months with a meniscus injury. They fell apart without him, going 11-18 in that stretch. 

Embiid and the Sixers have both looked pretty good upon his return. They beat the Heat when these two teams matched up earlier in the month. Tyrese Maxey is the presumptive favorite for Most Improved Player, and Kyle Lowry has been great as a late-season buyout addition. 

While the Sixers have been rolling, the Heat have been more inconsistent. They recently incorporated Tyler Herro back into the lineup, and he’s played well for them. So has trade acquisition Terry Rozier. Haywood Highsmith has been found money off the bench as an athletic defensive ace and capable shooter. And their other young players Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jokic have played well. 

This team is obviously going as far as Jimmy Butler is taking them. Playoff Jimmy is definitely a real thing. He’s mysteriously become a great 3-point shooter when he’s not busy filming music videos or playing a game of HORSE on an actual horse. But he still hasn’t been quite at that same level as in previous years. 

The Heat have played Embiid well over the years, knocking a hobbled version of him out in the second round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Miami has gone 5-3 in games where both Embiid and Bam Adebayo played over the past three seasons. 

As much of a mistake as it is to count Playoff Jimmy out, I think they take the same path as last year. They lost their first Play-In game to the Hawks before beating the Bulls in a must-win for the eighth seed.

Embiid was at an MVP level before his injury. As good as Adebayo is defensively — he should be top three in Defensive Player of the Year voting — nobody is stopping the big fella this year. Lowry should be amped to go against Butler.

This is going to be a fun chess match between two great coaches in Erik Spoelstra and Nick Nurse, along with some terrific playoff performers. 

Prediction: 76ers clinch the No. 7 seed

Dejounte Murray and DeMar DeRozan

(NBAE via Getty Images)

Bulls vs. Hawks Play-In prediction

While this game is for sure getting the least billing of the four, it should be competitive. These are two very evenly matched squads. 

The Hawks were playing at about the same level without Trae Young as they were with him. Young is coming back from a hand injury and should be available, but the rest of the Hawks are banged up. They’re missing key rotation players in Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu. 

The Bulls have learned to live without Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams and Lonzo Ball for most of their season. They recovered from a horrendous 5-14 start to get home-court advantage for this game by being one of the best clutch teams in the league. 

MORE: Prediction, odds, key matchups to know for Bulls vs. Hawks

These two teams have very contrasting styles. The Bulls will focus on getting DeMar DeRozan mismatches and working through his midrange game or using Nikola Vucevic as a passing hub. The Hawks are going to give it to Young and gun up 3s or get lob dunks.

The Bulls have guarded Young extremely well in the past. They have the best one-on-one perimeter defender in the playoffs in Alex Caruso. Ayo Dosunmu has been terrific on Young in the past as well. 

This is a pretty decent matchup for Chicago. Given the home-court advantage and how well they have performed in tight games this year with a Clutch Player of the Year contender in DeRozan, I’m giving the edge to them.  

Prediction: Bulls win, Hawks eliminated

Heat vs. Bulls Play-In prediction

Ironically, this is the exact same matchup that happened last year. The Bulls were on the verge of winning before Butler took over late in the fourth quarter. 

There’s not much analysis that needs to go on here. Could the Bulls beat the Heat in this game, in Miami no less? Sure, but you’d have to be crazy to pick them. The Heat have more talent, better coaching and better star power. They should clinch the eighth seed again. 

Prediction: Heat clinch the No. 8 seed, Bulls eliminated

Kings vs. Pelicans Play-In prediction

The Pelicans are the Kings’ nightmare team. Sacramento went 0-5 to New Orleans in the regular season, losing by an average of 19.2 points per game. 

The Kings could not stop any of McCollum, Ingram or Zion in that matchup. They averaged 26.0, 24.8 and 23.0 points per game, respectively. 

The Pelicans have a lot of good defensive personnel that they can throw at Fox and company. Herb Jones should be an All-Defensive wing, and Dyson Daniels and Jose Alvarado are excellent perimeter defenders. Even Williamson has been an improved defender towards the end of the season. They have slowed down the Kings’ attack previously, and they should be able to again. 

The playoffs are all about matchups, and the Kings are going to run into two terrible ones. This should go to the Pelicans. 

Prediction: Pelicans clinch the No. 8 seed, Kings eliminated

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