The Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors in a one-game head-to-head to qualify for the NBA playoffs this week as part of a thrilling new format in basketball’s postseason.
After a truncated and hectic regular season, Tuesday night sees the start of the playoffs with a newly-adopted play-in tournament which will see one-off games decide which four of eight teams will complete the picture in the traditional end-of-season competition.
The play-in pits the seventh and eighth highest-ranked teams in each conference against each other, with the winners becoming the seventh seed in the finals bracket and the losers facing the winners of a ninth-v-10th play-in to decide the final seed.
And that structure has thrown together two of the biggest names in the sport, LeBron James’ NBA champion Lakers and the 2015, 2017 and 2018 kings, the Warriors, who saw their five-year dominance of the Western Conference ended by LA last season.
While the winners advance to face the Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven first round contest, the defeated team will have to beat the winners of the San Antonio Spurs versus the Memphis Grizzlies in order to clinch a first-round clash with the Utah Jazz, who boasted the regular season’s best win record of 52-20.
The first of the four play-in matches takes place on Tuesday night at 23:30BST, with the Indiana Pacers hosting the Charlotte Hornets in the Eastern Conference. The winners of that one will take on the losers of the Boston Celtics-Washington Wizards seventh-v-eighth game for the chance to complete the Eastern bracket. The winners between the Celtics and Wizards will face the Brooklyn Nets and the final seeds will take on the 49-23 Philadelphia 76ers.
The final playoff bracket will begin play on Saturday night and the NBA Finals are due to take place in July, with the Lakers hoping to recover from a disappointing 42-30 record season campaign to defend the title they won last October.
THIS WEEK’S PLAY-IN FIXTURES (Rankings in brackets):
Tuesday 23:30 BST: (10) Charlotte Hornets @ (9) Indiana Pacers
Wednesday 02:00 BST: (8) Washington Wizards @ (7) Boston Celtics – Winners face Brooklyn Nets in first round
Thursday 00:30 BST: (10) San Antonio Spurs @ (9) Memphis Grizzlies
Thursday 03:00 BST: (8) Golden State Warriors @ (7) Los Angeles Lakers – Winners face Phoenix Suns in first round
Thursday 23:00 BST: Winners of Hornets v Pacers @ Losers of Wizards v Celtics – Winners face Philadelphia 76ers in first round
Friday (tip-off TBC): Winners of Spurs v Grizzlies @ Losers of Warriors v Lakers – Winners face Utah Jazz in first round