On April 16, the business end of the NBA season gets underway with the first games of the Play-In Tournament. This high-stakes battle for a place in the NBA Playoffs proper will see eight teams ground down to four. 

For those who win through the Play-In, a rough ride awaits against either the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, or Boston Celtics. 

Soon after this entry phase, the playoffs will begin, with NBA odds already available for the Play-In games and the preset matchups in both conferences. 

With the NBA Playoffs officially underway on April 20, here’s a preview for the SoFi Play-In Tournament games and those series we know will feature in the First Round.

Western Conference Playoff Tips

Los Angeles Lakers @ New Orleans Pelicans (Play-In)

  • Season Series: Lakers 3-1 Pelicans

  • Lakers Last 10: 7-3

  • Pelicans Last 10: 5-5

  • Winner Faces: Denver Nuggets

Finishing the NBA regular season by crushing the Pelicans, the Lakers look primed and ready to return to New Orleans and get another win on the board, booking a ticket to a series with the Denver Nuggets.

Over the course of the season, the Lakers have secured a 3-1 series win over the Pelicans – with those wins featuring margins of 44, 17, and 16 points – and New Orleans’ home form is notably weaker at 21-19. 

That said, on the road, the Lakers have typically lost, going 19-21 in the regular season and 1-1 in the season series with the Pelicans.

Looking to the oddsmakers, though, it’s clear that the end-of-season highs of the Lakers have made them the favourites, coming in at +100 on the -1.5 spread. 

Given their previous winning margins, the spread might be seen as a little quaint for some punters, with the -3.5 for the Lakers at +125 pehaps being preferred. 

Game Prediction: Lakers win the game.

Golden State Warriors @ Sacramento Kings (Play-In)

  • Season Series: Warriors 2-2 Kings

  • Warriors Last 10: 8-2

  • Kings Last 10: 4-6

  • Winner Faces: Loser of Lakers @ Pelicans

The Warriors have heated up at the exact right time and can even boast the most recent wins in what ended up being a tied regular season series with the Kings. 

Sacramento took the first two games, played home and away, by an eight-point and one-point margin. In the reverse fixtures, Golden State snagged two wins by a single point. 

The Kings have only won five of their last seven, and the Warriors have won ten of their last 12, so it’s clear which team has momentum coming into this one

In what’s been such a close series, an all-or-nothing game like this is usually determined by a star performer, which the odds see as putting the ball in the Warriors’ court with them at -154 on the moneyline. 

This season, in the battle of star point guards, De’Aaron Fox has exceeded the PPG, RPG, and APG of Stephen Curry in the same count of games (74). 

The oddsmakers have Fox at -125 to put up over 41.5 points, assists, and rebounds combined, while Curry’s at -133 to breach the 39.5 mark for those three stat lines combined.

Either player could end up being the decisive performer in this Play-In game, but as is often the case, many will be siding with Curry and his seasoned cast of stars to get the job done again.

Game Prediction: Warriors win the game.

Dallas Mavericks vs Los Angeles Clippers

  • Season Series: Mavericks 1-2 Clippers

  • Mavericks Last 10: 7-3

  • Clippers Last 10: 6-4

In this Western Conference NBA Playoffs series, fans could be treated to an eclectic court of superstar players, including Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, and Luka Dončić. 

However, this spectacle isn’t exactly guaranteed due to the recent injury issues that are reportedly troubling Leonard and Harden, which will undoubtedly hamper the Clippers’ ability to slow down the Mavs. 

Still, even with a superb 144-126 triumph at home, the Mavs lost on the road and back in Dallas to the Clippers – and by significant margins in both losses.

Across other regular season records, the Clippers and Mavericks matchup exceedingly well, with Los Angeles only pipping the Mavs to the fourth spot by virtue of their one extra road win. 

With the first game in LA, the odds are siding with a home win, putting the Mavericks out at +100 on the moneyline but -110 at +1.5 on the spread – indicating just how close this tie looks to be.

Series Prediction: Clippers win the series.

Phoenix Suns vs Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Season Series: Suns 3-0 Timberwolves

  • Suns Last 10: 7-3

  • Timberwolves Last 10: 6-4 

After an imperious season that saw the Minnesota Timberwolves only miss out on the top of the Western Conference by two wins, they’ve drawn the worst possible sixth seed. 

The Phoenix Suns just have Minnesota’s number. This season, the Suns have won 133-115 and 97-87 in Phoenix and ended the campaign with a crushing 125-106 win in Minnesota. 

On each occasion, the Suns came out hot and the Timberwolves simply couldn’t keep up, being forced into turnovers that, had the first quarters not been so frustrating, may not have been so prominent. 

With the clear frontrunner to be named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in their ranks, and given the team’s success this season, the odds are still backing the Timberwolves to take the first game. 

To stop the Suns from getting four straight wins, Minnesota’s at -133 on the moneyline for the series opener on April 20. 

If they do win, it could set a precedent and allow the incredibly talented Timberwolves to finally overcome their bogey team. If not, it’s not difficult to see the Suns running away with more wins and the series, regardless of seeding. 

Series Prediction: Suns win the series.

Eastern Conference Playoff Tips

Atlanta Hawks @ Chicago Bulls (Play-In)

  • Season Series: Bulls 2-1 Hawks

  • Hawks Last 10: 3-7

  • Bulls Last 10: 5-5

  • Winner Faces: Loser of Heat @ 76ers 

The only two teams in the NBA Playoffs picture with losing records clash having not really needed to push for a Play-In spot: the Brooklyn Nets trailed the Hawks by four wins with a 5-5 last ten record in the end. 

Of the two, the Chicago Bulls look the marginally better-equipped team with a bit more momentum coming into the first of potentially two Play-In games. 

The Hawks have been on a significant slump with a 3-7 last ten record – which features a standing six-game losing streak – and are far weaker on the road. 

Their 15-26 road record is why the Hawks only went 36-46 despite their winning record at home.

Chicago hasn’t been dominant by any means and comes in with losing records at home and on the road, but the odds are stacked in their favour for this home Play-In at moneyline odds of -159. 

Game Prediction: Bulls win the game.

Miami Heat @ Philadelphia 76ers (Play-In)

  • Season Series: Heat 2-2 76ers

  • Heat Last 10: 7-3

  • 76ers Last 10: 8-2

  • Winner Faces: New York Knicks 

The season series was split 2-2, both come in on a very healthy recent run of games, and Miami only ended up trailing Philadelphia by one win in the standings. So, why are the 76ers the heavy -200 favourites?

Simply put: Joel Embiid. The 76ers went 11-18 while the Cameroonian was recovering from surgery - and that was after starting 29-14. 

Since his return, Philly has stormed to a 31-8 record, which includes a current streak of eight wins on the bounce. More pressingly for this matchup, Embiid only played in the 109-105 triumph in Miami for this season’s series.

With Embiid, the 76ers are a different beast, which is why they get odds of -110 on the spread with a -4.5 point differential. It’ll take some effort from the Heat to get the better of this surging Philly team.

Game Prediction: 76ers win the game. 

Orlando Magic vs Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Season Series: Magic 2-2 Cavaliers

  • Magic Last 10: 5-5

  • Cavaliers Last 10: 4-6

Neither the Orlando Magic nor the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the season in particularly splendid fashion, going 5-5 and 4-6, respectively, but what looks to be the main factor in this series is the home court advantage.

Finishing one win ahead of Orlando, Cleveland gets home court advantage, where the Cavs went 26-15 during the regular season. 

Importantly, the Magic rely more heavily on playing at the Kia Center and boast a 29-12 record in front of their local fans.

Going 18-23 on the road will be the worry for the Magic, but the team’s run to the end of the season – 23 wins and 12 losses since January 30 – only featured seven losses on the road. 

Even so, with the season series split 2-2 and 1-1 records at home for both, that home form does look to be weighing heavily on the odds. To open the series in Cleveland, the Magic are at +160 on the moneyline. 

Series Prediction: Cleveland win the series.

Indiana Pacers vs Milwaukee Bucks

  • Season Series: Pacers 4-1 Bucks

  • Pacers Last 10: 7-3

  • Bucks Last 10: 3-7

Giannis Antetokounmpo played in two of the Milwaukee Bucks’ last six games, and the Bucks only won twice. One was somewhat of a collector’s item, a 104-91 win over the Celtics, but he did feature in that game.

Even with Antetokounmpo in the team for the most part, the Bucks have struggled down the stretch, losing eight of their last 11 games and ending on a particularly off-putting road record of 18-22. 

A lot will depend on their superstar’s fitness, who missed the last three games of the regular season, and if his pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard can be at its most lethal against the Indiana Pacers’ low-ranked defence. 

The Pacers should be in fine spirits – especially if Antetokounmpo isn’t near full strength – having surged to nine wins in their last 13 games to fend off the 76ers in their hunt for an automatic NBA Playoffs spot. 

If Tyrese Haliburton can start the postseason as hot as he did the regular season, the Bucks could find themselves pinned back by more than a Giannis-less team can handle. As it stands, the “Greek Freak” is tipped to miss Game 1.

This gives the Pacers a golden opportunity to stop the Bucks from getting a win on their court of preference to gain the upper hand, but the odds remained in favour of Milwaukee with five days until game day at -133 on the moneyline.

Series Prediction: Pacers win the series.

*Credit for all images in this article belongs to Alamy*

Ben is very much a sports nerd, being obsessed with statistical deep dives and the numbers behind the results and performances.

Top of the agenda are hockey, soccer, and boxing, but there's always time for the NFL, cricket, Formula One, and a bit of mixed martial arts.