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Top storylines for NBA play in tournament 2022

Matt Johnson
NBA play play in tournament
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA play in tournament is back for another year and the action will be intense with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trae Young among the NBA stars fighting for their playoff lives.

Before we dive into this year’s action, it’s worth taking a look back at what happened in the NBA play in tournament last year. A young Memphis Grizzlies earned a playoff spot after beating the San Antoni Spurs and Golden State Warrios. Fast forward to 2022, Memphis holds one of the top seeds in the NBA playoffs.

So much of the focus on the play-in tourney centers on the immediate fallout. Just remember, this is also a time when young players can gain experience before blossoming into a great team next year.

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Keeping that in mind, let’s examine the top five storylines for the 2022 NBA play in tournament.

Will the Brooklyn Nets live up to the hype?

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Take a look at the latest NBA championship odds and you’ll notice the Brooklyn Nets are receiving the third-highest odds (+700) to win it all. Not only that, they are right behind the Milwaukee Bucks in terms of bettors selecting the eventual Eastern Conference winner.

Everyone is buying in on the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving duo. There’s a logic behind it considering they are two of the best players in the NBA and either star can take over in a series. Naturally, they should get the job done in one game of the NBA play in tournament.

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Not so fast. This is one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA. Durant and Irving lost 122-115 to the Nets on April 2, on a night when they combined for 86 points. Against the Charlotte Hornets on March 27, the duo combined for 43 points in a 119-110 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Oh, this pairing also experienced a 12-point loss to the Grizzlies when Irving and Durant totaled 78 points.

While Ben Simmons could play in the first round of the playoffs, he’s out for the NBA play in tournament. That means Brooklyn’s defense will be a problem. While they might be favored to advance, no one should be stunned if they are knocked out with their initial matchup against an upstart Cavaliers team.

Karl-Anthony Towns gets his moment

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most talented bigs in the NBA. The 26-year-old already boasts a resume with three NBA All-Star Game appearances and he is the reigning NBA Three-Point Contest champion. Now, KAT steps into the opportunity to receive far more recognition.

  • Karl-Anthony Towns stats (2021-’22): 24.6 ppg, 9.8 RPG, 1.1 bpg, 10.3 Win Shares

The Timberwolves haven’t experienced the playoffs since the 2017-’18 season. Since 2004, Minnesota has a single win in the postseason on its resume. This is a chance for the Wolves to have something, positive results after years of rebuilding and shaking things up. With an initial matchup against Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers, the opportunity is now.

Towns is capable of taking over at a time like this. He scored 60 points on March 14 against the San Antonio Spurs and crossed the 30-point mark in 16 games during the regular season. If he plays at that level, the Timberwolves can punch their ticket to the NBA playoffs and Towns will prove he is a star.

Trae Young takes the stage for NBA play-in tournament

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t exactly the position the Atlanta Hawks forecasted when the season began. Trae Young had momentum, coming off a postseason run that saw him average 28.8 points with unforgettable moments on the biggest stages. A year later, Young will again be tasked with putting on a show.

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Fortunately for Atlanta, he’s playing some great basketball as of late. In his last 24 games entering the NBA play in tournament, Young averaged 29.8 points, 10.3 assists and 3.3 three-pointers made per game.

He seemingly shines under the biggest lights, his Game 1 performance against the Milwaukee Bucks (48 points) and Game 5 shooting clinics against the Philadelphia 76ers (39 points) and New York Knicks (36 points) demonstrate that. The Hawks will put everything on Young’s shoulders, we’d bet he delivers.

Can surging New Orleans Pelicans surprise?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wrote the New Orleans Pelicans off months ago. Consider this team started with a 2-12 record and it lost 21 games before reaching double-digit victories. If you told everyone on Jan. 1, 2022, that the Pelicans wouldn’t have Zion Williamson the entire season, even the biggest gambler wouldn’t bet on this team reaching the tournament. Yet, here they are.

From 22-34 to 36-44, the CJ McCollum trade really helped turn things around. The 30-year-old guard found new life in New Orleans, averaging 25.6 points and 6.1 assists per game. He fit perfectly alongside Brandon Ingram, who is shooting nearly 50% from the field since McCollum stepped foot on the court.

We’re not predicting New Orleans will go on a run, coming out of the NBA play in tournament on top. However, playing well now will add momentum before the offseason and that could be huge with a healthy Williamson next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers youth put to the test

NBA: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are definitely one of the biggest surprises from the 2021-’22 NBA season. Rookie Evan Mobley blossomed far faster than anyone expected. Meanwhile, guard Darius Garland emerged into an All-Star selection. Things have spiraled since, in part because of the Jarrett Allen injury.

Related: NBA Rookie of the Year 2023 – Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero among early favorites

As of now, we’re not expecting the All-Star center and defensive weapon to participate in the NBA play in tournament. It significantly diminishes the Cavaliers’ chances of even winning a game. However, this is a fantastic opportunity for Mobley and Garland to gain experience.

Look at the Grizzlies as a model for what can happen. Cleveland fans should be elated for the future and the NBA audience should get ready to watch the first signs of greatness from Mobley.