Welcome to the play-in! Though the Denver Nuggets are arguably 50% of the inspiration of the play-in tournament after their thrilling, winner takes all Game 82 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2018, they have never actually been a part of the play-in tournament. However, due to their high seeding, for the second straight year a play-in opponent will face the Nuggets in the first round. This year, as the two seed, the Nuggets will draw the winner of tonight’s 7 vs 8 seed matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Essentials

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (49-33) vs Los Angeles Lakers (47-35)

When: 5:30 PM MDT

Where: The Blender. New Orleans, LA.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT. League Pass for non-Lakers/Pelicans market viewers. Show up in New Orleans. Sirius XM NBA Radio.

Play-in Blogs: Lakers – Silver Screen & Roll, Pelicans – The Bird Writes

The Matchup

Position Pelicans Lakers Advantage
PG C.J. McCollum D’Angelo Russell Pelicans
SG Herb Jones Austin Reaves Even
SF Brandon Ingram LeBron James Lakers
PF Zion Williamson Rui Hachimura Pelicans
C Jonas Valanciunas Anthony Davis Lakers
Bench Larry Nance Jr., Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, Dyson Daniels Spencer Dinwiddie, Gabe Vincent, Jaxon Hayes, Taurean Prince Even

Injury Report: Cody Zeller – available (face); LeBron James – probable (ankle), Anthony Davis – questionable (back), Cam Reddish – questionable (ankle), Jalen Hood-Schifino – out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt – out (foot), Christian Wood – out (knee).

The Three Things

The thing to watch for: Zion Williamson vs LeBron James & Anthony Davis vs health

Apr 14, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll do it a little different tonight and I’ll give my thoughts on each team.

Pelicans – I think New Orleans is being very overlooked here in Denver by Nuggets fans. This is a team with an incredible amount of length and defense on the perimeter with a knock down shooter in Brandon Ingram and a unicorn in Zion Williamson. I know what you’re thinking, Zion = overrated, but keep in mind the key criticisms for Zion have always been health and conditioning. This is the healthiest season of his career and by all accounts he has finally given conditioning the attention it needs after the team got embarrassed in the NBA Cup championship. He remains an absolute nightmare to defend with his athleticism and size, though the Lakers do have a guy named LeBron James who is more suited to take on the challenge of defending Zion than most. Still, I’m running everything through him if I’m New Orleans. Make Lebron work relentlessly on defense and try to get him into foul trouble.

Lakers – The Lakers success largely will depend on the health of Anthony Davis as it always does. With about six minutes to go in the Lakers final game of the season AD started to look very stiff before signaling to the bench to come out as he reached towards his back. He looked to be in considerable pain and did not return to the game. He is listed as questionable with back spasms. No doubt if there’s any chance AD can go he will try. Despite what you may think about the Lakers motivation to win this game to earn a first round matchup with the Nuggets, losing this game and then subsequently the next due to Davis sitting out with back spasms would be yet another ding to his legacy. Without him there is little hope for L.A. We’ve seen herculean efforts from LeBron over his career to carry teams but those days are in the past. Asking the 39 year old forward to carry the Lakers on offense for 48 minutes while he has to defend Zion as well is probably too much.

The thing to remember: these teams just played one another

If this feels a bit like deja vu that’s because it is. The Lakers and Pelicans played each other in the final game of the season with high stakes. The Pelicans were playing for a chance to avoid the play-in altogether, the Lakers were playing to guarantee two opportunities to get into the playoffs. It was L.A. who came out on top in that affair with a convincing 124-108 win on New Orleans’ homecourt. L.A. almost assuredly elected to stay in New Orleans for the past two days so they will be well rested, save for any late night Bourbon St. shenanigans or perhaps a beignet induced coma (or a gumbo coma, jambalaya coma, etouffee coma, shrimp & grits coma, red beans & rice coma, poboy coma…did I mention I really love New Orleans?). Both teams had to show their hands with the stakes as high as they were in game 82 so this game in many ways should be treated like a game 2 of a playoff series. What adjustments will New Orleans make after the loss, what counters will L.A. have for those adjustments? Provided both teams have their stars available, whichever can make the best adjustments to the previous contest will come out on top.

The thing to bet: Zion Williamson + Lebron James points over 52.5 (-110)

In case you skipped past the whole preview and came straight to the sweet sweet betting advice, I’m big on Zion vs LeBron as the key matchup here tonight. If AD doesn’t go that could throw a wrench in the plans as New Orleans will no doubt make their entire gameplan about making anyone other than LeBron beat them, but I have a feeling AD will give it a go. I don’t expect him to be 100% though which means LeBron, one way or another, has to carry the load. Zion meanwhile is the engine that drives the bus for the Pelicans. This is is his chance to put a big moment/game on his resume. Despite LeBron’s defensive acumen, there’s still only so much even he can do against Williamson. Winner takes all games so often come down to put the ball in the hands of your best player and ask him to make it happen, for tonight those players are Zion and LeBron.