The Portland Trail Blazers did not make the NBA’s Play-In Tournament this year, but they still have a strong interest in the outcome of the games that will determine the 2022 NBA Playoffs participants. The New Orleans Pelicans finished 9th in the Western Conference, right in the middle of the Play-In zone. New Orleans owes the Blazers a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but only if that pick falls in the range of 5-14 in the draft order. The first step in Portland getting the pick is clear: New Orleans must not make it into the playoffs. That’s why Blazers fans have a clear rooting interest in the slate of games coming this week.
How the Play-In Tournament Works
The teams that finished 7th-10th in each conference participate in the Play-In Tournament, competing for the 7th and 8th seeds in the final playoffs bracket. Because we’re mostly interested in the Western Conference for Portland’s purposes, we’ll just talk about those teams for now. The same thing we describe will happen in the East as well.
Tuesday: 7 vs. 8
The first position at stake in the playoffs is the 7th seed. It is determined by a single game, played between the 7th- and 8th-place finishers in the Conference.
Tonight (Tuesday), the Los Angeles Clippers will visit the Minnesota Timberwolves to determine the 7th seed. That game will be shown at 6:30PM, Pacific on TNT. The winner of that game gets the 7th seed, outright.
The loser of that game isn’t out of the tournament. Instead they wait to find out the outcome of the next game.
Wednesday: 9 vs. 10
That game happens on Wednesday evening, when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Pelicans, the matchup between the 9th- and 10th-place finishers. This contest will also be shown on TNT at 6:30 PM, Pacific.
The loser of this matchup will exit the Play-In Tournament and will find a place in the NBA Draft Lottery, as they will not make the playoffs.
The winner of the 9 vs. 10 game goes on to play one more time, this time to see who will earn the 8th seed in the playoffs bracket.
Friday: Loser of 7-8 vs. Winner of 9-10
On Friday, the loser of Tuesday night’s game between the 7th and 8th seeds will meet the winner of Wednesday night’s game between the 9th and 10th seeds.
The winner of this game will earn the 8th seed in the playoffs bracket. The loser of this game will be out of the playoffs and join the lottery teams.
At that point both the playoffs bracket and the lottery list will be complete. Two of the four teams in the Conference Play-In will have earned playoffs spots, two will receive lottery picks as consolation for not making it.
What Blazers Fans Want
Recall the conditions under which the Pelicans pick goes to the Blazers: it must fall between 5-14 in the draft order. Those spaces are all lottery picks.
That makes Portland’s rooting interest simple. Blazers fans want the Pelicans out of the playoffs and into the lottery. If New Orleans makes it into the playoffs bracket, their pick will fall to 15th or lower and Portland will not receive it.
That means on Wednesday night, Blazers fans should root hard for the San Antonio Spurs to defeat the Pelicans. If that happens, the Blazers have a chance at getting the pick.
If New Orleans wins on Wednesday, Blazers fans should root for whichever team loses the 7th-8th place game tonight. If New Orleans loses on Friday, they are out of the playoffs and, again, the Blazers have a chance at getting the pick.
Any loss for the Pelicans in the next two games is good for the Blazers.
Assuming New Orleans loses and receives a lottery pick, the next step is for Blazers fans to pray they don’t get promoted to the Top 4 picks in the lottery drawing. But first things first: the Pelicans have to to lose to make the ping pong balls possible.