The NBA’s best innovation in the Adam Silver era is the gift that keeps on giving.

This year’s Play-In Tournament will have no shortage of storylines, and while the competition itself invites discussions on how eight teams are not enough for each conference, that’s not the issue here. The Play-In is an emphasis on making things more competitive and just like the postseason itself, only the strong survive.

In the Eastern Conference, the general consensus is that two of the four teams deserve to advance, but a third team has never lost in the Play-In. The fourth team? Well they can surprise everyone if things work in their favor.


Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers

Now this should be fun.

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat split their season series in 2023-2024, with all the games having been decided by no more than seven points. It may not be easy to get the full picture of the matchup from those games as both teams were missing key players. The closest approximation may come from the April 4 contest, which was when Tyler Herro sat out.

A close affair is what you’d expect from both teams given the personalities involved. The Heat pride themselves on defense, and that’s no surprise given they’re the only team in the NBA that’s in the top five in limiting their opponent’s fast break points and offense in the paint.

However, the numbers also show that the 76ers aren’t a slouch in that department either, as they are a co-league-leader in steals per game (8.5) and sixth in the NBA in blocks per game (6.0).

The game could also be decided in the free throw line as Philadelphia tends to foul a lot (20.3 per game) and Miami is one of the NBA’s best in converting their free throw attempts (81.8 percent on 22.0 attempts). The 76ers themselves are second in the league in free throw conversions (82.6 percent on 23.6 attempts), but the Heat aren’t the type to foul too much (17.3 per game).

All things considered, we’re likely to witness a war in the trenches.

Atlanta Hawks vs Chicago Bulls

It feels as if we’ve known that these two squads were headed for the Play-In Tournament for months given the gap between them and the top six in the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls were also more competitive than the ones below them as they either could not get things right this season or they simply wanted to try their luck in the lottery.

The Bulls have a 2-1 lead in the season series against the Hawks, but Atlanta had the last laugh when they squared off on April 1.

The return of Trae Young should give the Hawks a boost, especially if they want to keep their high-powered offense (118.3 points per game on 92.5 attempts) running. The Play-In has been a happy place for Atlanta as they have yet to lose. However, this will be the first time the Hawks will play as a 10-seed, and their 15-26 away record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence at the moment.

Meanwhile, Chicago is below .500 both on the road and at home, but it would be unwise to count them out. Their offense may be in the middle of the pack, but the Bulls are one of the NBA’s more deliberate teams. Their 12.2 turnovers per game are the third-best mark in the league and that can prove to be important when the game slows down, something that could apply even in postseason-like situations such as the Play-In.

This matchup could get messy, but the victor wont mind; after all, a win is a win.

At its best, the Play-In Tournament gives off the vibes of the postseason. These teams slated to slug it out are hoping to earn victories for it to be more than just a vibe.

It definitely won’t be a cakewalk for either the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, or the Chicago Bulls, but they’ve all shown they have tools to make it to the next round, where a bigger challenge awaits them.