NBA play-in tournament day 2: Wednesday’s games highlight some of the league’s burgeoning young stars

Hornets-Hawks, Spurs-Pelicans should be exciting to watch

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Charlotte takes on Atlanta in a Wednesday play-in game.
Charlotte takes on Atlanta in a Wednesday play-in game.
Image: Getty Images

Day two of the play-in tournament features the 9 and 10 seeds from each conference. These games haven’t been talked about as much as the day one games, but could be even more exciting. One of them will be a showdown between two of the hottest young guards in the league, and the other features a player that came close to averaging a triple-double this season. Let’s dig into the second day of the play-in.

Game 1: No. 10 Charlotte at No. 9 Atlanta

If Michael Jordan can fight the temptation and stay far away from a Russell Westbrook trade, this 9-10 matchup could be the start of a postseason rivalry. Two of the best, most exciting young point guards in the NBA headline this game: Trae Young vs. LaMelo Ball.


These teams split the season series, and both won a game on each other’s home court. This game could be the real nail-biter of this year’s play-in tournament. Ball is like a magician with a basketball in his hands, and no, I’m not comparing him to Magic. But his passing skills and court vision are very Magicesque. He’s got the length, the talent, and the game to back up his “I know I’m the shit” attitude. I guess he gets that from his daddy. I’m sure the Lakers wish they could’ve drafted this Ball a couple of years ago.

The Hawks have a rising star in Young, who seems to amaze every time he’s on the floor. Trae is usually the smallest guy on the court (except when Isaiah Thomas is playing) but consistently exhibits the most heart in victory or defeat. The Hawks slid down some in the standings this year, but the Eastern Conference was a lot more competitive at the top this season. This year, Atlanta still managed to win 43 games compared to 41 (out of only 72 games) last season.


We know these young squads will give us an exciting brand of basketball as they fight to stay alive. The loser goes home, and the winner gets one more opportunity to make the playoffs in a second play-in game. In Atlanta’s two wins over Charlotte in the regular season, the Hawks beat them by 32 points. Charlotte’s two victories in the season series were by 13 points.

I think these teams are pretty evenly matched, as their identical 43-39 records indicate. If I had to pick one supporting cast in this one, I’d lean toward the Hornets slightly. But it’s very close. This game is going to come down to the two stars leading the way and who shines brightest. Trae showed us in last year’s playoffs that he lives for the spotlight. He’ll have a big outing and drop at least 30 on the Hornets.


Winner: Atlanta Hawks

Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio at No. 9 New Orleans

In the undercard, we’ve got the Spurs and Pelicans. No one expects either team to go far in this postseason but being in the mix is a step forward for both franchises. On one side, we have the Pelicans, who already have some of the pieces to the puzzle configured but are still trying to figure out the main piece, which is Zion Williamson. Zion hasn’t played in an NBA game since last season, and rumors have circulated all year that he may want out of New Orleans soon. If Williamson were healthy enough to play in this game, I think it’d be a no-brainer. He’s got the talent. Now he needs to get the health part under control.


With San Antonio, we saw 25-year-old Dejounte Murray emerge as a star for Gregg Popovich this season, making his first All-Star game. This was Murray’s breakout year, scoring 21 ppg, 9.2 apg, and 8.3 rpg. Dejounte officially became the leader for coach Pop on the floor with his play this season. The Spurs will need a couple more players to step up big, but they also have a nice young roster. Keldon Johnson is second on the team in scoring (17 ppg), and the Spurs also get significant contributions from Lonnie Walker IV, Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson, and Devin Vassell.

I’ll give the Pelicans the edge in experience with players like C.J. McCollum, Brandon Ingram (if he can go), Jonas Valanciunas, and Devonte’ Graham. Ingram’s been dealing with a hamstring injury, so his status is up in the air. Then, of course, there’s no Zion either. This game will likely be very close, and I think having an experienced championship coach on the sideline will come into play late in this game.


Winner: San Antonio Spurs