Injuries plague NBA Play-In Tournament doubleheader finale | The GIST

    The GIST: Win and advance or lose and go home — the stakes couldn’t be higher ahead of tonight’s Play-In Tournament finale, with two No. 8 seeds up for grabs before the first playoff round tips off tomorrow. No time to waste.

    No. 9 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Miami Heat — Tonight at 7 p.m. ET: Yes, you’ve seen this film before, but Jimmy Butler can’t save Miami tonight. The superstar scorer sprained his MCL on Wednesday and will be out for several weeks. With that tough news, plus Chicago’s inconsistent offense finally grooving, the Bulls have a chance to make it to round one for the first time since 2022.

    No. 9 Sacramento Kings vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans — Tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET: The Pels are also dealing with an injury blow: Zion Williamson strained his hamstring in Tuesday’s lights-out performance and will be out for this do-or-die matchup. Can his recently struggling teammates get the job done without him or will the Kings’ standout trio light the beam for the second straight year?

    First round preview: But wait, there’s more hoops, with the playoffs beginning in earnest tomorrow. Once the play-in is done and dusted, the 16 official playoff teams compete in best-of-seven series from here on out. Here are two especially spicy first round showdowns:

    • The Eastern Conference features a fierce rivalry battle between the No. 2 NY Knicks and the No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers. Both squads experienced last-season surges thanks to star players (NY’s OG Anunoby and Philly’s Joel Embiid) returning from injury, but this one could come down to a battle of depth, with the fun beginning tomorrow at 6 p.m. ET.
    • And in the Western Conference, the defending champ No. 2 Denver Nuggets will aim to sweep the No. 7 LA Lakers out of the postseason once again. The Lakers have not defeated the Nuggets since December 2022, and will rely on LeBron James to contend with Nikola “MVP form” Jokić. The journey begins tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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