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West play-in picks: Can the Warriors keep their season alive?

Noah Graham / National Basketball Association / Getty

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Every team has completed 82 games, but there are still playoff matchups to determine. The play-in tournament creates intriguing storylines and potentially thrilling games as four teams fight for the final two spots in each conference.

First up is the West. The Lakers and Pelicans will play for the 7-seed, while the Warriors and Kings face off in a win-or-go-home scenario.

(8) Lakers @ (7) Pelicans (-1, O/U 224.5)

Best bet: Over 224.5 points

The Lakers beat the Pelicans in three out of four meetings and had a 25.7-point average margin of victory in those three wins. L.A. has looked better than a play-in team over the last week. It won 11 of its past 14 games and has a top-five offense during that stretch.

Although the Pelicans' defense has carried them this season, the Lakers' size advantage has allowed L.A. to dominate inside.

Instead of taking a side, let's focus on the total. Despite improvement, the Lakers have an uninspiring defense, but their offense can exploit New Orleans' stout defense. Their four previous matchups averaged 238 total points. The defensive intensity will turn up a notch, but the total score should surpass 225.

Zion Williamson: Under 6.5 rebounds

Williamson has been a different player since his poor effort in the In-Season Tournament semifinals against the Lakers in December. Williamson is a reliable downhill driver, an underrated passer, and a willing defender.

However, his rebounding responsibilities have decreased. Williamson's averaging a career-low 5.8 rebounds per game, a surprisingly low number for a player of his strength and size. The former No. 1 pick has recorded fewer than seven rebounds in seven of his last 11 games. Williamson averaged 5.8 boards against L.A. this season.

After struggles on the glass to start the season, the Lakers are the league's sixth-best rebounding team over the last 15 games.

Odds: +102

(10) Warriors @ (9) Kings (+2.5, 224.5)

Best bet: Warriors -2.5 and Warriors team total over 113.5

The Warriors and Kings split the season series (2-2), and three of their four contests were decided by one point. Last season, the Warriors defeated the Kings in a thrilling seven-game first-round series.

After earning the No. 3 seed in the 2022-23 campaign, the Kings took a step back this season. Last year's historically great offense became average as offensive efficiency increased across the league.

Now, the Kings will fight for a spot in the postseason without two of their top six scorers. Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk are out, wounding the Kings' scoring depth and eliminating two 3-point threats who space the floor.

Their absence has hurt Domantas Sabonis, whose scoring has decreased over the last month.

During last year's series, the Warriors sagged off Sabonis and forced him to become a shooter, a role he was uncomfortable in. Sabonis is a more willing shooter this year, but he's still not great at it. He's shot under 30% from three over the last two months.

As eye-popping as Sabonis' nightly box-score stats are, he's a defensive liability. The Kings have the league's best defensive rating when Sabonis is off the floor and rank in the bottom third when he's on the floor. The Warriors will exploit his inability to protect the rim, just like they did in 2023.

The Kings have the second-worst opponent 3-point percentage. That's a problem against the best shooting backcourt in NBA history and a group that's second in the league in 3-point makes.

Sacramento allows threes like the one below, where the Warriors run an inverted pick-and-roll and foolishly double up on Draymond Green on the drive. De'Aaron Fox tries to rush out to Steph Curry but is caught ball watching (a cardinal sin when guarding the all-time 3-point leader). Curry runs to space and Green finds him:


One of the Warriors' weaknesses is that they have the NBA's second-worst free-throw rate. But the Kings won't have an advantage; Sacramento has the third-worst opponent free-throw rate, meaning they send teams to the charity stripe frequently. Sacramento also commits the seventh-most fouls per game.

Everything points to Golden State using its experience to outlast its newfound rival in another high-stakes game.

Steph Curry: Over 34.5 points and assists

There are few players you can trust more in a win-or-go-home spot than Curry. The four-time champion and two-time MVP is a cold-blooded, baby-faced assassin. He'll assuredly show up with his season on the line against a suspect defense.

As previously noted, the Kings allow threes at a high clip. What does Curry do better than anyone? Splash threes. He's as good off the ball as he is with it, so even if Sacramento's defense keys in on him, Curry will find openings through cuts and teammates' screens.

Curry reached at least 35 combined points and assists in three out of four games against the Kings this season. He averaged 38.6 combined points and assists in last year's playoff series.

Odds: -102

Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X @soshtry for more betting coverage.

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