Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after a three-point shot against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on December 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Thunder 113-101. Christian Petersen/Getty Images


  • The seventh seed has been locked up in both the Eastern and Western Conferences
  • The Toronto Raptors get the experts' nod to advance in the play-in tournament
  • Pundits like the odds of the Oklahoma City Thunder to beat the New Orleans Pelicans

The seventh seed in both the Eastern and Western Conferences have been locked up by the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers respectively, but the question of who wrangles the final spot remains up in the air until later tonight.

In the East, the tenth-seeded Chicago Bulls will do battle with the ninth-seeded Toronto Raptors and three out of the five experts on The Athletic's staff is picking the Raptors to beat out the Bulls for a shot at the eighth seed in a do-or-die matchup with the Miami Heat on Friday, April 14 at 7:00 PM ET.

The same can be said for those from ESPN as 11 of their 17-person panel favor the Raptors to come out victorious against Chicago.

Their predictions make sense when looking at the head-to-head season series between both squads as Toronto won it two games to one thanks to their absurd length combined with their height.

While some fans would believe this matchup to be that of an offense-versus-defense one, the two teams have made a living off of strong defensive plays which can surely be expected from their high-stakes matchup.

Toronto's wing trio of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes are going to be anchored by the shot-blocking instincts of Jakob Poeltl inside the paint.

As for Chicago, their defensive strength lies on Nikola Vucevic down low, Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso going up against fellow guards while Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan defending the wings to generate turnovers and quick buckets.

The Raptors will surely be focused on stopping either one of LaVine or DeRozan and forcing the other to beat them, but the same can be said of the Bulls as they focus on shutting down Barnes or Siakam.

In the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans will be welcoming the improbable 10th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder to the Smoothie King Center for the right to face the Minnesota Timberwolves for the eighth seed.

The Athletic's staff was more unanimous for this matchup as four out of the five favored the Thunder, while the majority of the ESPN staff also had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's squad advancing to the eighth seed do-or-die.

As a whole, the Pelicans are no stranger to the play-in tournament after securing the final seed last season to push the then No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns to their limit before eventually falling in six games.

This season though, the Pelicans have improved, however marginal it may be, with a more holistic approach to the game in light of not having Brandon Ingram for a big chunk of the season and Zion Williamson only appearing in 29 games.

In the case of Oklahoma City, the group finds themselves on the cusp of their first playoff appearance since the 2020 postseason in the Orlando Bubble.

With a date with the Timberwolves on the line and a first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets potentially happening, the Thunder and Pelicans have an opportunity to prove that they can be the next big contender in the perennially stacked Western Conference.

Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors
Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors Getty Images | Douglas P. DeFelice