The Los Angeles Lakers have claimed the 7-seed in the Western Conference, while the Philadelphia 76ers have claimed the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference. Just two NBA Play-In Tournament games remain to decide who the 8-seed in both conferences will be. On Friday night, the Chicago Bulls will hit the road to take on the Miami Heat, and the Sacramento Kings will be facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans. With a trip to the NBA Playoffs on the line, Jimmy Butler and Zion Williamson are both uncertain for the Heat and Pelicans, respectively, due to injuries.

Whereas Zion suffered a hamstring injury and has already been ruled out for New Orleans' play-in game against the Kings, Butler's status is truly up in the air until the results of his MRI are revealed.

Other developing storylines in the league this week stem from the NBA banning Jontay Porter for his illegal sports gambling activities and the Golden State Warriors falling short of their playoff aspirations. Could this be the end of what has been the most dominant dynasty of this era with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson? Plus, a look at the NBA awards race and who will end up with the MVP trophy in a few weeks.

All of this and more in ClutchPoints' first edition of the NBA Playoffs Primer.

NBA Playoffs injury roundup

 Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) lines up a shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter of a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When Zion registered his 17th basket against the Lakers on Tuesday night to record his first 40-point game since December 2022, Smoothie King Center in New Orleans quickly turned from massive applause to shock and worry. It was at this moment that Williamson motioned for a substitution to the Pelicans' bench and immediately left the game, throwing a towel down on the ground as he went back to the locker room with the score knotted up at 95 with just about three minutes remaining. The Pelicans went on to lose, resulting in their playoff fate having to be decided via the 8-seed game against Sacramento.

At the time, the Pelicans said Williamson was dealing with left leg soreness, but further imaging confirmed a left hamstring strain for the star big man. Once again, the Pelicans will be without Zion in the biggest moment of their season. Should New Orleans fail to claim a playoff spot after holding the 6-seed entering the final day of the regular season, major changes will be in store. This injury to Williamson could just set the stage for the futures of Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and others to be changed.

Butler and his knee injury are fresh news coming off the Heat's defeat at the hands of the 76ers in the East's 7-seed play-in game on Wednesday night. Although he finished the game with 19 points in 40 total minutes, Butler left Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with a very noticeable limp. Reports on Thursday morning suggest that the All-Star has suffered a MCL injury that will sideline him indefinitely. But Butler's agent has adamantly denied such reports, claiming that Thursday afternoon's MRI will confirm the course of action and subsequent timeline.

Should Butler be unable to play on Friday night against the Bulls, the Heat will be limited in terms of their offensive production. Terry Rozier missed the Heat's first play-in game due to a neck injury, while Duncan Robinson didn't play despite being deemed available after missing time with a back injury. A lot of pressure would fall on the shoulders of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, who dealt with knee and foot injuries late in the regular season, should Butler be unable to go.

Other small injury updates around the league pertaining to the NBA Playoffs involve the likes of Kings sixth man Malik Monk, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dean Wade, Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, and of course, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Monk, who suffered a sprained MCL on March 29, is far from returning to the court, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. Then again, Monk told reporters before their play-in game against the Warriors that he feels like he is getting close to doing on-court work. As for Wade and his status with the Cavs, the assumption in Cleveland is that he will miss at least Game 1 of their first-round series against the Magic, according to ClutchPoints' Evan Dammarell.

Leonard's availability for the start of the Clippers' series against the Dallas Mavericks has been one of the biggest mysteries ahead of the first round of these NBA Playoffs. Although he didn't participate in any five-on-five work at practice, the Clippers are preparing for Kawhi to be on the court in Game 1 against the Mavs, per ClutchPoints' Tomer Azarly.

Lastly, the Bucks are hopeful that Antetokounmpo will be able to return from his calf strain during their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers. Giannis is expected to be ruled out for Game 1 on Sunday.

Jontay Porter banned from NBA

Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter (34) reacts after a play in the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Commissioner Adam Silver and the league office announced on Wednesday that Toronto Raptors two-way forward Jontay Porter, the brother of Denver Nuggets wing Michael Porter Jr., has been banned from the NBA for violating league rules on gambling.

In their investigation, the NBA found that Porter violated the league’s rules by “disclosing confidential information to sports bettors, limiting his own participation in one or more games for betting purposes, and betting on NBA games.” During his recent Board of Governors press conference, Silver warned that the “ultimate and extreme” option he had was to ban Porter from the game for the “cardinal sin” he was accused of.

Porter not only limited his own game participation to influence bets, but this whole investigation was kicked off due to irregularities on his prop bets. Unusual betting activity took place with someone placing an $80,000 parlay involving different “under” prop bets associated with Porter on March 20. Every bet made associated with this parlay won and would have paid out $1.1 million, but the bet was frozen and immediately went under investigation.

Quite honestly, if you are dumb enough to try and turn $80,000 into a million on a two-way player, then you deserve to be caught. This is the definition of insider trading, as nobody in their right mind would just throw away $80,000 in a game of “chance” unless they knew something. As it turns out, they did know something, and they knew Porter was in on the action.

More findings from this investigation revealed that Porter was betting on NBA games from January through March and that he bet on the Raptors, the organization he was a part of, to lose. This is now something that could go to the federal level and see Porter prosecuted for his involvement in illegal gambling activities. Whether or not his brother or any other NBA personnel knew about this matter is the big elephant in the room right now that the league will surely look into.

Warriors to make significant changes?

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) sits on the bench during action against the Sacramento Kings in the fourth quarter during a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at the Golden 1 Center.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

A loss to the Kings in the play-in tournament, thus ending their hopes of making the NBA Playoffs, means a couple of things for the Warriors. The first is they are clearly no longer immortal, as this is the second straight season that Golden State was ousted from the playoffs prior to the NBA Finals. In six playoff appearances from 2015-22, the core of Steve Kerr, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green had never lost a playoff series to a Western Conference opponent.

Now, the Warriors fell in the 9-seed vs. 10-seed play-in game after losing to the Lakers in the 2023 Western Conference Semifinals, meaning that they have missed the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. Obviously, their title in 2022 masked their recent deficiencies, but this loss to the Kings really seems like the turning point for the Golden Dynasty.

In addition to no longer being immortal, the Warriors' offseason has now begun. This is going to be a summer of major decisions for Golden State's brain trust, and everything starts with whether or not they will bring Thompson back. While his numbers may not necessarily show it, as he averaged 17.9 points per game while shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range, Klay struggled immensely this season. Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Thompson could be the biggest name on the open market as a four-time champion and five-time All-Star.

Curry has made it clear that he can't ever see himself without Draymond and Klay. Green even backed up the “keep Klay” campaign by claiming the organization will “do right by Klay,” just like they did with him last offseason, according to The Athletic's Anthony Slater. The big question for the Warriors is whether or not Thompson truly wants to return. Despite constantly saying he wants to retire in a Warriors uniform, Klay left his words open for interpretation during his exit interview.

“To be honest, I really have not given it much thought because of what you previously said about the season we had and how much commitment it takes to play the games we did and give our all,” Thompson said. “So, I really have not thought about that deep into the future because I still need to process the year we had. It was one filled with ups and downs.”

The Warriors own one of the league's greatest payrolls and will once again carry a hefty tax bill into the offseason, leading to questions about whether Andrew Wiggins and Chris Paul could be moved in order to retain Thompson. Wiggins is set to make $26.2 million next season in the second year of a four-year extension he signed in 2022, and Paul's $30 million contract is non-guaranteed up until the start of free agency.

Many around the league anticipate general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. and the Warriors' front office to gauge the trade market for both Wiggins and Paul. The organization will also likely restructure Gary Payton II's contract, as he is a player they would like to keep on a more team-friendly deal, league sources told ClutchPoints.

NBA Awards race

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) speaks with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA Playoffs beginning, it won't be long until the league announces the winners of this season's awards. In fact, all award finalists will be announced on Sunday, April 21, at 6:30 p.m. ET on TNT's coverage of the NBA Playoffs. Here is a look at my picks for each of this season's awards, as well as who the underdog and dark-horse candidate could be.

MVP pick: Nikola Jokic (DEN) | MVP dark-horse: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)

I was stumped about who to choose for MVP this season. Nikola Jokic is the obvious choice, but Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have each had terrific seasons. Doncic has been great in recent months, but Jokic's dominance all year is hard to overlook. Perhaps voters will side with Gilgeous-Alexander given the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder became the youngest team in league history to ever clinch a 1-seed in either conference.

ROY pick: Victor Wembanyama (SAS) | ROY dark-horse: Nobody

This should be a unanimous decision. Whoever doesn't vote for Victor Wembanyama should have their voting privileges stripped away, and they should be banned alongside Jontay Porter. There is simply no argument that can be made here to say that Wembanyama wasn't the best rookie in the league this season. Just stop it.

DPOY pick: Victor Wembanyama (SAS) | DPOY dark-horse: Jalen Suggs (ORL)

When it comes to breaking down their individual film, Wembanyama was a much better overall defender this season than Rudy Gobert was. The fact that the rookie averaged a league-high 3.6 blocks per game, the most in the NBA since Hassan Whiteside averaged 3.7 blocks per game during the 2015-16 season, definitely holds a lot of weight as well. Wemby was the best individual defensive player this season, but Gobert was the defensive anchor for the No. 1 defensive team in the league. That is why Gobert will likely end up with the award.

MIP pick: Tyrese Maxey (PHI) | MIP dark-horse: Coby White (CHI)

It seems like Tyrese Maxey has been a lock for Most Improved since the middle of the season. The first-time All-Star award… apologies, the Most Improved Player award goes to someone who has shown tremendous growth that has impacted their team's chances of winning. While Maxey fits this description perfectly, so does Alperen Sengun from the Houston Rockets, who probably would have had a chance to win this award if he didn't suffer his gruesome-looking leg injury. It is a good thing the league had media members submit their votes before the play-in games, because Coby White's 42-point performance would have definitely raised eyebrows.

6MOY pick: Malik Monk (SAC) | 6MOY dark-horse: Naz Reid (MIN)

Will Malik Monk or Naz Reid win Sixth Man of the Year? Monk has been the better player off the bench, but Reid has really helped bridge the gaps for the Timberwolves in their second unit. Not to mention, Reid's ability to become a starter when Karl-Anthony Towns got injured proves that he is the first in line to step up should things go bad. This is a really tough race to decide, and it may very well come down to a handful of votes.

COY pick: Mark Daigneault (OKC) | COY dark-horse: Jamahl Mosley (ORL)

Mark Daigneault won the NBCA Coach of the Year award, voted on by all the coaches around the NBA. That basically ensures that Daigneault will win the actual Coach of the Year award, as this has been the case every single year in the league. What a season for the Thunder, and what an honor for the 39-year-old head coach.

Full ClutchPoints' full 2023-24 NBA awards and All-NBA picks, click here

What to expect in 8-seed play-in games

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) celebrates after scoring a basket during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center.
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Even without Williamson and likely Butler, the 8-seed game in the Western and Eastern Conferences should provide us with plenty of fireworks. Starting with the West, the Pelicans absolutely dominated the Kings in the regular season, winning all five matchups. Their closest win was by five points, while their largest margin of victory over Sacramento was 36 points. The trio of Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum averaged a combined 53.8 points per game against the Kings, but these three only played together in one of these games.

Defensively, New Orleans held Sacramento to just 44.7 percent shooting from the floor and 33.3 percent from three-point range during their five-game season series. The Kings will be without Monk in this game, and the Pelicans will be without Williamson. As a result, the winner will be decided by who can stop the other's backcourt.

De'Aaron Fox scored at least 26 points in three out of five games against the Pelicans this season. McCollum scored 30 points in two of the three games he played in this season's series. They are the two featured scorers for both sides.

The Kings' defense has really stepped up as of late, and they did an excellent job defending Steph Curry the other night. If they play with this same intensity, they will be well on their way to the playoffs as the 8-seed in the West.

Over in the Eastern Conference, the Heat could be in trouble against the Bulls without Butler. Chicago and Miami split their four regular-season meetings, and Butler played a huge role in the Heat picking up their two wins. While the Bulls have struggled this season, they have won three of their last four games, including Wednesday night's play-in game over the Atlanta Hawks. DeMar DeRozan is playing well, their offense has come to life, and White is riding high after his career game against Atlanta.

As has been the case all season, the Heat's offense goes stagnant when Butler isn't creating opportunities on the court. Without him, Miami is going to struggle to control the pace of play and receive consistent offensive production. Do not be shocked if the Bulls come into South Beach and punch the Heat in the mouth if they have to play this game without Butler.