Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

The 2024 NBA Playoffs’ Best Moment May Be the First Round [Opinion]

Kay McHugh

After a thrilling final few weeks of National Basketball Association (NBA) action, the league’s playoff picture has nearly been completely confirmed—with the final play-in games happening April 19. Here’s a look at where the playoffs sit as of April 17.

Eastern Conference

The No. 2-seeded New York Knicks will be taking on the No. 7-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, the No. 3-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will be taking on the No. 6-seeded Indiana Pacers, while the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers take on the upstart No. 5 Orlando Magic.

The Knicks are led by MVP candidate guard Jalen Brunson, who has averaged 37.8 points per game in his last 10 outings. And since trading for defensive-minded forward OG Anunoby midseason, New York has found balance—they are top-10 in both offensive and defensive rating (points scored and allowed per 100 minutes, respectively).

They will be facing 2023 MVP Joel Embiid and the 76ers in the first round. Embiid, the league’s leader in PPG this season, missed the latter half of the season with injury while the team slid from 29-13 to the Play-In Tournament. With Embiid back however, the Sixers have won six straight, as he powers them on both ends of the floor.

The 2021 champion Bucks, led by stars Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, have been in a serious slump since firing their head coach 43 games into the season. They were 30-13 at that point, but are just 19-17 since. Offensively, however, the Bucks have struggled since the All-Star break as Lillard has slumped and Antetokounmpo has dealt with injuries.

Meanwhile, the Pacers, led by All-Star floor general Tyrese Haliburton and star forward Pascal Siakam, await Milwaukee. Haliburton led the NBA in assists (10.9 per game), as Indiana built the second highest-rated offense in the league. Defense, however, is a different story. Trading for Siakam in January gave the Pacers a reliable second option, yet the Pacers are among the six worst teams in the league in defensive rating.

Look for Lillard and Antetokounmpo to wake from their slumps as these teams turn this first-round matchup into an offensive showcase.

Cleveland is a defensively dynamic team though, as the Cavs rely on the high energy of their two franchise bigs Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. They don’t get much from their starting backcourt of small guards in Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland though—whose contributions lie on the offensive end (44.6 PPG combined).

Opposite of Cleveland will be a surprising Magic team. Led by Seattle native Paolo Banchero and rising star forward Franz Wagner, the young Magic leveraged their size and defensive switchability to a second overall finish in defensive rating this season. Offensively, however, they lack a true floor general and supporting shooters, often relying on their bigs.

If this matchup comes down to making clutch shots, the Cavs’ killer backcourt is an advantage for Cleveland.

As for the one-eight series, the No. 1 seeded Boston Celtics, the only 60-win team in the league this season, await the winner of the Chicago BullsMiami Heat play-in game April 19.

Western Conference

After a fierce duel for the top seed in the west, the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves had to settle for No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The Los Angeles Clippers took fourth, the Dallas Mavericks finished fifth, the Phoenix Suns ended sixth and the Los Angeles Lakers got the No. 7 seed.

The defending champion Nuggets rely on their two-time MVP Nikola Jokić for everything offensively. An efficient scorer and arguably more versatile playmaker, Jokić leads his team in points, rebounds and assists. Sitting at fifth in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating, the ball rarely stays stationary in the Mile High City.

Their matchup with the Lakers will be a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, where Denver prevailed in a sweep. The Lakers haven’t changed much since then, still looking to their dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, inconsistent defense paired with their negative turnover ratio has made the team a risky playoff pick.

The Timberwolves, led by All-Star guard Anthony Edwards and anchored by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, finished first in defensive rating and had their best season in years. But with Edwards being just 22 years old and expected to close games out, the Wolves often struggle in late-game situations.

The Suns, Minnesota’s first-round opponent, are actually favored in this series. Their superstar trio of Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker was projected to finish high, but dealt with injuries throughout the year. Now with a healthy squad full of experienced vets who have played in hundreds of close games, the Suns may stage a deep playoff run.

In the four-five series, the Mavericks will take on the Clippers for the third time in the last five playoffs. Led by their star duo of the last five years in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers added star guard James Harden in October. The team has lived up to their scoring potential since, finishing with a top-five offensive rating.

The Mavericks fully leaned into the idea of being an offensive juggernaut with few defensive pluses, as they let go of key defensive talent to acquire star guard Kyrie Irving last season to pair with MVP candidate Luka Dončić. That duo is averaging over 59 PPG combined on the season while the Mavs are bottom-five in the league in turnovers.

While LA certainly has more defensive talent, this series should be a scoring frenzy with the Mavs slightly favored in the odds.

In the last series to be determined, the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (for the first time since 2013) are waiting on the winner of the Sacramento KingsNew Orleans Pelicans play-in game April 19.

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Qasim Ali, Sports & Opinion Editor

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