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HomeBasketballNBA2024 NBA Playoffs predictions part II: The West

2024 NBA Playoffs predictions part II: The West

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The 2024 NBA Playoffs start in a few hours.

After last night’s Play-In games, the field is set.

Yesterday, we broke down the East first-round matchups and made predictions for each series.

Today, the West.

1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
You’ve gotta feel for Zion Williamson. The Pelicans star was having the game of his life on Tuesday before suffering a hamstring injury. Williamson had 40 in the 7/8 Play-In game against the LA Lakers. Zion hit a floater in the lane to tie the game at 95 with a little more than 3 minutes left when he hurt his hammie. With Williamson in the lineup, the Pelicans could win this series. Along with his skillset and athletic ability, Williamson is a big body who could put a ton of pressure on the OKC defense. Oklahoma City, as we covered yesterday, has a lot of talent. The Thunder don’t have a lot of size. OKC won the season series 2-1 over New Orleans. The Pelicans, though, outrebounded the Thunder by almost 9 boards a game in those contests. New Orleans still has some bulk, in the form of center Jonas Valanciunas and forward Larry Nance Jr. Those two could still present problems for OKC. Pelicans wing Brandon Ingram and guard CJ McCollum have to have big series for New Orleans to have a chance. Wing Herb Jones, a likely All-Defense honoree, has to slow OKC star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as much as possible. SGA will have a big series. Blossoming OKC wing Jalen Williams is in the same boat as Ingram and McCollum. Williams, a candidate for Most Improved Player, will need to be Robin to SGA’s Batman if OKC is to win its first playoff series since 2016. With no Williamson, I think the Thunder advance.
OKC in 5

4 LA Clipper vs. 5 Dallas Mavericks
This is the third time since 2020 the Clippers and Mavs will meet in the playoffs. The series have been compelling, and Dallas superstar Luka Doncic has tormented LA. Doncic in 13 playoff games vs. the Clippers has averaged a 33.2/8.9/9.5. That hasn’t been enough to help the Mavs get past the Clippers in the postseason, though. Doncic now, though, has a real-life running mate in Kyrie Irving. Irving in his first full season in Dallas has quietly averaged close to a 26/5/5 and narrowly missed a 50/40/90 season. The Mavs around those two have length and some athleticism to make up for Doncic and Irving’s defensive shortcomings. The Clippers once again enter the playoffs with questions. Kawhi Leonard has been battling knee inflammation that may keep him out for part of the series. LA has been one of the worst defensive teams in the League since the All-Star break,with a 117.5 defensive rating over its final 29 games. Paul George should make an All-NBA team this spring. Can he step up in Kawhi’s absence? I think the winner of this series gets to the West Finals.
Clippers in 7

2 Denver Nuggets vs. 7 LA Lakers
The defending champs face a familiar foe in Round 1. The Nuggets have had the Lakers number for more than a calendar year. Denver is 8-0 against LA since the start of 2023. The Lakers haven’t beaten the Nuggets since December 2022. Denver has the best starting five in the NBA, anchored by the best player in the League in Nikola Jokic. LA, though, does play Denver tough. Outside of the first meeting of the season, when the Nuggets coasted to a 12-point win after building an early 18-point lead, the Lakers held late leads against Denver at various points. Late-game execution has been the difference for the Nuggets against the Lakers and everyone else. The Jokic/Jamal Murray pick-and-roll is virtually unstoppable in crunch time. I don’t expect that to change. LA comes into the playoffs hot. The Lakers have won 12 of their last 15 games. LeBron James and Anthony continue to play at a high level, and it looks like they may have some real backup in D’Angelo Russell. Russell has played well since the trade deadline, and put away the Pelicans in the 7/8 Play-In game. Does LA have enough to get past Denver? I don’t think so.
Nuggets in 6

3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. 6 Phoenix Suns
This is the worst possible matchup for Minnesota. Phoenix won the season series 3-0, with an average margin of victory of more than 16 points per game. The Wolves worst outputs of the season have come against the Suns. Minnesota star Anthony Edwards is a different player against Phoenix. Edwards is likely to earn All-NBA honors this season, but he averages just 14.3 points a game against the Suns. Edwards vs. Phoenix shoots 31% from the field and 27% from 3. He has to play like a superstar to give the Wolves a chance. Minnesota’s late-game offense is clunky, and a lot of the responsibility will fall on Edwards to bail the team out late. Phoenix could be seen as a bit of a disappointment. That disappointment won 49 games, though, and finished the season in the top 12 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Minnesota is the best defensive team in the League, though. The Wolves have Edwards and Jaden McDaniels on the perimeter, with likely Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert manning the paint. The trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal give Minnesota a lot of trouble, with their ability to score at every level. Durant presents the biggest problem, given his ability to move to smallball five and pull Gobert away from the basket. Phoenix’s offensive versatility will be the difference here

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