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HomeBasketballNBAParity has come to the NBA Playoffs

Parity has come to the NBA Playoffs

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One of my absolute favorite weekends on the sports calendar is here.

The 2024 NBA Playoffs start this weekend, with four games each on Saturday and Sunday.

We still have a couple spots up for grabs, with the eight seed Play-In games set for later today. The winners of those games, depending on which teams come out on top, won’t just be sacrificial lambs for the 1 seed Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder.

I don’t see any walkovers in these playoffs. The talent level is so great, and so evenly distributed, that there’s no dominant team in the League. Denver went 16-4 in the 2023 postseason on its way to a title, but the Nuggets didn’t overwhelm teams. Great execution and leaning on one of the best players of all time put Denver over the top.

The League is the most wide open it’s been since the 1970s, when eight different teams won the championship over a 10-year period. We haven’t had a repeat champion since the Golden State Warriors went back-to-back in 2017 and 2018. The teams that won the title from 2019 to 2022 didn’t even advance to the conference finals the following year.

Boston has had a historically great season, with one of the highest net ratings of all time. But the Celtics continue to fall in love with the 3, even on nights they’re cold from deep. Boston’s lack of depth could be an issue in the later rounds too.

Same goes for the Nuggets. Denver has the best starting five in the NBA. The Nuggets’ bench leaves a lot to be desired, as the team lost swiss army knife Bruce Brown last summer in free agency.

Oklahoma City is the youngest-ever 1 seed. The Thunder has an MVP candidate in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one of the best young players in the league in Chet Holmgren. But after Holmgren, OKC lacks the size to compete with the physical teams in the west.

There are questions about each team in the postseason.

But somebody has to win, right?

Following is a look at each of the (potential) first-round matchups, with picks and reasoning behind the choices.

1 Boston Celtics vs. 8 Miami/Chicago
Boston’s boogie man is likely out for the playoffs, as Jimmy Butler suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action for “several weeks.” The Heat is scrappy, even without Butler. Miami has a better than .500 record without Butler. The Celtics, though, have a lot to prove — to fans, pundits, and themselves. Boston is the overwhelming favorite to come out of the East. That run should start with a relatively easy first-round series win.
Celtics in 4

4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 5 Orlando Magic
This to me is the most intriguing East first round series. Orlando is ahead of schedule. The Magic increased its win total by 13 games over last season on its way to a division title. Orlando has a good young frontcourt, led by budding star Paolo Banchero. The Magic is a pest defensively, with a top-3 defensive rating on the season. Cleveland is not far behind, with a defensive rating that ranks seventh in the League. The Cavs have had an interesting season. Are they the team that has a 17-1 stretch, or the team that’s 31-33 otherwise? Cleveland has more dynamic offensive players than Orlando, but the Magic have a host of players to throw at guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Could this be Mitchell’s last run with the Cavs?
Magic in 7

2 New York Knicks vs. 7 Philadelphia 76ers
The Knicks are legit. New York is 33-15 in its last 48 games, led by likely All-NBA guard Jalen Brunson. Much of that run has come in the absence of second-leading scorer Julius Randle, who’s out for the rest of the season.. Philadelphia comes into the playoffs on a hot streak, having won nine straight, including Tuesday’s win over Miami in the 7/8 Play-In game. Reigning League MVP Joel Embiid doesn’t look 100% healthy since coming back from a knee injury he suffered in January. But Philly is 31-8 with Embiid in the lineup this season. The Knicks owned the Sixers in the regular season, taking the season series 3-1. New York outscored Philly by almost 18 points a game in those four meetings. This will be the 10th time the teams have met in the playoffs and first since 1989. Philly holds a 6-3 edge in those series. I think the Knicks close that gap.
Knicks in 6

3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. 6 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have dominated the Bucks this season, winning four of five matchups. The lone Bucks win came in a game that saw Giannis Antetokounmpo drop 64 points. Giannis will be out for part of the series with a calf injury. He’s the only “athlete” in the Milwaukee rotation. The Bucks have been pretty underwhelming for the last half of the season, exhibited by the team’s 20-21 record over the last 41 games. Indiana has had its issues too. Tyrese Haliburton hasn’t been the same since a hamstring injury he suffered in January. This will also be the first playoff action for several players in the Pacers rotation. Can Dame Lillard carry the Bucks to a series win? Or will the Bucks have an early playoff exit for the third time in the last four years?
Pacers in 6

Up next: The West

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