2024 NBA playoffs, gauging the order of the first 8 matchups

Photo of the NBA Playoffs.

The time for relying solely on regular-season records and statistics is over. In the 2024 NBA playoffs, the focus is entirely on how well your team matches up against its current opponent, with no other factors in play. Luckily, the 2024 bracket offers eight captivating first-round matchups to ignite our excitement for the upcoming games. Now, among these eight matchups, which ones should fans look forward to the most? Let’s rank them from most to least thrilling:

1-Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks

Typically, the most thrilling matchups are those where the teams are evenly matched, especially when they feature numerous star players, a characteristic somewhat lacking in the Cavs-Magic series. The No. 4 Clippers showcase a lineup comprising Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and several other talented players, while the No. 5 Mavericks boast Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

In their playoff encounters in 2020 and 2021, the Clippers emerged victorious against the Mavericks. However, this time around, Doncic is supported by a stronger cast including Tim Hardaway Jr., P.J. Washington, Daniel Gafford, and Dereck Lively II, among others.

This matchup could swing in either team’s favor, and the winner could very well find themselves advancing to at least the conference finals, making it a closely watched outcome.

2-Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers

The third-seeded Bucks and sixth-seeded Pacers enter this matchup amid a growing rivalry born from their encounters in the regular season, providing a perfect opportunity for either side to settle scores. However, Milwaukee faces uncertainty following a decline since Doc Rivers took over.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo nursing an injury, Damian Lillard must enhance his defensive contributions, while Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez need to rediscover their previous form to support the team’s star players. Moreover, the reliability of Malik Beasley, given his past inconsistencies, is a question mark.

Meanwhile, Indiana relies on the trio of Pascal Siakam, Tyrese Haliburton, and Myles Turner. If the Pacers manage to upset Milwaukee, which is a realistic possibility, they could potentially embark on the 2024 NBA playoffs run. However, the absence of Bennedict Mathurin raises concerns about the depth of role players, a risk taken in acquiring Siakam from Toronto. Are Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith, Obi Toppin, Andrew Nembhard, and others prepared to step up when called upon?

3-Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Phoenix Suns

The series outcome will offer valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. Despite Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury, the No. 3 Timberwolves maintained their elite status, largely due to their league-best defense and the leadership of Anthony Edwards. However, Towns and Rudy Gobert face increased scrutiny due to their past playoff performances, adding intrigue to see how they handle heightened expectations.

On the contrary, Phoenix was anticipated to be a title contender, but the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal seldom played together. Despite securing the No. 6 seed and successfully navigating a tough late-season schedule, they face a significant challenge in competing against a top-ranked defense in the playoffs. The team that doesn’t advance in this series will undoubtedly need to reflect on their future prospects.

4-New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The excitement builds as the No. 2 Knicks face off against the No. 7 Sixers. New York clinched the second seed after Milwaukee’s slip, but the absence of Julius Randle due to injury significantly dampens their hopes. Jalen Brunson will step into a leadership role, supported by players such as OG Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo, and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Philadelphia, despite their No. 7 seed, is not your typical lower-ranked team. However, injuries to superstar Joel Embiid have hampered their progress. Emerging talent Tyrese Maxey played a crucial role in maintaining the Sixers’ competitiveness, and they’ll aim for an upset, especially with Randle sidelined against Embiid. Should Embiid remain healthy, this series could sway either way, with the involvement of both cities adding to the intrigue.

5-Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans

After a hiatus since 2019-20, the Oklahoma City Thunder makes a return to the postseason, clinching the top seed in a close race with Denver. Although the potential for such a young and inexperienced team to go all the way remains uncertain, the Thunder appears ready to avoid a first-round upset.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, and their teammates will take on the No. 8 seeded Pelicans. The Pelicans confront a significant concern with Zion Williamson’s injury, requiring CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram to elevate their performances in the intensified playoff environment. Despite possessing the talent to excel in the postseason, the Pelicans’ success has been more theoretical than practical thus far.

6-Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers

This match revisits the 2023 Western Conference Finals, a series that lacked competitiveness as Denver swept Los Angeles, prompting speculation about a potential repeat scenario. The No. 2 seeded Nuggets narrowly missed claiming the top spot, while the Lakers secured the No. 7 seed through the NBA Play-In Tournament.

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Both teams retain a core roster similar to last season, with the Nuggets integrating young talents like Peyton Watson and Julian Strawther, and the Lakers adding players such as Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent, and Spencer Dinwiddie, among others. Nevertheless, is this sufficient to overcome the challenge posed by Nikola Jokic and his teammates? Likely not.

7-Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat

The Celtics, topping the regular season standings in both conferences, are positioned next as they are anticipated to handle the No. 8-seeded Heat. With the most well-rounded starting lineup in the league, Boston has no room for excuses in failing to reach at least the NBA Finals.

Miami has shown a tendency for deep playoff runs recently, but there are uncertainties about whether they can muster another one this season, particularly with Jimmy Butler’s knee injury raising doubts.

8-Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic

The matchup between the No. 4 Cavaliers and No. 5 Magic might not seem unfavorable initially, but it lacks notable star power. Cleveland is driven by the dynamic guard Donovan Mitchell, supported by players such as Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Caris LeVert, all of whom are adept system players aiming to recover from last year’s disappointing playoff performance.

Orlando, making its first playoff appearance since 2019-20, is led by 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, promising forwards who show potential on both offense and defense. While there’s undoubtedly talent in this matchup, it might not be as captivating as others later in the 2024 NBA playoffs.

In summary, as we look ahead to the 2024 NBA playoffs and rank the initial 8 matchups, anticipation is high for the diverse array of storylines and competitive matchups set to unfold on the court.


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