What We Learned from Each NBA Playoff Series So Far

Stanley Dufour ’25 in Sports | April 26, 2024

          The National Basketball Association (NBA) Playoffs are finally underway, and the first few games have certainly given us a fair amount of talking points. Let’s take a brief dive into each series and how things are looking for every team right now. 

          Boston Celtics (1) vs Miami Heat (8)

          With Jimmy Butler out for this series with an injury, the Miami Heat just are not good enough to pull off this upset. The Celtics won an impressive 64 games in the regular season and are fully expected to finally win a championship this season. Miami has a talented group who plays with a lot of heart, but they’re going to need a lot more than “heart” to wring four losses out of this star-studded Celtics team. 

          New York Knicks (2) vs Philadelphia 76ers (7)

          The series has been entertaining thus far. The Sixers have proven competitive, and have even outplayed the Knicks for large portions of the first two games, but a 2-0 deficit is daunting. Tyrese Maxey has elevated his play from the regular season to the playoffs, and his speed and touch around the rim have been incredible to watch. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid has continued to put up big numbers, even while playing through injury. At the end of the day, the Sixers’ success depends on surviving the minutes with these two on the floor and continuing to make things as difficult as possible for Knicks’ point guard Jalen Brunson 

          Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs Indiana Pacers (6)

          The Pacers looked poised to pull off a series upset after it was announced Giannis Antetokounmpo would miss time due to a late-season injury, but allowing a 35-point first half from Damian Lillard was not the way to set the tone in Game 1. “Playoff Dame” looks more than ready to carry the Bucks offense in Antetokounmpo’s absence. If the Pacers want to win this series, All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton will need to elevate his play back to what it was pre-injury. 

          Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs Orlando Magic (5)

          This series is giving us a throwback to the defense-heavy basketball that defined the late 90s, with neither team breaking 100 points two games in. Even being in this year’s playoffs is a huge achievement for this young Magic team, but their youth is certainly showing, with their offense being painful to watch at some times. Orlando hasn’t been able to score effectively, and while Magic fans definitely shouldn’t panic in the long run, it looks as if Cleveland is in control for now. 

          Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs New Orleans Pelicans (8)

          It’s easy to say that the Thunder struggling to beat an injured eighth-seed in Game 1 is not a good sign, but this was the first-ever playoff game for most of the Thunder roster. Their nerves were on full display down the stretch of Game 1, but Oklahoma City’s defense led them to a gritty victory anyway– I expect them only to get better. As for New Orleans, Center Jonas Valanciunas killed the Thunder on the offensive glass. If he keeps up his dominant rebounding performances and the Pelicans get better shot-making from Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum, they can be competitive in this series.

          Denver Nuggets (2) vs Los. Angeles Lakers (7)

          The Nuggets are the team to beat in the Western Conference,  and while you can argue that the Lakers aren’t a regular seventh-seed, it doesn’t matter, they aren’t better than Denver. The Lakers cannot continue to rely on a 39-year-old Lebron James. Anthony Davis needs to step into a role as “the guy”, and the Lakers will need more help from their role players. If the Lakers play to their potential, they could make some noise in this series. 

         Minnesota Timberwolves (3) vs Phoenix Suns (6)

          The Suns are a nightmare matchup for Minnesota,  but they didn’t show it in their first game.  Kevin Durant was the only one to show up for Phoenix, scoring 31 points in Game 1. On the Minnesota side, shooting guard Anthony Edwards is shaping up to be an elite playoff performer, as he dominated with 33 points of his own. I expect the Suns to make adequate adjustments and take advantage of the Timberwolves’ faulty double-big lineup by relying on their three-point and mid-range shooting. If either one of Devin Booker or Bradley Beal has an efficient shooting game, they can easily make this series competitive.

           Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs Dallas Mavericks (5)

          A vintage James Harden performance put the Clippers up in a series I expected Dallas to take. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving stepped up too late to lead a Dallas comeback, but they did show that they were capable of taking over the game. Despite the score, the Mavericks shouldn’t panic yet. Getting off to strong starts in the following games and getting strong performances from key contributors such as Tim Hardaway Jr will allow them to string together wins. The Clippers, on the other hand, will need to stay consistent—something they weren’t able to do in the regular season—if they want to win this series.