NBA Playoffs 2024: Quick Thoughts

It feels like old times!  In olden days, the NBA was a little more predictable than it has been since Covid hit in 2020.  For the first time since 2018, coming into the playoffs, the likely NBA Finals match up seems relatively clear.  The Celtics have been so dominant that it would be a huge upset if they don’t cakewalk to the Finals.  Out West, Denver is the best playoff team and they have more competition but I agree with the consensus that they should be meeting Boston in June.

This doesn’t mean the 2024 playoffs will be boring.  Sometimes, the journey is its own reward.  Several teams have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in showing some playoff success.  Making the second round or the conference finals might be enough to keep a team paying the tax.  At least as important as the money are the emotions and effort some big stars have invested in not crapping out in the first round (or not getting swept in the second round).  Eruptions from disappointed owners or huge stars are inevitable.  So, these stakes are high, and they make these playoffs fascinating to watch.  Having said all this, let’s dive in and give our quick two cents as to what we think will happen…

Eastern Conference First Round

1.  Boston v. Miami:  I realize the Heat have tortured the Celtics in the playoffs for years.  The Heat are without Jimmy Butler and, even if he were healthy, Boston has hit another level.  The Celtics went 64-18 and had an insane 10.74 SRS, fifth best of All-Time.  The Heat have moxie, but they are running into a buzzsaw that is particularly pissed about last season’s upset.  Prediction: Boston wins 4-0.

2.  New York v. Philadelphia:  Pity the Knicks.  They do everything right in terms of team building and refuse to tank out of the two seed and the reward is having to play the best player in the conference in Joel Embiid.  New York is the slowest paced team in the NBA and relies heavily on Jalen Brunson’s creativity in the half court, coupled with the best offensive rebounding in the NBA.  The key question will be whether Embiid is healthy.  He looks slower than pre-knee surgery but here’s how the slower Embiid has done before and after surgery:

Pre-Surgery: 34 games, 34.0 mpg, 35.3 ppg, .533 FG%, .366 3FG%, 11.3 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.8 bpg, 3.7 topg, 2.9 pfpg

Post-Surgery: 5 games, 30.5 mpg, 30.4 ppg, .495 FG%, .481 3FG%, 9.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg, 4.8 topg, 2.8 pfpg

Embiid is quite rusty but the rusty version is still an inner circle star (though he is clearly shooting threes to avoid contact on offense).  Even diminished, Embiid could be enough to win this series himself.  The problem is Embiid seems to get hurt every playoffs, even when he enters healthy.  My sense is that this pattern will continue.  This issue combined with the fact that Philly is playing a good and deep team, with home court advantage, means New York is the favorite.  These are probably the second and third best teams in the East but one will go home early.  Prediction: New York wins 4-3.

3.  Milwaukee v. Indiana:  This could be a bit ugly.  The Pacers’ high-octane offense and weak defense usually doesn’t translate well in playoffs and Tyrese Haliburton was gimpy in the second half.  Nevertheless, the Bucks’ awfulness in the second half cannot merely be expressed with stats.  They seem old and tired and have repeatedly blown huge leads and lost to terrible teams.  Giannis Antetokounmpo’s calf injury further mucks the Bucks’ outlook.  Under normal circumstances, Milwaukee should win this series, but they seemed to have surrendered already.  Prediction: Indiana wins 4-2.

4.  Cleveland v. Orlando:  This series is a throwback series to the 1990s.  We have two defense-first teams that score just enough to win.  Orlando’s defense is better (2nd to 6th) but their offense is worse (22nd to 18th).  The teams split their season series 2-2 as well but haven’t played each other since February.  The other factor is whether Donovan Mitchell, by far the best scorer in the series, is healthy.  Assuming moderate health for Mitchell, I think Cleveland has a few more efficient scorers and that will be the difference.  Prediction: Cleveland wins 4-3.

Western Conference First Round

1.  Oklahoma City v. New Orleans:  We have two young and athletic teams but OKC’s stars will be available, and Zion Williamson will not.  Even if Zion would be available, the Thunder is the better team.  OKC’s weaknesses are lack of size up front and relative playoff inexperience but they won’t be tested here.  Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 4-1.

2. Denver v. L.A. Lakers:  The Lakers are legitimately a good team, but this is a horrible match up.  Anthony Davis, an incredible player and the core of the defense, just isn’t big enough to stop Nikola Jokic (few are).  What LeBron does after losing the series will be more interesting than the series itself.  Prediction: Denver wins 4-1.

3.  Minnesota v. Phoenix:  The key stat seems to be that the Suns went 3-0 against Minnesota, including a big win to the end the season.  All three wins were by at least ten points.  That seems like a bad indicator.  Despite these facts, I remain a skeptic of the Suns’ depth, as well as whether Kevin Durant has enough gas in the tank for a long playoff run (he averaged over 37 mpg this season).  For the Timberwolves, this just appears to be a bad match up and, absent injuries or Anthony Edwards going crazy, they are going home early.  Prediction: Phoenix wins 4-2.

4. L.A. Clippers v. Dallas:  This is another intriguing match up between teams that are deep with stars but seem headed in opposite directions.  At one point, the Clipps were 34-15 but they finished up 17-16 and now Kawhi Leonard’s troublesome knee is acting up again.  Conversely, Dallas started out 26-23 and finished up 24-9 and Luka Doncic is nigh unstoppable.  If Kawhi is healthy, the Clipps could win but this seems like everything is pointing Dallas.  Prediction: Dallas wins 4-2.

Second Round

Boston over Cleveland, 4-1

New York over Indiana, 4-2

Oklahoma City over Dallas, 4-3

Denver over Phoenix, 4-2

Conference Finals

Boston over New York, 4-1

Denver over Oklahoma City, 4-2


Boston over Denver, 4-3