NBA Playoffs

Ranking the 8 first-round matchups in the 2024 NBA playoffs

Sixers vs. Knicks? Nuggets vs. Lakers? Let's rank the eight first-round matchups of the 2024 NBA playoffs based on excitement.

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The time for regular-season records and statistics is over.

The NBA playoffs are all about how you match up with your current opponent, nothing more, nothing less.

Fortunately, the 2024 bracket has eight solid first-round matchups to serve as appetizers for what's to come.

But out of those eight, which ones should fans be excited about the most? Let's rank them in terms of least to most exciting:

8. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic

The No. 4 Cavaliers and No. 5 Magic don't necessarily form a bad matchup on paper, but it mainly lacks in attractive star power.

Cleveland is led by explosive guard Donovan Mitchell, while guys like Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert are high-level system players hoping to bounce back after last year's disappointing exit.

Orlando, making its first postseason appearance since 2019-20, is led by 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, two budding forwards who can flourish on both sides of the ball. There's talent in this series, for sure, but not as attractive as others down the line.

7. Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat

The Celtics were the best team in the regular season regardless of conference, so they come in next because they should handle the No. 8-seeded Heat. Boston has the most-balanced starting five of any team and should have no excuses not to reach the NBA Finals, at the minimum.

Miami is used to making deep runs in the postseason as of late, but it's fair to doubt if it has one more in the tank for this season. Jimmy Butler's knee injury further strains that doubt.

6. Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers

It's a rematch of the 2023 Western Conference Finals, but it's one that wasn't competitive at all. Denver swept Los Angeles, and it's fair to wonder if that's what could happen again this time around.

The No. 2 Nuggets just lost out on the top seed, while the Lakers grabbed the No. 7 seed through the NBA Play-In Tournament. Both teams have relatively the same key personnel from last season. The Nuggets just have more youngsters being used in Peyton Watson and Julian Strawther, while the Lakers have Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent and Spencer Dinwiddie, among others.

Is that enough to topple Nikola Jokic and Co.? Probably not.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Oklahoma City is back in the postseason for the first time since 2019-20 and did so in style, narrowly edging Denver for the top seed. Whether such a young, inexperienced team can go all the way remains to be seen, but the Thunder should be able to avoid a first-round upset.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams and Co. will be facing the No. 8 Pelicans. The Pelicans have an important injury doubt in Zion Williamson, while CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram will need to step up their games in a more intense environment. The Pelicans have the profiles to succeed in the postseason, but they've been a more theoretical team than a practical one.

4. New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The excitement levels increase with the No. 2 Knicks and No. 7 Sixers. New York snatched the second seed thanks to a falling Milwaukee side, but it will be without Julius Randle due to injury, a significant blow to its hopes. Jalen Brunson will lead the way, but players like OG Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo and Bojan Bogdanovic, among others, will be called upon to help out.

Philadelphia isn't your normal No. 7 seed, but injuries to superstar Joel Embiid set them back. Rising star Tyrese Maxey played a key role in keeping the Sixers afloat, so they'll be hoping to achieve an upset with Randle not being available against Embiid. If Embiid can stay healthy, this series could go either way and the cities involved make it all the more intriguing.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Phoenix Suns

The result of this series will reveal a lot about each team. The No. 3 Timberwolves remained an elite side thanks to their league-best defense and Anthony Edwards leading the way after Karl-Anthony Towns' injury. But Towns and Rudy Gobert will be heavily monitored due to previous playoff performances, so it'll be interesting to see how they fare with higher expectations.

Speaking of which, Phoenix was supposed to be a title contender, but the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal rarely played together. The Suns became the No. 6 seed and dealt with a difficult schedule to the end the regular season quite well, but how they fare against a top-ranked defense in a playoff setting is the bigger test.

The loser of this series will have plenty of ruminating to do about their futures.

2. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers

The third-seeded Bucks and sixth-seeded Pacers have a brewing rivalry based off what happened in the regular season, so this matchup comes at a perfect time for either team to settle the score. Milwaukee, though, is in an awkward spot having fallen off since the hire of Doc Rivers. Giannis Antetokounmpo is dealing with an injury and Damian Lillard will need to step up defensively. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will need to return to previous levels, too, to help the superstar duo. Also, can Malik Beasley prove reliable based on previous flameouts?

Indiana, on the other hand, is anchored by the trio of Pascal Siakam, Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner. If the Pacers manage to upset Milwaukee, which is entirely plausible, then they have a shot to make a run. But the role-player depth is questionable without Bennedict Mathurin, and that was the risk they ran by acquiring Siakam from Toronto. Are Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith, Obi Toppin and Andrew Nembhard, among others, ready to rise to the occasion?

1. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks

Usually the most even matchup is the most fun, especially when it's brimming with stars, which is what the Cavs-Magic series lacks. The No. 4 Clippers boast Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and several other solid talents, while the No. 5 Mavericks have Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

The Clippers beat the Mavericks in their playoff meetings in 2020 and 2021, but Doncic this time has a better supporting cast in Tim Hardaway Jr., P.J. Washington, Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II, among others.

This matchup could swing either way and the winner could very well have a path to at least the conference finals, so keep an eye on the outcome here.

Drew Dinsick, host of “Bet the EDGE” podcast, discusses why these young stars have the potential to breakout during the 2024 NBA playoffs.
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