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2024 NBA Playoffs: Driscoll’s Second Round Predictions

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The first round of the NBA playoffs has officially wrapped up. A lot of crazy things happened. This mostly has to do with the fact that a ton of stars have been eliminated. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George are always candidates to advance beyond the first round, but that didn’t happen this year.

Is this a passing of the torch? Or is it just a wild year? Only time will tell.

Until then, here are my predictions for the Conference Semifinals. 

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#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks

This is going to be one awesome playoff series. Both of these teams have surpassed expectations. Most fans would have been very surprised if one of these teams made the Western Conference Finals, but that is exactly what will happen. 

For Oklahoma City, this will be a massive test. Whenever young teams overachieve, people say, “Cool, but let’s see if they can do it in the playoffs.” The Thunder got off to a great start by sweeping the Pelicans. However, many still doubt them because the Pelicans were without their star, Zion Williamson. However, the second round is usually a huge step forward. I think the Thunder are ready for the big moment. Although he struggled for most of Game 1, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has continued to play elite basketball. He has also benefitted from the emergence of several talented teammates, including Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren.

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This is easily the best supporting cast Luka Doncic has had in his career. Derrick Jones Jr., Derrick Lively II, and PJ Washington have been awesome additions to the Mavericks. Plus, Kyrie Irving is playing his best basketball since being paired with LeBron James. The best part about this series for the Mavericks is that they found a way to win with Doncic not playing to his potential. Yes, a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard is significantly worse than a fully healthy Thunder team, but Dallas fans should still feel quite encouraged.

Top to bottom, the Thunder have the better roster. The Mavericks lack frontcourt depth, which is concerning. This will especially be the case with Maxi Kleber likely out for the season due to a dislocated shoulder. With this being said, I am not expecting this to be a massive issue. Although Holmgren has been phenomenal this year, I do not see him fully taking advantage of this and dominating inside. I think it will come down to Doncic and Irving vs. Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams. I trust the former significantly more.

Prediction: Mavericks in 6

#2 Denver Nuggets vs. #3 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are already up on the Nuggets, 1-0. I think this will be one of the best series of the playoffs. Many see the Nuggets as the overwhelming favorites to win the West (and the NBA Finals), but I think the Timberwolves have as good a shot against them as any team.

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A few weeks ago Rajon Rondo said the best way to slow Nikola Jokic down is to have three solid interior big men. The Wolves have the best interior defender in the league Rudy Gobert. In addition to him, Naz Reid is solid, and though Karl-Anthony Towns is average, he has improved a lot. Though Nikola Jokic will still find a way to get him, he will have to work for it. Also, of course, the only way the Wolves have a shot in this series is if young star Anthony Edwards continues to play elite basketball in this series.

If the Wolves are going to play tough defense on Jokic, they will have to rely on shooting from their other star, Jamal Murray, and role player, Michael Porter Jr. This is something that has not been a problem the last two seasons. However, many are starting to doubt the Nuggets after looking somewhat vulnerable in Game 1.

The Wolves are hands down the toughest team the Nuggets have had to play in the playoffs since the 2020 Lakers. However, this is also probably the best Nuggets team of all time and one of the best teams the league has seen in the past few years. Though the Wolves match up well with the Nuggets, I think they punch back pretty hard.

Prediction: Nuggets in 6

#1 Boston Celtics vs. #4 Cleveland Cavaliers

A rivalry awakened! There’s no King James this time around, but the history between the two franchises is still there.

The Cavs are coming off a dogfight against the Magic. One great sign for them is that their star, Donovan Mitchell, has been playing the best basketball of his career. His 89 combined points between Games 6 and 7 is the second-most ever behind Allen Iverson’s 90 in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. Though Mitchell might not have to play to this extent if they want to win, he will have to play the closest thing to it. However, their second star, guard Darius Garland, will need to play much better. He averaged 15 points and five assists per game on 55 percent True Shooting. Lastly, Jarett Allen sat out the last three games with bruised ribs. He should be back for Game 1, but it is certainly something to monitor given Evan Mobley is a much more effective defender with Allen on the court.

After losing Game 2 of the first round to the Heat in brutal fashion, the Celtics pushed back very hard, winning three in a row. Even though Jayson Tatum did not light up the box score, he was still very impactful given how much defensive pressure the Heat put on him. This made the lives of Jaylen Brown and Derrick White a whole lot easier, and they certainly took advantage of the opportunity.

Boston’s goal should be to take care of this series without any nonsense. However, this is far from a guarantee. They will likely be without starting center Kristaps Porzingis for the entire series. If Allen is healthy and Porzingis cannot play, the Cavaliers will have a massive advantage on rebounds. With this being said, Al Horford is a proven veteran who can step into any role in the playoffs, and Jayson Tatum is a far better rebounder in the playoffs than in the regular season.

If the Celtics lose this series, it will be because of them. It will not be because the Cavaliers are better. The only reason they lost one game to the Heat is because they got lazy on closeouts. I think there will be at least one game where Mitchell and Max Strus can’t miss any shots. Still, anything less than a series win would be a massive failure for Boston.

Prediction: Celtics in 5

#2 New York Knicks vs. #6 Indiana Pacers

Another rivalry awakened! There is plenty of history between these two teams and it’s only going to grow with this series. Though the Knicks are relatively heavy favorites, it will be a great series.

The Pacers are coming off a massive win against the No. 3 Bucks. The Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo for the entire series and Damian Lillard for two of the six games. If Indiana wants to win against a team like the Knicks, they must play a lot better. Though Tyrese Haliburton played better than he did towards the end of the regular season, he’ll probably need to play like he did in the in-season tournament if they want to win. Pascal Siakam will have to play nearly as well as he did last series and Myles Turner must o hit the boards against a strong rebounding team.

The Knicks have shocked everyone for the past two years. Even with their second-best player, Julius Randle, being out, it feels like they have not missed him a ton. Jalen Brunson has solidified himself as a top-15 player, Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hardenstein have been a powerhouse center duo, and OG Anunoby, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo have filled their roles perfectly. Even though they played solid basketball against a banged-up Sixers team, that team is probably better than the Pacers.

This is going to be a great series. I think the Pacers get hot in at least one game, but it will take a lot of luck if they want to win.

Prediction: Knicks in 6

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Tyronn Lue, NBA
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