Bold Predictions for Every Set 2nd Round 2024 NBA Playoffs Series

Bold Predictions for Every Set 2nd Round 2024 NBA Playoffs Series

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    Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokić

    Rudy Gobert and Nikola JokićBart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    With an exciting first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs mostly in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to the conference semifinals.

    In a lot of ways, this round may signal a changing of the guard in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler all have already been knocked out. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden may soon join them. Stephen Curry didn’t even make the playoffs.

    Younger, more dynamic teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks are moving on.

    Before those series get started, it’s time to make some bold predictions about all the matchups we know so far.

Eastern Conference: New York Knicks (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (6)

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    T.J. McConnell and Jalen Brunson

    T.J. McConnell and Jalen BrunsonSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Jalen Brunson Will Average 35-Plus Points Again

    Coming off a first round in which Jalen Brunson averaged 35.5 points against the Philadelphia 76ers, this may not sound like an overly bold prediction. But reaching those heights two rounds in a row is no small feat.

    Brunson will pull it off for a few reasons.

    Though they were a little better defensively in the first round against the injury-ravaged Milwaukee Bucks, the Indiana Pacers surrendered 118.9 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. Their marginally improved defense in the playoffs had more to do with the absences of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard than any dramatic improvement.

    Indiana doesn’t have a ton of length to throw at Brunson, either. Philadelphia had Kelly Oubre Jr., Nicolas Batum and Tobias Harris to send at him, but Aaron Nesmith is the only Pacers option who could come close to replicating the kind of resistance the Sixers put up. The Pacers probably can’t afford to take Pascal Siakam off OG Anunoby.

    The matchups in this series are a bit more favorable for Brunson than they were against the Sixers, but that isn’t the only reason why he’ll continue to go off.

    After his conference finals run with the Dallas Mavericks and these last two postseasons with the Knicks, it’s fair to say Brunson is one of the NBA’s bigger playoff risers. His career scoring average in the regular season is 16.9 points and 22.9 for the playoffs. In 2023-24 alone, he went from 28.7 points per game during the regular season to 35.5 thus far in the playoffs.

    Since his days as a Villanova Wildcat, Brunson has always reacted well to the brightest lights. That’s going to continue in the second round.

    Tyrese Haliburton Will Rediscover His Three-Point Shot

    Tyrese Haliburton started this season on an absolute heater for the Pacers. Over his first 33 games, he averaged 23.6 points and 12.5 assists while shooting 40.3 percent from deep.

    Then he missed 10 of 11 games with a hamstring injury, and he hasn’t looked the same since.

    Over his final 35 regular-season appearances, Haliburton averaged only 16.8 points and 9.3 assists while shooting 32.4 percent from deep. In the Pacers’ first-round series against the Bucks, he knocked down only 29.6 percent of his 9.0 three-point attempts per game.

    Whether the hamstring injury is still hampering him or he’s dealing with the back issues that have crept up more recently, Haliburton just doesn’t look like the same explosive playmaker and outside shooter. At this point in the postseason, when the mileage from a long campaign is starting to get concerning, it’s probably not fair to expect things to suddenly turn around.

    That’s especially true considering the team Haliburton is about to face. The Knicks are gritty and relentless on defense. However, the lid has to come off the hoop for Haliburton at some point.

    Prior to this season, Haliburton had hit 40.8 percent of his career three-point attempts. He’ll have at least two or three games in this series where he looks more like his old self.

    That might not be enough to beat the Knicks four times out of seven, but it should help keep this series competitive.

Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (5)

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    Luka Dončić and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

    Luka Dončić and Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderRichard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    OKC’s Defense Will Hold Luka Dončić 40 Percent Shooting

    Luka Dončić averaged 34.0 points and shot 55.6 percent from the field in two regular-season appearances against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s been hampered by a knee injury this postseason, shot 40.5 percent from the field in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers and is about to face a tenacious troop of perimeter defenders.

    Luguentz Dort figures to be the primary defender against Luka, but OKC can also throw Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams at him. And when any of those three are beat, the Thunder are quick to rotate and have a dynamic rim protector behind them in Chet Holmgren.

    This team is long, athletic and seemingly tireless on defense, which is why it finished fourth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions this regular season.

    It has the personnel slow Luka down, it will do exactly that, at least on the efficiency front.

    Luka Dončić Will Average a Triple-Double

    Even if he struggles to connect on shots at his typical level, Dončić will still average north of 25 points in this series (he’s never been below 30 per game for a postseason). And commanding the attention of OKC’s best perimeter defenders will give his teammates precious extra time to get shots off after his kickouts.

    He hasn’t averaged double-figures in the assist column since the 2021 postseason, but he was at 9.8 this season. And the Thunder selling out on his drives and pick-and-rolls will give him enough assist opportunities to clear 10 per game for this series.

    That just leaves the rebounds, and though the Dallas Mavericks have Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively to take advantage of OKC’s lackluster performance on the boards, that description doesn’t quite capture how bad the Thunder are there.

    This regular season, they were 27th in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. There will be plenty of opportunities for Dončić to pick up extra boards here and there, and he already has a career playoff average of 9.2 rebounds.

Western Conference: Denver Nuggets (2) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (3)

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    Naz Reid, Jaden McDaniels and Jamal Murray

    Naz Reid, Jaden McDaniels and Jamal MurrayAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

    Jamal Murray Will Get Back on Track

    Jamal Murray offered plenty of heroics in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers, hitting two game-winners in the Nuggets’ five-game series win. But he also had plenty of struggles outside of fourth quarters and shot only 40.0 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three against L.A.

    Add in the calf injury that made him questionable for Game 5 against the Lakers and the fact that Jaden McDaniels may be guarding him in the second round, and it’s fair to be concerned about Murray. But closing out L.A. in five earned the Nuggets extra rest, and one bad shooting series shouldn’t erase everything else we know about Murray as a playoff performer.

    For his career, Murray has now averaged 24.9 points and 6.4 assists across 58 playoff games. He’s hit 39.5 percent of his threes in those contests. Although his scoring waned a bit in Round 1, his playmaking was still crucial. He averaged 7.2 assists for the series.

    If McDaniels is the primary matchup for Murray, he’ll continue to damage as a distributor. And as we’ve seen on numerous occasions, he’ll rise to meet the big moments in clutch time as a scorer.

    Anthony Edwards Will Lead the Series in Scoring

    Nikola Jokić is one of the greatest playoff performers in NBA history, with career postseason averages of 27.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists. Murray had three 40-point games in the Nuggets’ first-round series against the Utah Jazz back in 2020.

    Both cemented their status as big-game performers on the way to last year’s championship.

    But the individual leading scorer in this series will be rising star Anthony Edwards, who averaged 31.6 points per game against the Nuggets in the 2023 playoffs and is coming off a first-round series in which he averaged 31.0 against the Phoenix Suns.

    Denver’s best option to try to slow him down is likely Aaron Gordon, but dedicating him to Edwards would make life too easy for Karl-Anthony Towns or McDaniels. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a high-end perimeter defender, but he hurt his ankle in Game 5 against the Lakers and is typically more effective against smaller guards. Relative to others at his position, the 225-pound Edwards is a tank.

    Murray, Peyton Watson and Christian Braun will all likely get their turns on Edwards as well, but the Nuggets won’t be able to truly shut him down.

    Even if Edwards does lead the series in scoring, it doesn’t mean the Timberwolves will topple the Nuggets. Edwards is going to put up huge numbers, but basketball is a team game. And no team has looked better over the course of the last two postseasons than the Nuggets.

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