Jayson, Jalen, or Jamal and the Joker? A 2024 NBA Playoffs Preview

Photo Courtesy Erik Drost on Flickr.
Photo Courtesy Erik Drost on Flickr.

With the NBA Finals on the horizon, the 2024 season has left fans with several unanswered questions. Is Denver building a new dynasty in the West? Will the Tatum-led Celtics finally win their long-awaited championship? Will an upstart challenger find themselves hosting a parade in June? The UCSD Guardian Sports Staff answers these questions — and more — below. 


Ryan Kirton, Staff Writer:

Last year marked the first time a play-in team won a playoff series, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again this year. All four teams have the talent and experience to push even the best of the best to their limits, especially when looking at their first-round matchups. The No. 1 seed in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder, boast one of the best defenses in the league to go along with MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the inevitable runner-up for Rookie of the Year, Chet Holmgren. The New York Knicks, the 2-seed in the East, also had a fantastic regular season thanks to stellar play down the stretch from Jalen Brunson. However, both of these teams lack the playoff experience their opponents have had in recent years, which may cost them in down-to-the-wire situations.

Despite their tough first-round matchups, however, the Denver Nuggets in the West and the Boston Celtics in the East seem like the teams to beat in their respective conferences. While the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will put up a good fight, these two juggernauts will be too much to handle and will likely ride that momentum all the way to the NBA finals. This will set up a fierce battle between the defending champion Nuggets and a Celtics team that has been so close the last two years, yet have come up just short. This year might finally be Boston’s time.


Finals Prediction: Celtics over Nuggets in 6.


Wyatt Bose, Senior Staff Writer:

In the East, Giannis Antetokounmpo is hurt. The Milwaukee Bucks pose the only real threat to the Boston Celtics, but without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks could lose to the Indiana Pacers in the first round. The Philadelphia 76ers look poised for takeoff, but the Celtics have Joel Embiid’s number. The New York Knicks have a well-rounded roster, but when Jalen Brunson is contained, New York crumbles. Ultimately, the Celtics will come out of the East.


In the West, young teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves took the league by storm, but it’s still the Denver Nuggets’ conference to lose. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope comprise the best starting five in the NBA, and they all play well on both ends of the floor. Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks will upset the LA Clippers in the first round, but they do not play enough defense to dethrone Denver. The Nuggets will represent the West in the Finals.


Finals Prediction: Nuggets over Celtics in 7.


Jake Lannon, Senior Staff Writer:

The East is dominated by the Boston Celtics, but I believe the Philadelphia 76ers can go on a surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals. The 76ers are one of the best teams in the NBA when Joel Embiid plays. Their offensive rating in 39 games with Embiid would rank them second in the NBA at 122.4, and their defensive rating at 111.9 would rank them fourth in the NBA. The total net rating with Embiid playing is 10.5, which would put them second in the NBA. As long as Embiid is healthy, the stats say they can go on a run to the East finals. But the Celtics are just too good and will make the finals.


In the West, the Denver Nuggets will dominate once again and make the finals. I don’t see any of the other teams being capable of stopping Denver’s two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. One team I could see making an interesting run is the Dallas Mavericks with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. They would have to beat a tough team in the LA Clippers, but that would then lead them to an inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder or an injured New Orleans Pelicans squad.


Finals Prediction: Celtics over Nuggets in 7.


Alexandra Kim, Staff Writer:

Nobody in the East has been able to dismantle the powerhouse of the conference, with the Boston Celtics ending the regular season 14 games above the rest. The Milwaukee Bucks were expected to be favorites before the season due to the signing of former Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard. However, not only will the Bucks be playing without their star player Giannis Antentokounmpo, but they will also play with a new coaching staff that has lost more games than they have won since the switch from Adrian Griffin to Doc Rivers during the New Year. The New York Knicks ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak with Jalen Brunson playing the basketball of his life, averaging 39.4 points per game in that five-game stretch. However, will this be enough to take down the men in green?


The West, on the other hand, has been a bloodbath, with the top three teams only separated by one game. However, the powerhouses of the West are the reigning champions of the Mile High City. The Denver Nuggets not only possess two-time MVP Nikola Jokic as a size, scoring, and playmaking asset but also the entire starting lineup of Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have become a lethal unit. They face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, who got swept in the Conference Finals last year and have only struggled more this year. However, if the Lakers are able to take down their biggest kryptonite, absolutely nothing will stop this big-time team from going all the way. The finalist from the West will be whoever wins this Nuggets–Lakers showdown.


Finals Prediction: Nuggets/Lakers over Celtics in 7.


Vishnu Vijayakumar, Staff Writer:

Some of this year’s NBA playoff storylines are all-timers: take the New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers for example, in which New York’s trio of Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo look to wreak havoc just an hour away from where they dazzled fans at Villanova. With the last embers of the Golden State Warriors dynasty now thoroughly stamped out, several young stars and teams have surprised many en route to postseason berths, such as Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers), and Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans).


Occam’s razor says the simplest answer is the best answer, and in the East, that’s the Boston Celtics. They’ve run their conference since last year’s finals, and with the decrepit Warriors out, Boston’s hunger for reprisal will only whet with each passing series. Even with some doubts, I’ll take the Celtics to make it out of the East. The West has a more mythological undertone, as playoff neophytes such as Anthony Edwards and Chet Holmgren look to challenge veterans like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and MVP favorite Nikola Jokic. 


Jokic’s Denver Nuggets have had a deeply emotional year: A police officer was severely injured during their championship parade, Coach Mike Malone’s father died in October, Jamal Murray’s injury bug flared up as the playoffs dawned, and Michael Porter Jr.’s brothers are engulfed in tragedies. Denver isn’t just playing to repeat, they’re playing to heal. I’ll take the reigning champs out of the West, and Nuggets over Celtics in the Finals to become the league’s first title defenders of the 2020s. 


Finals Prediction: Nuggets over Celtics in 5.

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About the Contributors
Ryan Kirton, Contributing Writer
I am a junior majoring in Psychology and Communications and I am on the swim team.
Wyatt Bose
Wyatt Bose, Staff Writer
Wyatt is a first-year political science student, an ardent sports-watcher, an impassioned Philadelphia sports fan, and the founder of his sports blog, "The Cogent Column."
Jake Lannon
Jake Lannon, Senior Staff Writer
4th year Communications major. Looking to work professionally in the field of sports media in the future and you should all read my articles no matter what.
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