Word on the Street: 2024 NBA Playoffs heats up to be one for the ages

As the NBA playoffs enter the Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks, we look back on how both titans fought their way to the top of their conferences.

As basketball continues to grow in popularity, more people end up tuning in to the sport’s most-celebrated time of the year: the start of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs. In its 77-year history, the NBA has produced a plethora of basketball’s most iconic moments during its postseason, making it the premier stage for the birth of legends and the formation of legacies. 

The 2024 NBA playoffs are currently underway, and amid heightened competition, The LaSallian engaged with some of the DLSU student body’s ardent basketball fans for their predictions on this season’s ultimate winners.

Wild wild west

In a conference where the conclusion of its regular season play practically came down to a coin toss in determining the seeds of several heavily favored teams, the West is loaded with frontrunner teams. For Allen Legaspi (IV, BS-BIO MED), two squads from the conference are his bets to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the first-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) or the third-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves.

“OKC has a very young stacked roster that [meshes] really well together. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, I sense that they are very hungry this playoffs with Anthony Edwards being the anchor of the team’s hunger,” Legaspi expresses. With both teams possessing the talent who are hailed to be the future faces of the league, it will not be a surprise for many if they make deep playoff runs early in their careers.

He declares, however, that nobody should overlook the potential of the defending champions, the Denver Nuggets, in their pursuit of a potential back-to-back title. Adrian Ramos (IV, BS-FIN) resonates with this, too, as he details, “The reason why [I think they will win] is because they have height. I think [it will be the] same as the last Finals; Height gave them the advantage [by] having Michael Porter Jr. as [their] small forward—6’10 that can shoot over everyone. And also, having Nikola Jokić, who can see the floor with his height.” 

Both students predict Jokić will win the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) award again should the Nuggets bring home the championship for the second time in a row. But Kevin Wang (II, BS-CpE) believes Kawhi Leonard will earn it this year if he leads the Los Angeles (LA) Clippers to the chip. “The Finals MVP for me, it’s gotta be Kawhi. He’s a playoff merchant; He elevates his game in the playoffs. Remember the 2019 Toronto run,” he shares.

With the surging Dallas Mavericks still in the mix, as they defeated the favored LA Clippers in the first round, Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving, and company are targeting to get to the top as a result of their recent stellar play. Look for the four remaining teams in the conference to duke it out, as the wild West is as wide open as ever. 

The fierce rivalry between the two victors of the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conferences emerges as an annual spectacle.

Injury-ridden East

Following the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, which featured a rivalry matchup between the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers and the eighth-seeded Miami Heat, the competition just got more interesting with last year’s Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) MVP Jimmy Butler going down with an MCL sprain. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the injury’s severity would sideline Butler for several weeks. This, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and Joel Embiid’s lingering leg issues, dwindled the expectations of the Milwaukee Bucks, Sixers, and Heat fans while raising the hopes of the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Cleveland Cavaliers supporters.

Kayzel Magcamit (IV, AB-CAM) mentions the East being wide open for the juggernaut Celtics and the Brunson-led Knicks’ taking, “I think with the many stars down for the contending teams, [it’s easy to say] that (Jayson) Tatum and company and (Jalen) Brunson will be meeting in the [Eastern] Conference Finals.” However, she adds that the conference will remain exciting despite the injuries of big-name players with the rise of younger squads, noting the probability of surprises, “The (Orlando) Magic and (Indiana) Pacers are still in the race. No one is expecting them to win, but you have to root [for the up-and-coming teams] for their Playoff experience and new faces for the fans to see.”

Regarding his ideal matchup in the NBA Finals, Raphael Canillas (BS-AEI, ‘18) predicts, “Whoever comes out of the East, even Boston, wouldn’t be able to beat the Nuggets. I think no one, even in the West, can beat Jokić and (Jamal) Murray in a seven-game series.” Additionally, the former student thinks that a familiar face will win one of the most prestigious awards in the league again, stating, “If the Nuggets win again, then Jokić will be the Finals MVP again. His bare minimum is a career game [for other players], and [his team] just moves so fluently around him, so it’s hard to root against them even when you’re a die-hard fan of the team [you support].”

Both Lasallians believe that the Celtics will come out of the East, with Tatum bagging his second ECF MVP Award. “They also have (Jaylen) Brown, Derrick White, (Jrue) Holiday, and (Kristaps) Porziņġis, so good luck beating that,” says Magcamit. 

Overall, the East might not be in full health, but there is no doubt that they will remain competitive and have lots in store in the name of competition and the NBA Championship.

This is why we play 

As a result of the NBA’s expansion into a global phenomenon, interest in the game has surged dramatically, empowering the youth to set their sights on playing in the highly-touted league. The increased interest has deepened the NBA’s talent pool as more international prospects reach US courts. With teams brimming with talent, the league’s overall level of play has skyrocketed, intensifying the competition and making it tough to predict victors in the postseason. 

For Legaspi, electrifying talent is especially noticeable in the Western Conference, where teams with nearly identical records duke it out to secure spots in the playoffs or play-in tournament. “I think the Western Conference is so much more competitive this year. When you look at their conference standings, the seventh to 10th seeds have a better record than the seventh to 10th seeds of the Eastern Conference. Not only that, the eighth to 10th seeds of the Western Conference before the play-in relatively have the same record of 47-35 to 46-36, which are still winning records in my opinion.” 

The nature of the competition has noticeably changed as well, with Ramos believing that having superstars on a team is no longer the key to success; instead, role players who know how to play within a team are more important. “That’s the thing, and most of them really rely on their role players kasi the game right now is not focused on just the stars. It’s not really about iso-ball anymore. It’s more about team play. It’s more complicated, like they take advantage of switches a lot, so you don’t really have to have superstars. Superstars are just used to attract the defense and manipulate, but most of the offense [come] from role players nowadays.” 

Aside from the entertainment factor, the NBA produces its most treasured moments during the playoffs, where players give their all on both ends of the floor, and coaches emerge as strategic masterminds. The playoffs are the grounds for chasing excellence—where the old meets the new and stars become legends. 

Now that the regular season is over, the playoffs will prove to be the ultimate test for teams as more than the talent present on a squad, camaraderie and fortitude will be measured. The Western Conference boasts loaded teams, while the Eastern Conference is riddled with teams barred with injuries. The path to the Finals for each conference will differ, and no one can say who will end up raising the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy. Only in June will we find out how these Lasallians fared with their bold and exciting playoff predictions.

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