The NBA’s New Kids in Town

LeBron James is (almost) gone from the NBA at 39 years of age.  Though his skills are still quite impressive on the basketball court, he is nowhere to be found in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

As LeBron and the Lakers fade into the sunset, the NBA is finally becoming interesting again.

Do yourself a favor this week and check out some of the new names playing in the second round of the league’s never-ending playoffs.

When is the last time we have seen Oklahoma City, Minnesota, the New York Knicks, and Indiana Pacers still playing ball during Round 2 of the NBA playoffs?

Answer:  Never.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s last playoff appearance was four years ago.  Same for the Indiana Pacers.  The New York Knicks made the NBA playoffs last season, but they have appeared in the post-season just two times in the past ten years.  The Minnesota Timberwolves have made the playoffs for three straight years but only four times over the past twenty NBA seasons (losing in Round 1 each time).

The only time we usually see these teams in the past decade has been during the NBA’s annual draft lottery.   Other than the New York Knicks, the other three “surprise” teams play in smaller NBA markets and haven’t been featured much on national telecasts.

If you’re like me, I’ve had to see this to believe it.

The NBA’s top teams in 2024 are no flukes. They are young, hungry, well-coached, and play exceptional defense (yes, I said it).

This bunch has pushed aside some of the NBA stalwarts which we have grown accustomed to seeing at this time of year.

The “oldies-but-goody” teams are now resting at home

Gone are the Golden State Warriors (winners of four of the past ten NBA championships).  This year’s Warriors finished in 10th place in the 15-team NBA Western Conference.  They lost a play-in game to Sacramento and failed to advance into the first round this year.  It’s hard to believe, but the Warriors are now considered to be an “old” basketball team right now.

Also MIA are the Los Angeles Lakers.  LeBron James and the 2020 NBA champion Lakers finished in 6th place in the Western Conference this season.  Last week, they were defeated by Denver four games to one in the opening round of the playoffs.   They immediately fired their head coach (Darvin Ham).  Am I the only one who thinks LeBron will be the player-coach next year?

The Miami Heat also burned-out.   The 2013 NBA champions from Miami have participated in the NBA playoffs 16 times in the past 20 seasons.  This year, they were eliminated in Round 1 by the Boston Celtics four games to one.  Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but his team was plagued by injuries to several key players this season.

The Milwaukee Bucks are now on vacation, too.  After winning the NBA title in 2021 and making the playoffs in ten of the past dozen seasons, Milwaukee was another first round casualty.  The Indiana Pacers sent the Bucks packing four games to two.  Like Miami, the Bucks were hampered by injuries coming down the stretch this year.

There is only one NBA team remaining in Round 2 of the 2024 playoffs which has been a post-season TV regular for the last ten years.

The Boston Celtics finished with the best overall record in the NBA in 2024.  However, the heartbreak kids from Beantown continue to seek their first NBA title since Paul Pierce led the C’s to glory back in 2008.  Boston seemed to struggle against certain teams in the playoffs in past seasons.  This year, Boston took out their long-time nemesis Miami and is now up 1-0 on Round 2 opponent Cleveland.

Meet the New Kids in Town

Last year’s NBA champion Denver Nuggets helped to usher-in this changing of the guard atop the pro basketball league.

The Nuggets finished in virtual tie in the NBA’s Western Conference this season with the surprising Oklahoma City Thunder.  The defending champions are the #2 West seed and quickly dispatched LeBron James and the Lakers four games to one.

The Denver Nuggets advanced into Round 2 with the home court advantage against the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves.

How ‘bout those T-Wolves!

After Denver wore their special “5280” home court jerseys to remind the opponent about the mile-high thin air which makes breathing more difficult, it has been Minnesota which applied the choke hold on the hometown Nuggets.  The T-Wolves grabbed Game 1 106-99 in Denver on Saturday night and then clobbered the home team by 26 points 106-80 in Game 2 on Monday.

Minnesota is now 6-0 in the 2024 NBA playoffs after sweeping Phoenix 4-0 in Round 1.  The Timberwolves are outscoring their playoff opponents by an average of nearly 16 points per game.  TNT analyst Charles Barkley said Monday night that Minnesota is playing the best team defense he has seen in recent memory.

Game 3 against Denver will be played in Minneapolis this Friday night at 8:30PM (CDT) on ESPN.

The Thunder rolls

Make it ten wins in a row for the Oklahoma City Thunder!

Last night, the Dallas Mavericks (featuring highly paid stars like Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving) were pummeled by 22 points by another surprise NBA team which has recovered from its bottom-feeder status in recent years.

The Oklahoma City Thunder is the #1 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference after posting an impressive regular season record of 57-25.  OKC steamrolled the New Orleans Pelicans 4-0 in the opening round of the playoffs and, like Minnesota, has been doing it with defense.

Oklahoma City is allowing a little more than 90 points per game through five playoff contests in 2024.   Like Minnesota, the Thunder is beating playoff opponents by a wide margin (nearly 17 points).  This team isn’t a fluke.

Game 2 against Dallas comes on Thursday night at 8:30PM on ESPN.

The New York Knicks are back!

It’s been awhile to see the New York Knickerbocker fans become this giddy about their NBA team.  The Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since Willis Reed famously limped onto the court to inspire his team to the 1973 championship against the Los Angeles Lakers.  Since 2000, Knicks fans have seen their team fail to make the playoffs twice as often (16 times) as they have qualified for the post-season (eight).

This year, the New York Knicks finished with the #2 East seed behind Boston.  They dispatched rival Philadelphia 4 games to 2 in the first round of the playoffs.  That series has whipped the boisterous New York Knicks fans into a bigger frenzy.

This team is led by a trio of former Villanova Wildcats guards.  Jalen Brunson (37 points per game), Josh Hart (18 ppg) and Donte DeVincenzo (14 points per outing) have captured the hearts of New York fans by their tough-minded play and deadly shooting in the 2024 playoffs.

Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers will be played tonight (Wednesday) at 7PM on TNT.  It’s going to be very loud in Madison Square Garden!

Quick – Can you name anyone on the Indiana Pacers?

No, Reggie Miller retired years ago and is now a commentator for TNT.

The #6 seed Indiana Pacers were the highest scoring team in this year’s NBA regular season.  Averaging 123 points per game, they will run a lot of bodies at their opponents.  Incredibly, nine Indiana Pacers players averaged in double figures during the regular season.

Former Toronto forward Paskal Siakam led the way this season with 21 points per game.  Point guard Tyrese Haliburton chipped-in 20 points while center Myles Turner added 17 per night.

Indiana just upended the favored #3 seed Milwaukee four games to two in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  As a result of winning that series, the Pacers advanced into the second round for the first time in a decade.

Tonight, the Pacers are looking to even their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Knicks at one game apiece.  The tip-off for Game 2 is at 7PM tonight (Wednesday) on TNT.

Standing in their way?  The Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are trying to break a 16-year drought without an NBA title.  The most storied basketball team in the league, the C’s have won 17 championships in their history.

In recent seasons, Boston was one of the teams featuring talented younger players trying to build a championship squad.  Now, forward Jayson Tatum and guard Jalen Brown are considered veterans and their Celtics are the odds-on favorite in this year’s NBA title chase.

After winning their last NBA championship in 2008, the Celtics have lost twice in the NBA Finals (2009 and 2022) and lost on five other occasions in the Eastern Conference finals (2012, 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2023).   Celtics fans are hopeful that this year’s team can finally raise the 18th championship banner up into the rafters in Boston’s TD Garden.

This year’s NBA title chase is shaping-up to be a dandy!