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Rankings of the four 2024 second-round matchups – NBC Boston

A ticket to the conference finals is at stake.

The second round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs started with Game 1 between the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Denver Nuggets, a spirited match that resulted in a victory for the former over the defending champions.

The first round had no surprising setbacks, unless the elimination of the Indiana Pacers’ injury-plagued Milwaukee Bucks squad counts.

Will the second round remain simple or will there be a touch of drama? Let’s rank the four matchups from least to most intriguing:

4. Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The top-seeded Celtics completed a gentleman’s sweep over the Miami Heat, and there’s a plausible chance it could happen again in the second round.

Cleveland, the number four seed, defeated the fifth-seeded Orlando Magic in seven games but does not have the quality needed to conquer Boston. Donovan Mitchell gets his numbers, but it’s hard to imagine another Cavalier doing the same over the course of the series. Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Max Strus and Caris LeVert form the supporting cast around Mitchell.

Boston, while it may not have Kristaps Porzingis, has Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and Al Horford. Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard have gotten role-playing minutes on a rather shallow bench, but the Celtics have too much talent at the top to eliminate any doubt about the depth. The Celtics should get this done in at least five minutes.

3. New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers

The No. 2 seed Knicks outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers in six games, but it will be interesting to see if Julius Randle’s production can’t catch up to them. So far it’s all been Jalen Brunson, but Josh Hart, OG Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo, Miles McBride and Isaiah Hartenstein have stepped up. However, Bojan Bogdanovic is undergoing foot surgery, so the Knicks will miss his shooting. New York plays with enormous grit and chemistry, which will make it difficult for them this round.

Indiana, the No. 6 seed, eliminated in six games a Bucks team that was completely without Giannis Antetokounmpo, while other key players, such as Damian Lillard, also missed time. The Pacers are anchored by Pascal Siakam, Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner, with Andrew Nembhard, Obi Toppin, Aaron Nesmith and TJ McConnell as the key role players. Indiana has the better top talent on paper and could move up at six, but don’t count on New York to do the same or at seven.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks

Top-seeded Oklahoma City easily defeated the Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans, but the Thunder were able to announce themselves as legitimate contenders by taking down a stronger Mavericks squad.

Dallas finished the regular season in form, finishing as the No. 5 seed and eliminating the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers in six games. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are the two superstars leading the way, with PJ Washington, Dereck Lively II, Derrick Jones Jr. and Daniel Gafford as the leads. However, Maxi Kleber will be out indefinitely with a dislocated shoulder, while Tim Hardaway Jr., another key floor spacer, is dealing with an ankle injury.

The Thunder are led by MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, with youngsters Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort all making their first postseason run together. This could very well be a seven-game series, but if Oklahoma City can withstand Doncic and Irving when Dallas’ role players are limited, then the Thunder could advance sooner.

1. Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Even before Game 1, this matchup had the most quality on both sides. No. 2 Denver is of course the reigning champion led by stars Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are their best role players.

Minnesota, ranked No. 3, is led by rising phenom Anthony Edwards. The former 2020 No. 1 overall pick is supported by stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, while Mike Conley, Naz Reid, Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker round out a robust role-playing group.

Jokic and Edwards are getting their numbers, so it will probably come down to how everyone else does. The Nuggets have the experience with their key players, but the Timberwolves show tremendous hunger and are getting better production from their role players who could swing the series. This has the potential to require a Game 7.