Who has the best chance of advancing to the conference finals? What storylines should we be watching out for in the four matchups? We answer those questions and more while revealing our NBA playoff predictions.

And then there were eight.

Teams remaining in the NBA playoffs, that is, after the first round began with 16 teams and was cut in half for either the Eastern or Western conference semifinals.

The remaining eight form a strong group as they next try to advance to the conference finals, then the NBA Finals.

Who has the best chance of doing so in the second round? What storylines should we be watching out for in the four matchups?

We answer those questions and more in our 2024 NBA playoff predictions, utilizing the TRACR projection model for the probability of advancement with each team.

No. 1 Boston Celtics vs. No. 4. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • First Round – Boston Celtics: Beat Miami Heat 4-1; Cleveland Cavaliers: Beat Orlando Magic 4-3
  • Regular-Season Records – Boston: 64-18; Cleveland: 48-34
  • Head-to-Head Record Boston 2-1 vs. Cleveland
  • Team Ratings – Boston: No. 1 in O-TRACR, No. 4 in D-TRACR, No. 1 in TRACR; Cleveland: No. 20 in O-TRACR, No. 7 in D-TRACR, No. 19 in TRACR
  • DRIP Leaders – Boston: Jayson Tatum (3.5); Cleveland: Donovan Mitchell (4.2)
  • PPG/RPG/APG Leaders – Boston: Jayson Tatum (26.9)/Jayson Tatum (8.1)/Derrick White (5.2); Cleveland: Donovan Mitchell (26.6)/Jarrett Allen (10.5)/Darius Garland (6.5)
  • Biggest X-Factors – Boston: Kristaps Porzingis’ injury – After suffering a calf injury in the Celtics’ first-round series against the Miami Heat, Porzingis is expected to miss the East semifinals. Granted, the Celtics – the team with the highest odds of any team of advancing to the conference finals – could very well win this series without their standout forward. However, as mentioned earlier this season, Porzingis is arguably this team’s second-best player (he’s also 12th in the NBA in DRIP). There’s a chance the C’s could miss him more than we think, and if that’s the case, Boston could be going home way earlier than anyone originally expected. Cleveland: Donovan Mitchell – Mitchell is tied for seventh in the league (with Oklahoma City’s MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) in DRIP, so he’s a true All-NBA player. However, in the past, he’s turned into something more than that in the NBA playoffs. Back in 2020 and ‘21 (when Mitchell was healthy), he averaged 33.9 points and 5.2 assists on 64% true shooting in 17 games. Against the Orlando Magic, a series that went all the way to a Game 7, he scored a combined 89 points in the final two games, including all 18 of Cleveland’s points in the fourth quarter of Game 6 (a historic feat). Simply put, Mitchell has the power to get hot enough that he can put a team on his back. Now, the question becomes: How far can he carry this team? The Cavs lost all three road games in the first round and it won’t be any easier without home-court advantage against a Celtics team that went 37-4 at home during the regular season.
  • Series Win Probability – Boston: 90.2%; Cleveland: 9.8%

No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 6. Indiana Pacers

  • First Round – New York Knicks: Beat Philadelphia 76ers 4-2; Indiana Pacers: Beat Milwaukee Bucks 4-2
  • Regular-Season Records – New York: 50-32; Indiana: 47-35
  • Head-to-Head Record Indiana 2-1 vs. New York
  • Team Ratings – New York: No. 4 in O-TRACR, No. 10 in D-TRACR, No. 5 in TRACR; Indiana: No. 2 in O-TRACR, No. 23 in D-TRACR, No. 6 in TRACR
  • DRIP Leaders – New York: Jalen Brunson (2.6); Indiana: Tyrese Haliburton (3.3)
  • PPG/RPG/APG Leaders – New York: Jalen Brunson (28.7)/Mitchell Robinson (8.5)/Jalen Brunson (6.7); Indiana: Pascal Siakam (21.3)/Pascal Siakam (7.8)/Tyrese Haliburton (10.9).
  • Biggest X-Factors – New York: Conditioning – Everyone knows coach Tom Thibodeau loves to give big minutes to his top players: Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and OG Anunoby all averaged over 41 minutes per game in the Knicks’ first-round clash against the Sixers. However, the Indiana Pacers are a different beast. They were second in the league in pace this season – an indication of their preferred breakneck pace. Can Thibodeau keep leaning on Brunson, Hart, and Anunoby the way he has in the past against such an intense opponent? Indiana: Myles Turner – Turner was delightful in the first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 blocked shots per game on 60.4% true shooting. His two-man chemistry with Tyrese Haliburton is critical to the team’s offensive flow. However, the Bucks put a non-center on Turner so they could switch Turner/Haliburton actions and limit the play’s potency. That maneuver worked because Turner isn’t great at punishing smaller defenders in the post. Fortunately for the Pacers, the Bucks didn’t have the personnel to make the strategy fully work. The Knicks do, and if they try that tactic, Turner is going to have to be ready to make them pay.
  • Series Win Probability – New York: 59.6%; Indiana: 40.4%

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5. Dallas Mavericks

  • First Round – Oklahoma City Thunder: Beat New Orleans Pelicans 4-0; Dallas Mavericks: Beat Los Angeles Clippers 4-2
  • Regular-Season Records – Oklahoma City: 57-25; Dallas: 50-32
  • Head-to-Head Record Oklahoma City 3-1 vs. Dallas
  • Team Ratings – Oklahoma City: No. 3 in O-TRACR, No. 3 in D-TRACR, No. 2 in TRACR; Dallas: No. 6 in O-TRACR, No. 15 in D-TRACR, No. 7 in TRACR
  • DRIP Leaders – Oklahoma City: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (4.2); Dallas: Luka Doncic (6.1)
  • PPG/RPG/APG Leaders – Oklahoma City: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (30.1)/Chet Holmgren (7.9)/Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6.2); Dallas: Luka Doncic (33.9)/Luka Doncic (9.2)/Luka Doncic (9.8)
  • Biggest X-Factors – Oklahoma City: The Fifth Guy – This didn’t end up being a problem in the first-round playoff series for the West’s No. 1 seed, but the Dallas Mavericks are a much better team than the Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans. So, what worked against the Pelicans may not work against the Mavs. In the two seriously competitive games OKC played against the Pelicans, the Thunder alternated between Isaiah Joe, Cason Wallace (Game 1) and Josh Giddey (Game 4) as the fifth player in their closing lineup. Will one of those guys differentiate himself as the designated closer? Will OKC go with the close-by-committee approach again? Will this be a problem that haunts them all series long?  Dallas: Josh Green – The reason it was easy to be lower on the Mavericks heading into this postseason is that most of their role players are overly slanted toward offense (Tim Hardaway Jr.) or defense (Derrick Jones Jr., PJ Washington, Dante Exum, Maxi Kleber). The only one with a healthy balance is Green, a 3-and-D role player who can also attack closeouts. The issue is, Green is an inconsistent shooter (he shot 25% on 3-pointers in the first round after shooting 38.5% during the regular season) and a reckless defender (he was in the 17th percentile in foul rate in 2022-23). One of the reasons New Orleans lost to the Thunder (outside of missing their best player) is they didn’t have enough two-way role players. If Dallas is going to avoid the same fate, it will need Green to iron out his wrinkles.
  • Series Win Probability – Oklahoma City: 77.8%; Dallas: 22.2%

No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 3. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • First Round – Denver Nuggets: Beat Los Angeles Lakers 4-1; Minnesota Timberwolves: Beat Phoenix Suns 4-0
  • Regular-Season Records – Denver: 57-25; Minnesota: 56-26
  • Head-to-Head Record Tied 2-2
  • Team Ratings – Denver: No. 5 in O-TRACR, No. 8 in D-TRACR, No. 4 in TRACR; Minnesota: No. 13 in O-TRACR, No. 1 in D-TRACR, No. 3 in TRACR
  • DRIP Leaders – Denver: Nikola Jokic (5.6); Minnesota: Rudy Gobert (2.9)
  • PPG/RPG/APG Leaders – Denver: Nikola Jokic (26.4)/Nikola Jokic (12.4)/Nikola Jokic (9.0); Minnesota: Anthony Edwards (25.9)/Rudy Gobert (12.9)/Mike Conley (5.9).
  • Biggest X-Factors – Denver: The Bench – The Jokic and Jamal Murray-led Nuggets may very well have the best starting lineup in basketball. Arguably, no team in the NBA can sport a lineup that touts their blend of spacing, physicality, shot-making and pace. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their bench. This was always supposed to be the defending NBA champion’s kryptonite (the Nuggets were 25th in bench points per game during the regular season), especially after an offseason that saw them part ways with Bruce Brown and Jeff Green. Their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t do anything to ease anyone’s mind, either, as no one on the bench surpassed even the four-points-per-game mark. Can someone from their second unit emerge as a key contributor in this round? Minnesota: Anthony Edwards’ decision-making – Edwards has already proven he can score and defend with the best of them. What he needs to show now (and the thing that will help turn him into the future face of the NBA that many people have dubbed him as) is that he can consistently be a high-level decision-maker. Against Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns, Edwards got stronger in this category throughout the series, going from settling for pull-ups early on to maintaining his dribble and finding the right pass to Mike Conley, Karl-Anthony Towns or Rudy Gobert by the end of it. If Edwards can run the offense at a high level, the Timberwolves can prioritize defense by giving more minutes to Nickeil Alexander-Walker. If Edwards can’t do that, the Wolves will have to spend more minutes on their smaller guards (like Mike Conley and Monte Morris), which could give Denver a weakness to poke at on defense.
  • Series Win Probability – Minnesota: 58.8%; Denver: 41.2% (prior to start of the series, which Minnesota leads 1-0)

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