NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Play-In predictions + 1 question on every playoff matchup

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on the Play-In, biggest sleeper team and his picks for NBA awards.

Jamal Crawford tells the story of what's at stake for the 20 teams getting ready for the postseason.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2024 NBA Playoffs! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag. 

Who do you have winning the Play-In games? And which of those teams has the best chance to win a series?

– from Mark in Renton, WA

In the West, I have the Lakers beating the Pelicans for the No. 7 seed, then the Warriors beating the Kings and Pelicans to grab No. 8. For the East, I predict Philly will beat Miami for 7th and then the Heat will defeat either the Hawks or Bulls for No. 8.

Of those squads, I think the Warriors have the best shot to reach the 2nd round, mostly because of the edge in playoff experience they would have against the young Thunder. The Sixers are also dangerous if Joel Embiid is back to full health.

Who do you think is the favorite to win the championship?

from Marcel in St. Louis, MO

The Nuggets. Last year, they had to see if their style of play would work in the playoffs. Now they have a different belief in KNOWING their style works. And that should make them even harder to knock out.

Who do you predict will reach the conference finals?

– from Lamarya in Chicago, IL

If LA can stay healthy, then I have the Clippers and the Nuggets meeting in the West finals. But the Suns will be a serious threat to the Nuggets in the 2nd round. For the East, if Embiid is fully healthy, then I think the Sixers can make a run and face the Celtics.

Who’s your biggest sleeper team in this year’s playoffs?

– from Bradley in New York, NY

The Suns, for sure. They’re putting things together at the right time and you’ll likely see fewer moments when they’re playing without flow. They’ll be able to ride the hot hand and take advantage of matchups more in the playoffs, and that’s one of their strengths.

What’s your favorite storyline from each conference and why?

– from Gage in Zanesville, OH

In the West, I’ll say the Thunder because no one predicted they would finish on top of the standings. In the East, it’s the Knicks. I don’t think anyone expected them to climb to No. 2 after Julius Randle went down with an injury.

Who is one player getting slept on before the postseason?

– from Josh in Colchester, VT

Terry Rozier. He can carry an offense for an entire game, but he’s especially dangerous quarter by quarter. And that’s key in the playoffs. A player like him can turn the tide of a game, which can change everything about a series. He’s especially dangerous because he can play with the starters or the bench. So he could be key for Miami if he can return from his neck injury soon.

Which Play-In team do you think has the best chance of defeating a one-seed?

– from Gavin in Witchita Falls, TX

If Joel Embiid is healthy, then he can walk into any series and be the best player on the court. So the Sixers will always have a chance if he’s playing at a high level. They would be a tough matchup for anyone, even the Celtics.

What is the biggest concern for the Celtics going into the playoffs?

– from John in Louisville, KY

Trust. The Celtics are the best team in the league when they have a lead. The ball is hopping, everybody’s playing to their strengths and the ball becomes the star. But when games get tight, that’s when the worst of the Celtics comes out. So they need to trust that they can always tap into how they play when they’re ahead. As good as they are, at times they can be their own worst enemy.

Without Julius Randle, what is a realistic expectation for the Knicks postseason run? Signed Frustrated Native New Yorker.

– from Bernard in Harlem, NY

A realistic run for the Knicks could be to the Finals. It’s not out of the question. Yes, it takes some luck. Yes, some things have to go right. Yes, you need a good matchup here or there in your favor. But why not shoot for the moon? They’re playing as well as anybody in the league. I know Thibs will maximize every single day and no coach is going to be more prepared. So why not aim for the Finals and see where it lands you?

What do you think of the Cavs-Magic series? Who has the edge?

– from Dax in Tampa, FL

The Cavs have done a really good job this season. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and learned how to play without each other. But now they’re going to have to learn how to play with everybody there when the pressure can shift in an instant. For Orlando, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond as a young team after they lose a game. I want to see how they bounce back.

Right now, my gut tells me Cleveland will win but let’s see how it plays out.

How do you believe Damian Lillard should approach the first round of the playoffs given the situation he’s going into?

– from Tavares in Blair, SC

I would love to see Dame playing with less thought and more like how he naturally plays. He’s a top 75 player who’s been consistent and great his entire career. But right now you can see on the court he’s thinking a little bit too much. He’s done a good job this season of getting everybody else involved but that hasn’t equated to true dominance with the team. So I would try a different approach and be very aggressive in the playoffs. That’s when he’s at his best.

Bucks or Pacers? How many games?

– from Traell in Indianapolis, IN

I’m going to say six but I’m not saying who’s winning 😂

How can the Heat do a repeat run to the Finals?

– from Marcus in Jacksonville, FL

They have the formula already since they’ve been to two Finals in the last five years. They know what it takes to get there. Obviously, pieces have changed over the years, but the playoffs are still when this team is at its best. So if they get out of the Play-In, don’t view them as an ordinary 7 or 8 seed.

Which team has the best shot to beat the Nuggets?

– from David in Detroit, MI

If any team is going to defeat the Nuggets, I think it would be the Suns. They went 2-1 against them in the regular season and showed their ability to play a couple different styles. We’ve all talked about their shot-making ability from 3, but what’s really key in the playoffs is how elite they are from the mid-range. When points are at a premium in the playoffs, you need to be able to score from everywhere. So they can keep up offensively, and they can play small in a way that could make things difficult for Denver.

What player is the X-factor for Denver?

– from Sam in Boulder, CO

It may sound obvious, but I’ll say Jamal Murray. While Jokic is an all-time great, he’s not naturally thinking to score. Murray is the attacker who can take the team to another level when he has the right approach offensively. It balances the entire team and makes Jokic even more unstoppable in the two-man game. If Murray is hitting shots at a high level, it completely unlocks their offense.

If there’s an X-Factor No. 2, I’ll say Michael Porter Jr.

Do the expectations for OKC change now that they’re the No. 1 seed?

– from Max in Raleigh, NC

I don’t think the expectations changed for them at all. They’ll continue to hang their hat on the fact that they’ve been the best team in the West all year long. So if they go through a tough stretch and lose a game or two, they can have confidence in knowing that they have enough metal and grit to find ways to bounce back and be successful. So for them, I don’t think it’s added pressure. It just validates their confidence.

What’s the biggest key for each team in Wolves-Suns? And who do you think will win?

– from Sean in Chicago, IL

The biggest question for Minnesota will be how KAT is reintroduced to the offense. They’ve played a certain way for so long and have been successful. So now they need to keep rolling while bringing back KAT, who is a huge piece of the offense. Will Ant be less aggressive? Is KAT the No. 2 option now? That dynamic will be key.

For Phoenix, they need to consistently play to their mismatches. If one guy has a clear-cut mismatch, are they going to continue to feed him? Will the other two stars take a backseat? That’s something they’ll have to learn throughout the postseason run … if you’re going to be okay with going 6-7 possessions without touching the ball because the team is attacking a mismatch.

Who do you think will win the Clippers-Mavs series?

– from Jennifer in San Diego, CA

I think the Clippers will win the series, but I could easily see it going seven games. The Mavs are as hot as any team in basketball and it’s been fun to watch the Luka-Kyrie dynamic. They’re not only rooting for each other, but they’re almost becoming one, which is really cool to see. It’s like they’re switching between who is Batman and who is Robin depending on the flow of the game. So they absolutely could knock out the Clippers. But I think LA has so much if Kawhi is healthy alongside PG, Harden and Westbrook. They have a lot they can throw at you, and Ty Lue is a stud. If they can stay healthy, I think they’re a clear title contender.

But it will be interesting to see how the Clippers’ dynamic reacts if the Mavs win Game 1 or 2. This would be the first time this LA roster has been behind the 8-ball, so we don’t know how they will react in that type of setting.

Who did you play against in your first-ever playoff series?

– from Bradley in New York, NY

It was with the Hawks in 2010 against the Milwaukee Bucks. I remember the night before I couldn’t sleep because I waited 10 years to be on this stage. I had a feeling I was going to win Sixth Man of the Year, so I was coming off a great regular season. But I was nervous because I knew the who world was watching and I had waited so long to perform on the biggest stage. I ended up scoring 17 points off the bench and we won pretty convincingly. After the first one I was like, “Oh, that’s what this is like.” The feeling was better than I expected.

What’s the most electrifying part about the postseason?

– from Avery in Whitefield, NH

As a player, one thing you could never prepare for is how you will emotionally feel day to day based on if your team won or lost, because you could never get that out of your head. You go back to your room or you go home and immediately watch film. You see what you could have done differently and that that next game can’t come fast enough … good or bad.

Also, you’re electrified by knowing all the homes and bars around the world that are watching you perform. You can’t pay for that feeling. It’s one of the coolest things.

Besides Game 7, what’s the most important game in a 7-game series? Or are they all equal?

– from Michael in Portland, OR

The first game somebody loses at home. It adds a whole different pressure to the series. These cities become so invested in the matchups, that it’s expected you’ll win every game on your home floor. So every loss at home is a series-changer.

What are your picks for this season’s NBA awards?

– from Drew in Boston, MA

  • Kia Defensive Player of the Year – Victor Wembanyama
  • Kia Rookie of the Year – Victor Wembanyama
  • Kia Sixth Man of the Year – Malik Monk
  • Kia Most Improved Player – Tyrese Maxey … but Coby White is right there as well
  • NBA Coach of the Year – Mark Daigneault
  • Kia NBA MVP – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: At the start of the season, nobody predicted they’d be at the top of the West. They were a Play-In team last year and were expected to be a borderline playoff team this season. He’s been consistent all year and since they’re a young team without another All-Star, he’s had to be their veteran leader as well. This is SGA’s award this year.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

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