Starting 5 Daily Newsletter

Starting 5, April 20: Here. We. Go. The playoffs are here

Four Game 1s blow the lid off the 2024 NBA Playoffs today.

Starting 5

When the NBA Playoffs start this weekend, and you just earned your ticket with your back against the wall… for the second year in a row.


What’s inside today’s edition? 

Today’s The Day: Everything you need to know before the 2024 NBA Playoffs presented by Google Pixel tip off this afternoon

The Final Two: The Heat and Pelicans survived the SoFi NBA Play-In Tournament to grab the 8th seeds

West Finals Rematch: The Nuggets open their title defense against the Lakers tonight on ABC

Three More Game 1s: The Playoffs begin at 1 ET from Cleveland to open an ESPN tripleheader

Playoff Paths: Three teams that prove there are multiple methods to creating a contender


The 2024 NBA Playoffs presented by Google Pixel tip off today with an ESPN tripleheader – Magic-Cavs (1 ET), Suns-Wolves (3:30 ET) and Sixers-Knicks (6 ET) – followed by the 2023 champion Nuggets beginning their title defense against the Lakers in prime time (8:30 ET, ABC).

LeBron James is one of six players confirmed to be mic’d up for Saturday’s games 🎤

  • Lakers-Nuggets: LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Magic-Cavs: Paolo Banchero and Darius Garland
  • Suns-Wolves: Bradley Beal and Mike Conley


After Miami and New Orleans each overcame a missing star – Jimmy Butler for the Heat, Zion Williamson for the Pelicans – to survive a win-or-go-home Play-In game to complete the 2024 NBA Playoffs bracket.

Here’s everything you gotta know heading into the first weekend of the second season.

First, all 8 series tip off this weekend across ESPN, ABC and TNT, starting today at 1 ET.


  • (4) Cavs vs. (5) Magic (1 ET, ESPN): Series Hub
  • (3) Wolves vs. (6) Suns (3:30 ET, ESPN): Series Hub
  • (2) Knicks vs. (7) Sixers (6 ET, ESPN): Series Hub
  • (2) Nuggets (7) Lakers (8:30 ET, ABC): Series Hub


  • (1) Celtics vs. (8) Heat (1 ET, ABC): Series Hub
  • (4) Clippers vs. (5) Mavs (3:30 ET, ABC): Series Hub
  • (3) Bucks vs. (6) Pacers (7 ET, TNT): Series Hub
  • (1) Thunder vs. (8) Pelicans (9:30 ET, TNT): Series Hub

The 2024 Playoffs tip off in Cleveland as the Cavs host the Magic to open an ESPN tripleheader.

Nikola Jokic & the Nuggets’ title defense begins tonight against LeBron James & the Lakers in a rematch of last year’s West Finals, to close out the night on ABC.

  • Can Denver become the eighth franchise to successfully defend the title and the first since Golden State (2017, 2018)? Or will we see a new team crowned champion for the seventh straight season?

New Teams: This year’s Playoff field includes five teams that were on the outside looking in a year ago.

  • Oklahoma City: After being eliminated in the Play-In last year, the Thunder finished 1st in the West
  • Dallas: The first full season of the Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving partnership lifted the Mavs to the 5th seed
  • New Orleans: The Pelicans made it through the Play-In to earn the 8th seed for the second time in three years
  • Orlando: The Magic return to the Playoffs for the first time since the 2020 season as they finished 5th in the East
  • Indiana: The Pacers also end a three-year Playoff drought as they avoided the Play-In and secured the 6th seed

New Faces: In addition to five new teams, we have young stars making their Playoff debuts this weekend.

  • Tyrese Haliburton: The league’s assist leader gets his first taste of the Playoffs on Sunday
  • Chet Holmgren: After his rookie season was delayed a year due to injury, Chet’s starred from the start. What’s next?
  • Paolo Banchero: The No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft has been key to Orlando’s rise, on a roster packed with players making Playoff debuts
  • Jalen Williams: Being the youngest team to ever finish 1st in their conference, the Thunder, too, have a number of key players seeing their first Playoff action


They’re Back: Stop us if you’ve heard this story before: after losing the 7 vs. 8 game to open the Play-In Tournament, the Heat beat the Bulls in the win-or-go-home game to secure the 8th seed to begin their Playoff run.

The Heat ran that exact play last year and began a historic run to the Finals with an 8 vs. 1 upset over Milwaukee. Now they’ll try to do it vs. Boston – a frequent Playoff opponent – after eliminating Chicago, 112-91. | Recap

  • Heat Depth Shines: With Jimmy Butler out (knee sprain), Miami got a combined 45 points from Tyler Herro (24 pts, 10 reb, 9 ast) and Jaime Jaquez Jr. (21 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast) as the Heat ran away after a 28-6 run to end the 1st quarter

A 6-0 Sweep: The Pelicans finished a perfect season against the Kings, with their sixth win of the season being the most important as it secured the 8th seed in the West while ending Sacramento’s season.

Brandon Ingram (24 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast) and Jonas Valanaciunas (19 pts, 12 reb) led the way for the Pelicans, who also got huge contributions from their bench, to help overcome the absence of Zion Williamson. | Recap

  • Larry Nance Jr., Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado combined for 34 points on 15-of-26 shooting and six steals as NOLA’s reserves outscored Sacramento’s 34-12
  • De’Aaron Fox (35 pts) and Domantas Sabonis (23 pts, 14 reb, 7 ast) led the Kings, but it was not enough to earn their second straight trip to the Playoffs


It took the Denver Nuggets 47 seasons to win their first NBA championship. Today, they’ll try to take the first step toward making it two titles in 48 seasons as their title defense begins in the Mile High City against a familiar opponent – the Los Angeles Lakers.

  • The Rematch: The Lakers were the final Western Conference team standing between the Nuggets and their first Finals appearance last year. The last hurdle to clear – the Final(s) Boss – was a team with 32 Finals appearances and 17 championships
  • The Streak: Denver’s won eight straight against L.A., including a four-game sweep in the Western Conference Finals, with three of the four wins coming by six points or less. The Lakers have not beaten the Nuggets since December 2022
  • Star Watch (Lakers): In last year’s series, LeBron James nearly averaged a triple-double (27.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 10 apg), while Anthony Davis (26.8 ppg, 14 rpg) opened the series with a 40/10 game
  • Star Watch (Nuggets): Jokic did average a triple-double (27.8 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 11.8 apg) in last year’s series as he orchestrated the Nuggets offense. Jamal Murray averaged a series-high 32.5 ppg on 52.7/40.5/95 shooting splits

Which team will set the tone for this series in Game 1? Can the Lakers get their first win over the Nuggets in 492 days? Or will the Nuggets begin their run through the West in 2024 the same way they ended it in 2023?


Welcome to hoops heaven, also known as the opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs.

We get back-to-back days of back-to-back-to-back-to-back games as every team tries to gain an early advantage in the best-of-seven series.

And it all starts this afternoon in Cleveland.

(4) Cavs vs. (5) Magic (1 ET, ESPN)

  • Clash of Similar Styles: If you came to see a lot of scoring, then this may not be your series. Both the Magic (3rd) and Cavs (7th) boast top-10 defenses with versatile defenders that can wreak havoc all over the court for opposing offenses
  • Offensively, the Cavs (16th) have the edge over the Magic (22nd), and have a proven playoff scorer in Donovan Mitchell (27.8 ppg in 44 games, 7th all-time, min. 40 games played), though Banchero did just become the youngest player to lead a team in pts, reb & ast
  • Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2, with both teams showing they can win on the other team’s court. They have not played each other since Feb. 22, when the Magic won in Cleveland.
  • Since then, Orlando closed the season 16-10 to climb from 7th to 5th in the East, while the Cavs closed 12-16 to fall from 2nd to 4th

(3) Timberwolves vs. (6) Suns (3:30 ET, ESPN)

  • All-Stars Abound: Some of the biggest names in the game share the court in the series, with Minnesota led by Anthony Edwards — in the middle of a superstar leap in 2023-24 — Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, and three of the greatest scorers of a generation in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal in Phoenix
  • Defense vs. Offense: The Wolves finished within a game of 1st in the West thanks to their top-ranked defense (108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). But that rating jumped to 123.7 in three games against the Suns as Phoenix swept the season series
  • Elevation Through Change: Booker and Edwards adjusted their games in order to elevate their teams
  • Booker became the Suns’ primary playmaker, averaging a career-best 6.9 assists per game while playing a full season with Kevin Durant and the additions of Bradley Beal and Jusuf Nurkic
  • Edwards still had his explosive moments on offense, but played with higher efficiency (115.8 OffRtg, up two points from last year) on that end of the court, while elevating his defense (108.5 DefRtg, 3.4 points better) in Minnesota’s second season with Rudy Gobert

(2) Knicks vs. (7) Sixers (6 ET, ESPN)

  • Not A Traditional 2-7 Matchup: With their win over Miami in the 7 vs. 8 Play-In game to secure the 7th seed, the Sixers improved to 32-8 in the 40 games that Joel Embiid has played this season
  • They have not lost since he returned to the lineup on Apr. 2, after missing two months due to knee surgery
  • Battle of Bigs: Called on to slow Embiid? The Knicks’ tandem of Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein
  • Title Trio: Jalen Brunson (28.7 ppg, 4th in NBA), Josh Hart (all six of his career triple-doubles came this season) and Donte DiVincenzo (career-high and franchise-record 283 3s made) won a collegiate title together at Villanova, outside Philly.
  • Can they bring Playoff magic to NYC in their first year together as Knicks teammates?


This year’s Playoff field proves that there are multiple ways to build a contending team. The Magic, Suns and Timberwolves are all in action today and have assembled their rosters in very different ways.

Orlando: The core of the Magic was built with first round picks, led by 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, along with Jalen Suggs (5th) and Franz Wagner (8th) from the year prior, Cole Anthony (15th) in 2020 and Jonathan Isaac (6th) in 2017.

  • This Magic have grown together over the past few seasons leading to a 47-win season – their most wins since 2010-11

Phoenix (Trades): Devin Booker is the only player on the Suns roster that Phoenix drafted (13th overall in 2015). Instead, the Suns built this roster primarily through trades. After acquiring Kevin Durant at the 2022 trade deadline, they added Bradley Beal, Grayson Allen and Jusuf Nurkic via trades in 2023.

  • The Suns had to come together quickly, which was challenged by early injuries to Beal and Booker, but found their stride to secure the 6th seed

Minnesota (Draft+Trades):The Wolves drafted two pillars – Karl-Anthony Towns (2015) and Anthony Edwards (2020) – with No. 1 overall picks in the draft. In the 2022 offseason, they executed a blockbuster trade to bring in three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and followed that by adding Mike Conley at the 2023 trade deadline.

  • The Wolves didn’t find immediate success in their first season after adding Gobert (needing the Play-In to earn the No. 8 seed), but their second season together had them in the mix for 1st in the West until the final day of the season and the league’s top defense