Playoffs roundtable: What to watch heading into massive Game 6 matchups

The first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs has been nothing short of exciting, giving us everything from sweeps to back-and-forth battles on both sides of the bracket.

In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Timberwolves have already secured spots in the second round, with the Nuggets and Timberwolves starting their series on Saturday in Denver.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics are joined in the second round by the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers, with the Knicks and Pacers renewing their rivalry on Tuesday in New York.

That leaves two series — one in each conference — yet to be decided. Both return to action on Friday in Game 6 clashes that could potentially round out the second-round field.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a 3-2 lead over the Orlando Magic, and will look to advance in the East to face despite no road team having won yet in the series. In the West, the Dallas Mavericks host the LA Clippers with a 3-2 advantage after an impressive Game 5 win in Los Angeles.

Our NBA insiders break down the biggest storylines to watch going into these crucial Game 6 matchups.

MORE: Everything to know about the playoffs |espnplus Offseason guides for every team


cleteam vs orl

Can the Cavaliers generate enough offense on the road?

Friday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Cleveland has built its advantage behind the league’s seventh-ranked defense, but to close out this series in Orlando, it has to score more. The Cavs finally broke the 100-point mark in Game 5, when Darius Garland raced out to 17 first-quarter points and Donovan Mitchell finished with 28. Max Strus, who had struggled shooting, knocked down four 3-pointers, and Marcus Morris Sr. added 12 points off the bench.

Yes, that game was sealed by an Evan Mobley block — his defensive presence is even more important with Jarrett Allen’s status up in the air — but in the two games the Cavs dropped in Orlando’s Kia Center, they had no answer for scoring runs by the Magic, who had the sixth-best home record in the league during the regular season.

In Game 4, Mitchell went scoreless in the second half, while the Cavs surrendered a 31-5 run in the third quarter and shot just 4-of-17 from 3.

— Kendra Andrews

lacteam vs dal

Will history repeat itself or can the Mavericks lock in?

Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Luka Doncic didn’t want to hear it, interrupting a reporter’s question as soon as the subject of the Mavericks’ last playoff series against the Clippers was broached.

These teams were in the same position in the 2021 playoffs, when the Mavs took a 3-2 lead in a first-round series and headed home for Game 6. LA won the next two games, eliminating Dallas for the second consecutive season.

“Present. Present. Not past,” Doncic insisted after his 35-point, 10-assist performance in the Mavs’ Game 5 blowout win.

Clippers star Paul George, not surprisingly, was much more willing to discuss the recent history between the two teams. He actually made a point to bring it up after what could be the Clippers’ final home game at Arena unless their prior Game 6 road success repeats itself.

“We’ve been here before — going to Dallas, being down 3-2,” George said. “It’s got to be a win, and the only mentality we have is to try to go get a win in Dallas.”

In that instance three years ago, Kawhi Leonard carried the Clippers to a Game 6 victory. He matched his playoff career high with 45 points and played smothering defense on Doncic down the stretch in that game.

But the Clippers can’t count on that happening again. Leonard hasn’t been available since Game 3 because of persistent inflammation in his right knee, and he isn’t expected to return during this series.

Before this series started, Doncic pointed out another major difference from the other times the Mavs and Clippers met in the playoffs.

“We have Kai,” Doncic said, referring to Kyrie Irving, his championship experienced co-star.

“We’ll get some rest after this one,” Irving said. “Emotions are high, but we just got to be ready for whatever’s going to be thrown at us.”

— Tim MacMahon

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