This is how the NBA Play-In and Playoffs are configured

This Saturday begins the decisive phase of the season. The Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder, champions of the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively.

The best basketball competition in the world enters its decisive phase after the end of the regular season. This Saturday the 2024 Playoffs begin, in which, after 82 games played, each of the 16 best franchises in the NBA this year will seek to achieve the much desired Ring and leave their name engraved on the roster of champions.

Those franchises that ranked between first and sixth in the standings of each of the conferences managed to secure their participation in the Playoffs, while the eight teams that finished the regular season between seventh and tenth place in their respective conferences will have to play the Play-In.

In the Western Conference, the winner of the game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers will advance directly to the Playoffs, while the loser will face the winner of the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors to obtain the remaining spot. On the other side of the table, in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers or the Miami Heat will fight to ensure their presence in the Playoffs. The franchise that is defeated in that game will face the one that achieves victory in the match between the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics and the Thunder, champions of the East and West

After a regular season in which they barely encountered any opposition, the Boston Celtics were the first franchise to ensure their presence in the Playoffs. That dominance on the hardwood, and outstanding performances led by Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of the green and white squad in a large part of the games of the first phase meant that they were soon crowned champions of the Eastern Conference. The Massachusetts franchise had a balance of 64 wins and 18 losses. The New York Knicks, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers complete the Eastern list that certified their presence in the Playoffs.

Finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to finish as champions of the Western Conference, which was more than disputed until the last game. The franchise led by an imperial Shai Gilgeous-Alexander concluded the regular season in first place with a record of 57 wins and 25 losses. In second place, the Denver Nuggets - current NBA champions - finished, and third, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the other two franchises that had a chance to be champions of the West. The Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns are the other three teams that secured their place in the NBA finals.

A non-American MVP for the sixth year in a row?

In a few days, the NBA will designate the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the regular season, and there is a clear candidate to win this distinction: Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets' Serbian center is the favorite after a new campaign in which he showed that there is no one better than him in his position. In 79 games played, the European player finished with statistics very similar to those he recorded in recent years: 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9 assists. It would be the third MVP of the regular season - something that only Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Moses Malone achieved previously - that would add to his personal showcase.

Two other top contenders were also born in Europe: Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Slovenian point guard is the star of the Mavericks and had his best season since he landed in Dallas in 2018: 33.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists in 70 games. For his part, the Bucks leader registered 30.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 73 games; a contribution more than enough for the franchise to once again be among the favorites to win the Ring. As with Jokic, it would be his third MVP.

Jayson Tatum is the North American with the best chance of winning the award. The dominance of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference is, in large part, the responsibility of the forward, who certified 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 74 games played. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander must be included in the list of candidates. The Thunder leader scored 30.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 75 games.

If Jokic, Doncic or Antetokounmpo were named the best player of the regular season, it would be the sixth consecutive year in which a non-American basketball player was named MVP.

2013-2014: Kevin Durant.

2014-2015: Stephen Curry.

2015-2016: Stephen Curry.

2016-2017: Russell Westbrook.

2017-2018: James Harden.

2018-2019: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

2019-2020: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

2020-2021: Nikola Jokic.

2021-2022: Nikola Jokic.

2022-2023: Joel Embiid.