Greetings, basketball fans. Welcome back to our NBA coverage here at Latest Basketball News. The 2024 NBA season concluded on Sunday. And the play-in tournament will commence on Tuesday of this week. The Oklahoma City Thunder clinched the top seed out west. The New York Knicks finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks – who had held down the No. 2 spot for most of the season – fell to the No. 4 spot in the conference playoff race. Did your favorite team(s) finish the season as expected?

Here is a look at the biggest winners and losers from the final day of the regular season. First, we will start with the biggest losers.

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Biggest Losers

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers finished in the play-in field last season, and they find themselves in that position again. In 2022-23, the Lakers notched the seventh seed en route to an unexpected run to the Western Conference Finals. In that round, they were upended by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets 4-0.

The Lakers’ opponent in the play-in round is the New Orleans Pelicans. Guess which team awaits Los Angeles should this team manage to get by the Pelicans. Yep, you guessed it, the Denver Nuggets. In three regular-season meetings between these two teams, the Nuggets came out on top each time, albeit two of the victories were by single digits. After failing to capture the top spot in the conference, look for the Nuggets to make quick work of the Lakers for the second consecutive year as they seek to successfully defend their NBA crown. Again, though, the Lakers would need to beat the Pelicans first. 

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans were in the No. 6 spot in the conference playoff race for a bit but now find themselves in the play-in round against a Lakers team that they have not fared well against this season. In the first of four meetings on Dec. 7, the Lakers clobbered them to the tune of 133-89. 

A month later, New Orleans bounced back with a resounding 129-109 victory to even the season series at one game apiece. 

In the third meeting, the Pels led by three points after the first 12 minutes of action but were outscored 51-35 in what proved to be the decisive quarter of that contest. The Lakers went on to win that game 139-122 while shooting a blistering 55.7 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from beyond the arc. And in the regular season finale, the Lakers triumphed again with a 124-108 victory, setting up the stage for this 7-vs-8 matchup. Can the Pels overcome their lack of success against Los Angeles or will the purple and gold earn the seventh seed for the second straight season?

Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for a good chunk of the season. Then it happened. Joel Embiid went down with a meniscus injury and did not return to the team’s rotation until recently. If not for that injury, the Sixers’ narrative would be considerably different than what we see right now. 

Despite falling several spots in the conference playoff race, the Sixers finished the season on a positive note. They produced victories in each of their last eight games, closing out the 2023-24 campaign with the league’s longest active winning streak, catapulting them from the No. 8 spot to the No. 7 spot. 

Another notable turn of events that impacted the Sixers was the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo sustained an injury earlier in the week, forcing him to miss the team’s final three games. Had Milwaukee defeated the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the Sixers could have avoided the play-in round altogether, but it was not in the cards. 

As it stands, the Sixers have a date with the eighth-seeded Miami Heat. That is not a great matchup as the Heat knocked off the top-seeded Bucks in last year’s playoffs. If the Sixers do get by the Heat, their reward will be a first-round matchup with the New York Knicks — a team that finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2012-13.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the season finale in a three-way tie for the best record in the Western Conference. Not only that, but they owned the tiebreaker against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That said, the task was simple. Win and they secure home-court advantage through the conference finals. Unfortunately, the Timberwolves failed to capitalize on their opportunity, as they fell to the Phoenix Suns by a 125-106 margin. As a result, Minnesota slipped to the No. 3 spot. 

Ironically, their first-round opponent is none other than the Suns teams that beat them by a decisive margin in the season finale. In addition to that victory, the Suns defeated the Timberwolves by a 133-115 margin in the first of three meetings between these two ball clubs. And they followed that up with a 97-87 win when these teams clashed in early April.

While Minnesota is 0-3 against the Suns this season, the good news is that the team finished with the best defense in the association this season. They will certainly need a solid effort at that end of the floor to knock off an opponent that boasts a pair of talented scorers in Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

Now it is time to glance at the biggest winners from the last day of the regular season. 

Biggest Winners

Los Clippers & Dallas Mavericks

The Los Clippers and Dallas Mavericks finished with the fourth and fifth-best records in a competitive Western Conference playoff race. As a result of their respective finishes, these teams will collide in the postseason for the third time in five seasons. 

In 2020, the Clippers outlasted the Mavericks in six games. Doncic averaged an astounding 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per contest while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from long range.

The following year, these teams squared off again in the first round, with the series going the full seven games. Once again, Doncic was nothing short of sensational, compiling averages of 35.7 points, 10.3 assists, and 7.9 rebounds. The Mavericks emerged victorious that time en route to the team’s first conference finals appearance in 10 seasons. 

The Clippers took two of the three regular-season matchups between these two ball clubs and hope to continue that success when they face each other in the playoffs. The winner of this series will face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. While the Thunder have certainly shown improvement over the past two seasons, they don’t strike fear in the hearts of opponents the way the Nuggets do. 

New York Knicks

For most of the past several weeks, it appeared that New York would finish in the fourth or fifth spot in the conference playoff race. And if they lost to the Chicago Bulls in the season finale, that would have placed them in the No. 3 spot. Although the Indiana Pacers – the No. 6 seed – would have been a favorable first-round opponent, the Knicks went all in on winning the season finale. Jalen Brunson punctuated his season with his 11th 40-point outing and Donte DiVincenzo played 52 of the possible 53 minutes in this overtime affair. 

With their 120-119 win over Chicago, New York posted its first 50-win campaign in over a decade and positioned themselves well for a deep playoff run as they will have home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. They will face the winner of the Sixers-Heat play-in matchup and if they survive that series, they could face a Milwaukee Bucks team that has beaten them three times this season in the second round of the playoffs. But before we go too far, New York cannot afford to overlook its first-round opponent by any means. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

The biggest winner of the regular season finale must be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tied for the best record in the conference going into the last game of the season, OKC dismantled the short-handed Dallas Mavericks to the tune of 135-86, notching their 57th win of the season. For the second straight season, the Thunder improved their record by 16 games. 

Not only has OKC not been to the playoffs since 2020, but it has also not finished as the conference’s top seed since 2012-2013. This is something that was NOT expected to be reality when the season began.

On the other side of the narrative, the Thunder do not have a ton of postseason experience. In fact, OKC’s starting five has combined for a total of 627 minutes of playoff basketball. But that fact does not discourage head coach Mark Daigneault one bit. 

“We’re zero and zero when we wake up tomorrow morning for the playoffs,” Daigneault said, via The Guardian. “So, what we have accomplished to this point doesn’t impact that. But I do think we’ve built great habits. We’ve done it together. Again, I have a lot of confidence, but not because of our age … but because of how the guys have performed and the things they’ve built together.”

In addition to finishing with the same 57-25 record as the defending champions, they also tied the Nuggets for the best home record in the association at 33-8. So, although they have one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Thunder have ensured that the road to the Finals comes through their building. This would include a potential conference finals matchup against a Nuggets squad they defeated three times in four meetings this season. 

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