NBA playoffs: Who's had the most impressive start to the postseason? Most surprising?

What have been the biggest surprises and disappointments in the NBA playoffs so far? With each first-round series having now completed two games apiece, our writers weigh in on the first week of play, plus look ahead to what they're watching as the playoffs pivot to crucial Game 3s.

2024 NBA playoffs: Schedule and results for every first-round series

Vincent Goodwill: If it’s too easy to pick the presumptive MVP in Nikola Jokić and everything he’s doing to the Lakers, let’s go with another MVP candidate: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. What playoff jitters for the Thunder? He’s played with poise in both games, looking every bit like himself, dropping ankles and leading the Thunder out of tense moments. It won’t always be easy to drop 30, but that day isn’t today.

Jake Fischer: My favorite rookie all season, Jaime Jaquez Jr., has been nothing short of impressive dating back to Miami’s play-in loss in Philadelphia, where Jaquez was barreling his shoulder right into Joel Embiid without a care. He's guarded Jayson Tatum in crunch time. He’s handled more playmaking responsibility since Jimmy Butler’s knee injury. He's been lethal with his pivot foot. And it’s been awesome to watch.

Ben Rohrbach: Rudy Gobert. Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal are all capable of stretching the floor, all capable of countering close-outs, and you would think they could spin Gobert in circles. But they cannot, because Gobert has widened his own circle of stout defense. It helps when Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels can clamp the perimeter, but when Gobert can also lock down everything inside the arc, good lord. Gobert has challenged 38 shots through two games of the series — or a quarter of all of Phoenix's shots — according to the NBA's tracking data, and the Suns are shooting 39.5% opposite him. Unfathomable.

Dan Titus: Pascal Siakam, who is out here making history, becoming the first player to record at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in back-to-back games to start a postseason since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967. He's been dismantling the Bucks at all three levels and, at this point, the only thing that can deter him is the return of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) walks across the court during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Kevin Durant and the Suns are down 2-0 against the Timberwolves. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Fischer: The Suns. Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal’s team hasn't been competitive in either fourth quarter against the Wolves. Phoenix’s 3-0 regular-season record against Minnesota aside, the Suns are fizzling even worse than their biggest skeptics could have imagined. The loss of Grayson Allen is significant. But Allen’s absence shouldn’t be this much of a difference between these two teams, if Phoenix is actually going to contend to the level they expect.

Titus: Tobias Harris, who is playing like he's on the verge of an exit. His lack of confidence and inability to generate offense have hit new lows. Despite playing over 31 minutes in each game thus far, Harris is averaging just 9.4 points per 75 possessions with no free-throw attempts. The Sixers desperately need their third "star" to show up, or else his tenure in Philly will sour quicker than Ben Simmons'.

Rohrbach: Brandon Ingram. He was benched late in New Orleans' play-in loss to the Lakers, even after Zion Williamson's injury, but he rebounded to post a 24-6-6 in the Pelicans' play-in win over the Kings. What New Orleans would have given for that capability in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when instead he scored 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting. In Game 2, he only took 10 shots. Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III are making Ingram, a 26-year-old one-time All-Star, look dispensable — if not unplayable.

Goodwill: It has to be the Suns. Not just their 3-0 record against Minnesota this year turning into a 0-2 deficit, but they look old and out of sorts. Kevin Durant can’t find good shots, and Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have yet to impact this series. We knew their roster flaws coming in (no real point guard, lack of size), but they’ve dealt with it all season. They’re being dominated by a team that hasn’t even played very smart. Is it panic time?

Rohrbach: The eighth-seeded Heat upsetting Boston in Game 2. Credit Erik Spoelstra, who schemed up the recipe that stole Game 2. Credit Bam Adebayo, Miami's safety net on both ends of the floor. And credit everyone else on the Heat for keeping the faith. The Celtics will almost certainly adjust and still win the series, but it will be awfully entertaining to watch how much Spoelstra, Adebayo and Co. make them work — and think — to survive and advance.

Titus: Jaden McDaniels is putting the clamps on Phoenix, holding the Suns to just 40% shooting from the field in his matchups. More impressively, he's erased Devin Booker — limiting him to just two assists and 1-for-6 shooting in 11 minutes on defense. McDaniels even outdueled Kevin Durant in Game 2, scoring 25 points (10-17 FG, 3-4 FT, 2-4 3PM) with eight rebounds, three assists and a steal. Those doubting his contract extension are real quiet right now.

Goodwill: Shocked the 76ers couldn’t find a way to steal one of two winnable games in Madison Square Garden, especially with Jalen Brunson struggling in both. Joel Embiid can barely move, but he’s still been dominant. Still nothing. Veteran Kyle Lowry has given them games, but even he had a brain fart in the clutch of Game 2. Not that they should win this series, but stealing one of two in New York would’ve made this a lot more interesting.

Fischer: Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that young Orlando, which was just 18-23 on the road this season, dropped two straight in Cleveland. The Magic seem to feed off their home crowd, an audience that cheered their squad’s 29-12 slate at Amway Center. And sure, Orlando was just 23rd in offense this season — why the Magic are widely believed to be pursuing shooting this summer. But it’s been a surprise how much Orlando’s struggled to score against the Cavs.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22: LeBron James (23) of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates earning a free throw, while making a shot with head coach Darvin Ham during the fourth quarter of the Denver Nuggets' 101-99 win at Ball Arena in Denver on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
Can LeBron and the Lakers get even at home? (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Titus: As the Lakers-Nuggets series returns to Arena, Darvin Ham's lack of adjustments is the center of attention. While Jamal Murray's epic Game 2 buzzer-beater stole the headlines, Denver's defense has stifled Los Angeles in the second halves of this series, holding them to a 92.2 offensive rating (compared to 121.4 in the first half). With 10 consecutive losses to the Nuggets, Ham needs to cook up something to climb out of the 2-0 deficit. Crazy idea: Get Anthony Davis more than one shot attempt in the fourth quarter. 😏

Goodwill: It’s easy to bag on Darvin Ham for his rotations or even Anthony Davis’ lack of fourth-quarter production (see above). He has the unenviable task of trying to keep Davis and LeBron James fresh for the last 12 minutes, which they haven’t been, while also letting them ride to build leads in the first three quarters. He got D’Angelo Russell going, and the Lakers still folded. James has the best supercomputer in the game, and he's lauded for it. He’s gonna have to find something in that thing very quickly.

Fischer: OKC’s maiden voyage through the postseason has just been so fun to watch, especially in front of one of the best playoff crowds in the league — where every fan wears the giveaway shirt! Which young player will rise to the occasion each night? Whether the answer is Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, or the obvious, All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, it has been exciting to watch potential be stamped as reality in real time.

Rohrbach: Is Joel Embiid healthy? He did just drop a 34-10-6 in 39 minutes of Game 2. Can he get healthier? He better, because his 76ers need to win four of their next five games to avoid another early playoff exit. And what then? Do we just chalk this up to another unfortunate injury situation for Embiid? Or do we worry that at age 30 this will only get worse, that he does not have enough support, and if he did, he cannot carry the necessary load to win two playoff rounds, let alone four? Does that doubt start to creep into his mind? And what then? Does he consider a change of scenery? Do the Sixers entertain it?