2024 NBA playoffs roundtable: Biggest questions left from the conference semifinals

Perk: Anthony Edwards as a leader is 'something special to watch' (1:53)

Kendrick Perkins breaks down the Timberwolves' Game 6 victory over the Nuggets and why he believes Anthony Edwards has been pivotal to Minnesota as a leader. (1:53)

There is still plenty at stake as the second round of the NBA playoffs enters its final set of games -- with at least one Game 7 already set this weekend.

Nikola Jokic and the defending NBA Finals champion Denver Nuggets are tied at three games apiece with Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of Sunday's must-watch Game 7. The winner will take on either the Dallas Mavericks or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, with Dallas currently holding a 3-2 lead over OKC.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics await their opponent for the East finals after eliminating the Cleveland Cavaliers. The New York Knicks can set up an anticipated clash with Boston if they beat the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

In a playoffs already filled with plenty of twists and turns, what has stood out the most so far? And which player has been the MVP of the postseason?

Our NBA insiders look at the biggest questions from the second round and what to watch for ahead of this weekend's action.

What has been the most surprising thing about the second round?

Tim MacMahon: The Mavericks are in position to close out the Thunder on Saturday despite Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving combining for only 38.2 points per game -- a drop-off of 21.3 points from their regular-season production. Dallas' role players, particularly P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr., have capitalized on the opportunities created by the attention the Thunder pay to the Mavs' stars. And the dominant defensive identity the Mavs established late in the season has carried over.

Tim Bontemps: That Denver found itself in a two-game deficit to start its series. Minnesota played a couple of outstanding games, led by Edwards, and there might not have been a more surprising game this season than the Timberwolves' 26-point win over the Nuggets in Game 2. The champs responded in truly impressive fashion, but they never should've gotten themselves into that predicament to begin with.

Kendra Andrews: That Denver appears vulnerable. Yes, the Nuggets' response in Games 3 and 4 was incredible, but the first two games of the series showed the Nuggets can be exposed if not everything is clicking. Blowout losses in Games 2 and 6 showed that the much less experienced Timberwolves can give them a run for their money.

Kevin Pelton: Oklahoma City's 3-point carriage turning into a pumpkin at the worst possible time. The Thunder led the NBA in shooting beyond the arc in the regular season (39%) and matched that in Round 1. So far against Dallas, the Thunder's 33% accuracy on 3s is worst of any team in the conference semifinals, and Zach Kram of the Ringer noted the 29% OKC has shot since winning Game 1 is the team's worst four-game stretch of the season.

Brian Windhorst: The Celtics are 8-2 with seven double-digit wins this postseason. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are averaging a combined 60 points and 14 rebounds per game. Boston is ranked No. 2 in offense and No. 3 in defense in the playoffs despite missing star center Kristaps Porziņģis. Yet, people are abandoning the Celtics as title contenders. Their postseason opponents (the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers) had injury issues, but the Celtics had little trouble against them. Ignore them at your own risk.

What will determine Game 7 between the Nuggets and Timberwolves?

Windhorst: Edwards. He has the talent, the mentality and the will to have a transcendent game. I call it the "Matrix moment" (when Neo stops the bullets). Giannis Antetokounmpo had his in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2021. LeBron James had his in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals when he scored 29 of the Cavaliers' final 30 points against the Detroit Pistons. You can make a list of these moments for the game's stars. Edwards can do this, although it might be too much to ask against the Nuggets on the road. Denver hasn't played in a seven-game series since the 2020 postseason in the bubble, but there's little doubt the Nuggets can handle the experience. Yet, the opportunity is there for Edwards, and that's why you watch.

MacMahon: Which version of Jamal Murray shows up? He has averaged 19.7 points on 50% shooting in the Nuggets' three wins, compared to 11.7 points on 26% shooting in the three losses. It remains to be seen how the elbow injury suffered in Thursday's loss will affect him, but it's worth remembering his most recent Game 7 performance: 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting in a win over the LA Clippers during the 2020 postseason in the bubble.

Pelton: How tightly the game is officiated. Officials allowed a lot of contact early in the series, particularly in Game 2 when just 34 total fouls were called. That favored the Timberwolves' physical defense and made life difficult for the Nuggets on offense. Denver deserves credit for finding counters, but it hasn't hurt that there have been more whistles as the series has gone on, particularly in Games 3 and 4 -- when 40-plus total fouls were called in both games. By contrast, there were just 31 total in Minnesota's Game 6 win Thursday.

Bontemps: Game 7s are where legends are made. And Sunday's game presents an incredible opportunity for Edwards to take his fast-rising stardom to new heights. But, as we have seen throughout this series, this game will be dictated by how Jokic plays. He is the MVP for a reason, and I don't see him losing a Game 7 on his home floor to close out the season.

Andrews: Who will help out Edwards? Between Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid and Mike Conley, he will need help somewhere -- just as Jokic will need help from teammates such as Murray and Aaron Gordon. For the Timberwolves on the road, it's more important for their supporting cast to help out their star.

Knicks or Pacers: Which team should the Celtics want to face?

Bontemps: Indiana, without question. The Pacers had trouble dispatching a hobbled Milwaukee Bucks team that played without Antetokounmpo and had Damian Lillard miss two games in the first round, and are having similar trouble with an equally banged-up Knicks team. Against a full-strength Celtics team, it should be a relatively short series. The Knicks shouldn't be able to beat Boston, either, but coach Tom Thibodeau's side can give the Celtics a lot of trouble in the way the Miami Heat did in previous postseasons. Also, winning road games at Madison Square Garden is no easy feat.

Pelton: It should not matter, but I would pick Indiana. The Pacers' lack of defensive discipline has made it difficult for them to beat undermanned opponents and would surely be a fatal flaw against Boston. The possibility of OG Anunoby returning from his hamstring injury for the Knicks could make a series against the Celtics a relatively fair fight.

Windhorst: I'd prefer not to play the Knicks if they have Anunoby. New York is 25-6 with him this season. I expect the Celtics to deal with a little shock when they face either team coming off a couple of competitive series, but Boston is going to be a heavy favorite either way. It will be about how the Celtics handle business, not the opponent.

Andrews: Indiana. The team's leading regular-season scorer, Tyrese Haliburton, has run hot or cold this series. He scored 34 and 35 points in Games 3 and 4 but hasn't netted more than 20 in the other contests. The Knicks are battling injuries, but their impressive performances -- including three straight postseason home wins with 120 or more points -- could give Boston a run for its money. That said, the Celtics' path to the NBA Finals still seems locked in.

MacMahon: The Celtics should not care. Neither team can beat Boston if the Celtics play at their best. The Celtics' main concern will be about getting Porziņģis healthy and back in the lineup, not which opponent they face in the Eastern Conference finals.

Fact or Fiction: Expect a Game 7 in the Thunder-Mavericks series.

MacMahon: Fiction. I'm playing the percentages here. Jason Kidd is 4-0 as a coach when his team has a chance to clinch a series. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only Tyronn Lue (seven), Gregg Popovich (five) and Al Attles (five) have more wins without a loss in potential clinching games.

Bontemps: Fact. Oklahoma City's young team had a measured approach after losing Game 5, in which it scored its fewest points all season and went just 6-for-22 on open 3-point attempts. The Thunder have already won a game in Dallas in the series, and I see no reason why they can't force a return to OKC -- particularly now that coach Mark Daigneault benched Josh Giddey, who has averaged just seven points this series.

Andrews: Fiction. With an opportunity to close out at home, and with the veteran experience from the Mavs' key players, they'll be able to end the series in six games. I expect OKC to do everything it can to force a Game 7 (the 10.4-point margin of victory is the smallest of any second-round series), but Doncic and Irving should perform better than they have so far to clinch the series.

Pelton: Fact-ion. Because momentum is a myth in the NBA playoffs, Oklahoma City's chances are better than you probably think. Teams in this position come back to win Game 6 on the road 49% of the time since 1984, including twice last year (Boston at Philadelphia and Sacramento at Golden State).

Windhorst: I don't make predictions. All I'll say is Dallas probably should've won the series already, but it let the Thunder steal Game 4 at home. And that OKC has had a wonderful season.

Nearly one month in, who is your overall postseason MVP?

Andrews: Jokic. Aside from the Nuggets' blowout loss to the Timberwolves in Game 2, Jokic has been incredibly consistent, taking over games and picking apart Gobert, the Defensive Player of the Year. Even in the Game 6 defeat, Jokic had a respectable 22 points and nine rebounds before being pulled in the middle of the fourth quarter. This postseason, he has had a double-double in six of the 11 playoff games he's played, and two triple-doubles.

Bontemps: Jokic is the best player, but Jalen Brunson has been the most valuable one. He's leading the playoffs with 33.9 points per game (including five games with 40 or more points), carrying a Knicks team down several rotation players, and has been in the middle of several of the best moments in these playoffs -- while dealing with a foot injury.

MacMahon: Jokic just collected his third MVP trophy and continues to prove he's the best player in the world. Since the Nuggets went down 2-0 to start the series he has been dominant ever since -- reminding everyone why they are the defending champions.

Pelton: Jokic. When the other best candidate (Edwards) responds to your 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the third quarter of Game 5 by saying "I just laugh. That's all I can do," it's a pretty good sign you're the best player in the world and the MVP of the playoffs despite a tough night Thursday.

Windhorst: Ask me about Edwards after Sunday. And Jokic, of course, is brilliant, but a teammate hit two game winners in the first round. Otherwise the answer is Brunson. The Knicks are already back from Cancún without him.