We Are the Youth of Hoop Nation

Oh, to be young again, right? The resurgence of energy, the feeling of invincibility, and the awareness of a long future would all be in your grasp. At the highest levels, sports are mainly for the young. There's an athleticism and bravado that continues through the peak of those careers. But how early is too early to hit a championship stride? For a few teams in this year's NBA playoffs, the young stars are hoping for an early graduation that bypasses the harsh trials to reach the biggest gold star they've ever achieved.

The current generation of Orlando Magic players are new at this. This is the first time in four years that the franchise has made the postseason. Star players Paolo Banchero and Jalen Suggs stepped out on their first playoff court last weekend. Now, it hasn't been very joyous so far. Losing two in Cleveland has put the Magic in an early hole. But that could shift on Thursday, when the series continues in Central Florida. It's a lot to ask for such a youth-filled squad (being led to a youthful coach). While an advancement is unlikely, this could be the stage that builds momentum for postseasons to come.

The world got to know Tyrese Haliburton earlier in the season. His prolific streak of play guided Indiana to the first-ever In-Season Tournament championship. The third-year point guard made a name for himself through his prolific passing and scoring skills. The Pacers, unfortunately, suffered for their early-campaign success. They had enough momentum to avoid the Play-In. A deadline trade for title-winner Pascal Siakim didn't hurt, either. Heading to Indianapolis, the 6-seed stands in front of a pretty nice opportunity. They split the first two road games of their series with Milwaukee and continue to face a Bucks roster without former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. There's a solid chance that Indy could ride this into a nice postseason run.

Although they're the second youngest team for the 2023-2024 rendition, there has been an air of anticipation for Oklahoma City. The Thunder got to the Play-In a year ago, and the sky appears to have been the limit. With MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way, OKC currently has more of a Fab Five vibe than most other NBA contenders. Most of the names in your program haven't finished their fifth year in the Association. Stalwarts Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey aren't even 22 yet (Holmgren reaches that birthday next week). And, yet, a squad that won 24 games two seasons ago now sits as the top seed in the Western Conference. Heartbreak is probably just around the corner, but I won't be the one to stand in their way.

Two decades is a long time. A lot has changed over the last two decades, including the philosophy of basketball. Two decades is the last time Minnesota won a playoff series. In fact, the 2004 postseason is the only time the Timberwolves have won any series. But there's a different edge to this year's attempt. The recent postseason pushes involved higher seeds and bigger stars. For the first time since that '04 run, the Wolves hosted Game 1 of a series. They're supposed to be the better team, and they're supposed to have the biggest star. After two games, it appears that star is Anthony Edwards. The shooting guard out-shined Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal during the contests in Minneapolis. We'll see if that carries over to the games in Phoenix.

It's a time of transition across the league. New stars are battling to edge in front for "best of the generation" status. And they're hoping to waste their youth on their young ages.

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