The NBA Playoffs open today with a matinee between No. 5 seed Orlando and 4 seed Cleveland (1:10 p.m., ESPN), an afternoon appetizer with 6 seed Phoenix and 3 seed Minnesota (3:30 p.m., ESPN) before 7 seed Philadelphia and 2 seed New York (6 p.m., ESPN).

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers struggled to guard New Orleans’ Zion Williamson in a play-in game Tuesday night that the Lakers still won in New Orleans to reach the NBA Playoffs that open this weekend. (Getty Images)

Then it’s LeBron James and the 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers taking on defending champion and 2 seed Denver and Nikola Jokic in prime time (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals. Four more games follow Sunday and more, more, more through the NBA Finals, which could go to June 23.

NBA Playoffs – More Is Less

And the NBA will likely once again realize that more is less. The NBA Playoffs before the finals last year averaged only 5.4 million viewers a game, which was the most in five years.

Several women’s NCAA Tournament games featuring Iowa superstar Caitlin “Ponytail Pete” Clark blew those numbers away in recent weeks. The women also beat last year’s ratings for the NBA Finals between Denver and Miami, which averaged 11.64 million with 13.08 for the game five finale and a 17.8 peak in that game.

So, LeBron, can you catch Caitlin? Or even keep up with her?

Iowa’s and Clark’s six NCAA Tournament games averaged 10.07 million, which doubled last year’s NBA Playoffs ratings. Iowa’s win over LSU in the Elite Eight brought in 12.3 million viewers to beat the NBA Finals average. Iowa’s win over Connecticut in a Final Four semifinal put up 14.2 million viewers.

And finally, South Carolina’s win over Iowa in the national championship game became the all-time most watched college women’s game with 18.9 million viewers and a 24.1 million peak on ABC and ESPN. The men’s final between Connecticut and Purdue the next night drew only 14.82 million.

The NBA will be hard-pressed to keep up. Already two major stars are out of the playoffs from injuries last week in play-in games – New Orleans’ Zion Williamson with a hamstring strain after one of the best games of his career against LeBron in his first postseason game and Miami’s Jimmy Butler with a medial collateral ligament (MCL) knee injury against Philadelphia.

Sunday’s schedule opens with No. 1 seed Boston and 8 seed Miami (1 p.m., ABC), followed by the 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers and 5 seed Dallas (3:30 p.m., ABC), 3 seed Milwaukee and 6 seed Indiana (7 p.m., TNT, truTV) and 1 seed Oklahoma City and 8 seed New Orleans (9:30 p.m., TNT, truTV).

Brandon Ingram and teammates celebrate the Pelicans’ play-in win over Sacramento Friday night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans to put them in the NBA Playoffs. (Getty Images)

The Pelicans may have helped themselves by losing to the Lakers, 110-106, on Tuesday night as Williamson dominated LeBron and Anthony Davis with 40 points and 10 rebounds before straining his left hamstring scoring his last bucket with 3:19 to go. New Orleans may match up better in a series with Oklahoma City than with Denver.

Brandon Ingram Looked Better

Brandon Ingram, who sat out the final minutes of the loss to the Lakers Tuesday as he recovers from a knee injury, looked like a new man Friday as New Orleans eliminated Sacramento, 105-98, in New Orleans without Williamson. Ingram scored 24 points with six rebounds and six assists as the Pelicans went to 6-0 against the Kings on the season and 2-0 when Williamson doesn’t play. New Orleans improved to 8-5 this season without Williamson, who logged the most games in a season in 2023-24 of an injury-plagued career with 71.

Williamson’s hamstring is scheduled to be re-examined in two weeks, so the Pelicans will have to advance past Oklahoma City and more for him to return to action this season.

New Orleans’ win enabled it to avoid becoming the first team to win 49 games in an NBA regular season and not reach the playoffs since Phoenix in 1972.

Meanwhile, Miami eliminated Chicago, 112-91, in the other play-in game Friday night without Butler, who is expected to be out for several weeks. Tyler Herro scored 24 in Miami, and fans began chanting, “We want Boston.”

They should have added, “We want viewers.”