These predictions are based on my picks for where each team will finish. You can see those for the East and West. Now, this is not going to end up meaning all that much down the road. There’s a 0% chance that we see all of the match-ups I run through here actually happen in the playoffs because the real standings will be different (and likely far different) than what I’m using. So, this isn’t deep analysis as much as it’s just a simple run of predictions. I’ll back up my series picks with some brief thoughts, but this is something to look back on when the playoffs get here, not something to rely on moving forward.
To offer a quick recap of my seeding picks, this is how I see the standings in each conference shaking up:
- Trail Blazers
The play-in tournament is now official, but it will look a little different than it did in the bubble. In each conference, the 7 and 8 seeds will play a game after the season, as will the 9 and 10 seeds. The winner of the former is the 7 seed, while the loser of that game takes on the winner of the 9-10 game for the 8 seed in a winner-takes-all match-up.
So, I’ll start with picks of those games to set up the playoff bracket.
- 7 Raptors v. 8 Wizards
It’s a little hard – and probably somewhat pointless – to make a pick on one game months before it might happen, but I have to end up with 8 playoff teams somehow. This game could be decided in the backcourt, where you’ll have Russ and Beal going against Lowry and VanVleet. It’s the one area where Washington matches Toronto in experience, and they need to win that match-up to win the game. The two most likely players to take over this game are Westbrook and Beal, and that decides it.
Wizards get 7 seed
- 9 Hawks v. 10 Pistons
The Hawks would likely have the best player on the floor in Trae, and they have a deeper and better supporting cast around him than Detroit does Blake. Does that mean anything in one game? Not necessarily, but the Hawks would have to be the pretty clear favorite to move on here.
- 7 Raptors v. 9 Hawks
With everything on the line, experience wins the day. The Hawks fall just short of the playoffs in their first real challenge for a spot, and the Raptors avoid falling out of the bracket entirely.
Raptors get 8 seed
- 7 Jazz v. 8 Suns
This one depends on how good the Paul-Booker duo becomes. They could win this game for Phoenix, but I’d have to lean Utah. They have more overall experience, and they make sure they don’t miss out on the playoffs.
Jazz get 7 seed
- 9 Warriors v. 10 Pelicans
As things stand right now, I’d take the Warriors here. Steph wins them the game as the best player on the floor.
- 8 Suns v. 9 Warriors
This one will depend on how each team improves over the course of the season, but I’ll lean Warriors. They have slightly more talent down the line with Wiggins and Oubre, though this relies on both of them playing good basketball. The Suns miss out by an inch for the second year in a row.
Warriors get 8 seed
That sets up the playoff brackets. Let’s start with the West.
- 1 Nuggets v. 8 Warriors
It would be really tempting to pick the Warriors here if Klay Thompson were healthy. With Thompson out, the Warriors just don’t have enough barring a significant jump from Wiggins. The Nuggets take care of business, but it likely won’t be easy. They have yet to win a playoff series in less than seven games, and that might not change against Steph and Golden State.
- 4 Clippers v. 5 Rockets
This would be a lot of fun. The Rockets have the edge in the back court with Wall and Harden. The Clippers have the edge on the wing with Kawhi, George, and Morris going against Tucker, House, and McLemore/Gordon for Houston. The big men match-up, with Cousins and Wood going against Ibaka and Zubac, will depend on how Cousins and Wood perform this season. I really do think we get a great version of the Rockets this year after some potential struggles early, and they sneak by the Clips here.
- 3 Mavs v. 6 Trail Blazers
This is a fantastic match-up between two high-powered offenses. There would be fireworks all over the place. At the end of the day, Josh Richardson might be the best individual defender in this series. On a court full of offensive stars, he makes the difference.
- 2 Lakers v. 7 Jazz
If the Jazz are going to get past the first round, they’ll need to avoid the Lakers. LA is simply better and more experienced, and they should cruise here.
- 1 Nuggets v. 5 Rockets
This may change this season, but the Nuggets have yet to show signs of being a true contender (see my West preview for more). They won’t be able to outwork a team at this stage this time around like they did the Clippers last summer. I like the Rockets to make it back to the WCF.
- 2 Lakers v. 3 Mavs
The Mavs take a big step this year, but it won’t be big enough to take down the defending champs. It’s a year or two too early for Dallas here, and the Lakers move on.
That sets up Lakers v. Rockets in the WCF, but let’s look at the East before I get into that match-up.
- 1 Bucks v. 8 Raptors
The Bucks get their chance at revenge, and they take it. There will be no such thing as a free pass in the East this year, but the Bucks should get past the Raptors without too many difficulties. They’re better on both sides of the ball.
- 4 Sixers v. 5 Heat
This series will hinge on the success of Philadelphia’s off-season moves. On paper, they look great, and I think they translate to the court. Miami takes a step back in the postseason after their bubble run.
- 3 Nets v. 6 Pacers
The Pacers are a very solid team. They do not have the talent to contain KD and Kyrie, and this one isn’t all that close.
- 2 Celtics v. 7 Wizards
Russ and Beal give the Celtics a challenge, but there’s not much reason to believe that they can take Boston down. The Celtics move on to face Brooklyn.
- 1 Bucks v. 4 Sixers
Milwaukee’s offense out punches Philadelphia’s here. Holiday controls the back court, Giannis outplays Simmons, and Middleton beats out Harris. With Lopez battling Embiid, the Sixers would need quite the effort to win this one.
- 2 Celtics v. 3 Nets
Tatum won’t be ready to take on KD, and the Nets win this series because of it. Kyrie outduels Kemba as well, showing that his talent, despite the chemistry issues, reigns supreme.
That gives us Nets-Bucks and Rockets-Lakers in the conference finals. The Lakers have to be the favorites out West after improving their championship roster, and I’ll take the Bucks out East. It’s Giannis’s time, and the move to replace Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday will pay massive dividends this summer. The Bucks and the Lakers are the two best teams in the league, and they will meet in the Finals, where Giannis assumes the mantle of best player in the world. The Bucks won their first and only title exactly 50 seasons ago. They get their second this year.