Basketball

2021-22 Pre-Season NBA Playoff Predictions

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It’s always tough to predict the playoffs before the season starts, especially since the bracket always ends up being wrong. The seedings will be based on my standing predictions which can be found here (Eastern, Western). As we know, the game changes in the playoffs, and some teams are better suited for playoff basketball than others, which is why the team with the better regular-season record doesn’t always come out on top. This year lacks the massive championship favorite that we’ve seen in years past, but the Brooklyn Nets open the season as the favorites.

Play-In Tournament

Eastern Conference

#9 Indiana Pacers over #10 Toronto Raptors
#8 Boston Celtics over #7 Chicago Bulls
#7 Chicago Bulls over #9 Indiana Pacers

As we saw last year, the play-in tournament is as chaotic and unpredictable as you’d expect from a series of one-game play-in games. The Pacers are a much better all-around team than the Raptors, who will back into a play-in spot if they get one. The Celtics have more experience playing together and the growing pains of adjusting to a new system with Ime Udoka should be gone by the end of the season. The Bulls don’t have the defense to contain Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but they should be able to stop a Pacers team led by Domantas Sabonis.

Western Conference

#9 Memphis Grizzlies over #10 Minnesota Timberwolves
#8 Los Angeles Clippers over #7 Portland Trail Blazers
#7 Portland Trail Blazers over #9 Memphis Grizzlies

Minnesota’s first taste of postseason basketball won’t last long, as they’ll lose to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game to the play-in game. The Clippers-Blazers game would come down to the health of Kawhi Leonard, but he’s ahead of schedule and should be able to play by the start of the playoffs. Damian Lillard doesn’t seem like the guy to lose two play-in games, and I’d pick him to drop 50 in the game for the 8-seed.

1st Round

Eastern Conference

#1 Milwaukee Bucks over #8 Chicago Bulls (6)
#5 Miami Heat over #4 Philadelphia 76ers (6)
#2 Brooklyn Nets over #7 Boston Celtics (5)
#3 New York Knicks over #6 Atlanta Hawks (7)

With the east being as deep as it is, the Bulls are a very good 8-seed. The Zach LaVine and Demar DeRozan-led Bulls will take some time to adjust to one another, but they should have it figured out by the playoffs. In the end, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be too much to handle, and the Bucks will prevail. In the 4-5 matchup, the 76ers will host the Miami Heat. The Heat improved over the offseason by adding Kyle Lowry, while the 76ers have some questions to be answered regarding Ben Simmons, and the health of Joel Embiid.

The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets met in the first round of the playoffs in 2020-21, and the Nets took the series in five games. This time, it seems they’ll be without Kyrie Irving, but the Celtics lost Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier over the offseason. The Nets are the superior team and will prove it with a 4-1 series victory over the Celtics. The most intriguing of the first-round playoff series is between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, who also met in the first round last year. The Hawks won the series 4-1, while Trae Young created a massive rivalry with Knicks fans. This time, the Knicks don’t lack the secondary scoring options that they did last year, after adding Walker and Fournier.

Western Conference

#1 Phoenix Suns over #8 Portland Trail Blazers (7)
#4 Dallas Mavericks over #5 Denver Nuggets (6)
#7 Los Angeles Clippers over #2 Utah Jazz (7)
#6 Golden State Warriors over #3 Los Angeles Lakers (7)

The Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers are fairly similar in make-up with a star backcourt surrounded by good role players and a solid, traditional center. The difference comes on the defensive end, where the Suns excel and the Blazers crack. The Suns are a little better at everything and will win this series in a close, fun, 7-game affair. The Mavericks will finally put it together in the playoffs this season, and give Luka Doncic the help he needs. Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t been the 2nd star the Mavs have been looking for, but he should benefit from a favorable matchup against the Nuggets.

The Los Angeles Clippers took down the Utah Jazz in the 2nd round last year, even without Kawhi Leonard. This time, they should have Kawhi Leonard and should be able to repeat their victory. The Jazz are an elite regular season team, but can never put it together in the playoffs, and nothing has changed this year to make that any different. The seemingly annual LeBron-Steph playoff matchup will come in the first round this year following a legendary play-in game in 2020-21. The Warriors are a much better all-around team than last year, especially given the development of James Wiseman and Jordan Poole, and Klay Thompson will be back by the playoffs. The Warriors have the perfect roster for their system, and they’ll be back to regular form by the playoffs.

2nd Round

Eastern Conference

#1 Milwaukee Bucks over #5 Miami Heat (7)
#2 Brooklyn Nets over #3 New York Knicks (6)

Milwaukee and Miami meet in the playoffs for the third year in a row, with each team taking one series each so far. This year, the Bucks will take down the Heat once again, but in seven games this time around. Miami added the experienced Kyle Lowry this offseason, replacing Goran Dragic. They have a well-built team, surrounding their stars (Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo) with knockdown shooters (Duncan Robinson and PJ Tucker), while playing some of the best defense in basketball. Giannis proved to be too much for their elite defense last year, even after they threw many different looks at him. Nothing drastic enough has changed for the result to switch, but Miami should at least make it interesting this year.

The battle for New York was a highly-anticipated series throughout the past few months of the 2020-21 season, but it never came to fruition. This year, NBA fans will get to see the Knicks and Nets battle it out in the playoffs. The Nets are clearly the better team even if Kyrie Irving is out, but the Knicks played them well last year. It should be a hard-fought series, with the Knicks’ elite defense shutting down what they can, but the talent of Kevin Durant and James Harden will prevail in six games.

Western Conference

#1 Phoenix Suns over #4 Dallas Mavericks (6)
#6 Golden State Warriors over #7 Los Angeles Clippers (6)

The Phoenix Suns won the Western Conference last season after coming in as the 2nd seed. They brought back their entire roster, and they match up well with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. They have one of the best defenses in basketball and will be able to harness Doncic as well as anyone. If the Suns can limit him, they’ll easily win the series. The key for the Mavericks will be the performance of Kristaps Porzingis, who hasn’t lived up to expectations since being acquired by Dallas. If Porzingis has a bounce-back season, the Mavericks could be championship contenders.

The six and seven seeds meeting in the 2nd round is rare and has only happened once in NBA history. Both of these teams are only projected this low due to injuries, which is why they’ll be better come playoff time. The Warriors won the West five years in a row from 2015-2019 and won the first couple with the same big-3 that they’ll have back in 2020-21. Their supporting cast is better, but the three stars aren’t quite as dominant as they once were. The Clippers will be without Kawhi Leonard during the season, but the postseason should be back for the postseason. It sets up an interesting series, but the Warriors will prevail.

Conference Finals

Eastern Conference

#1 Milwaukee Bucks over #2 Brooklyn Nets (7)

The Bucks and Nets played a legendary 2nd round series in 2021 when game seven went to overtime due to the size of Kevin Durant’s shoe. The Bucks ended up winning the series and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they took care of business. This time around, the meeting between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams will take place in the Conference Finals, and it’ll be an amazing series. The dueling of Giannis and KD will be one of the deciding factors, but the Nets are missing 1/3 of their big-3, so I’ll stick with Milwaukee.

Western Conference

#6 Golden State Warriors over #1 Phoenix Suns (6)

The defending Western Conference champions will play in the Western Conference Finals once again, meeting a team who absolutely dominated the Western Conference for the better part of a decade. The two best point guards of our generation, Chris Paul and Stephen Curry will meet in the playoffs once again. They’ve had their fair share of playoff battles, most recently in 2018 when Paul’s injury cost the Rockets a chance at the championship. This year, both point guards will have their star shooting guards beside them, but the Warriors have a better roster around them, so they’ll win the series.

NBA Finals

#6 Golden State Warriors over #1 Milwaukee Bucks (7)

The last few seasons have been an absolute roller coaster for Golden State, who won it all in 2018, lost the finals in 2019, got the 2nd pick in 2020, and lost the play-in game in 2021. In 2022, they’re my pick to be NBA champions. The Bucks won it all last year, and the Warriors won’t have any way to contain Giannis other than plugging Draymond Green on him and seeing what works. Despite this, the Warriors should be fine because of the firepower of their offense. It’ll be another chance to win a championship for Stephen Curry, who could win his first Finals MVP trophy.

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