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NBA Playoffs picks, predictions for 2024 Eastern, Western conference brackets and NBA Finals | Sporting News United Kingdom



The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived.

After a thrilling regular season that saw the Celtics run away with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference needing the last day to sort out the top of the standings, the 2024 NBA Playoffs have arrived.

While some of the biggest names in the league are entering the postseason with injuries, these playoffs have the potential to be special. Boston will be looking to raise banner No. 18, but a number of scrappy teams stand in its way. The West still runs through the Nuggets, but be prepared for upsets.

Below are Sporting News’ predictions for the 2024 NBA Playoffs, complete with NBA Finals picks. Our NBA experts Steph Noh, Gil McGregor, Kyle Irving and Scott Rafferty break down the project and project which teams will break through.

MORE: Why Nikola Jokic is SN’s NBA Player of the Year — again

NBA Playoffs picks, predictions 2024

Which Play-In team is the biggest threat to win it all?

Scott Rafferty: It’s got to be the 76ers, who looked like a legit contender before Joel Embiid went down with a knee injury. He didn’t look great in Philly’s Play-In win over Miami, but if Embiid can get back to his pre-injury form, there’s no question he’s good enough to lead the 76ers on a deep run.

Steph Noh: The 76ers. None of these teams have much championship equity, but the Sixers do have a top-three player. That is a necessity to win this year. 

Embiid’s conditioning is not where it needs to be. He didn’t look good in the team’s Play-In win, but that’s to be expected given the time he’s missed. The reigning MVP was having a season on par with last year before getting hurt, and the 76ers had a reasonable shot at the No. 2 seed before falling all the way to No. 7 without him.

The Sixers went 1-1 against the Celtics in games Embiid played. They at least have a chance of pulling off the impossible.

Kyle Irving: The 76ers will be the popular answer, but is it crazy to say the Lakers? 

Don’t get me wrong, I have the Nuggets winning that first-round series. Denver has completely owned Los Angeles, defeating the Lakers eight times in a row dating back to last regular season. But if Los Angeles can somehow find a way to overcome the Nuggets and MVP-favorite Nikola Jokic, it could certainly make another deep playoff run.

Gil McGregor: The Lakers feel like the right answer although it’s almost by default. Among the Play-In teams to advance to the playoffs, LA is the healthiest, a key component of any type of championship run, especially a surprise one.

If history has taught us anything about a formula for a Play-In team to make a deep run, the Lakers have it.

With a (relatively) healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the way, LA has the requisite star power. The Lakers’ confidence would soar if they can get past their toughest test to open the playoffs and they have several role players capable of stepping up in different spots.

Which of the top 1-3 seeds in either conference is most likely to be upset?

Gil McGregor: The Bucks appear to be prime for an upset. In addition to the questions around Giannis Antetokounmpo’s health, this Milwaukee team struggled during the season’s stretch run and went 1-4 against Indiana during five regular-season meetings.

The two teams haven’t met in over three months, but in the time since, the Bucks have regressed while the Pacers have improved.

Kyle Irving: The Bucks … again. For the second consecutive year, Antetokounmpo is dealing with a nagging injury in the first round. He is already expected to miss the start of Milwaukee’s first-round series with the Pacers, and the reporting is vague on when — or if — he might be able to return.

The Bucks are still dangerous with Damian Lillard leading the way, but so is Indiana’s fast-paced offense led by Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam. Milwaukee is in trouble in the first round.

Steph Noh: It’s the Bucks without Giannis, but the more interesting answer is the Timberwolves. They played horribly against the Suns all year because they are a bad matchup. Anthony Edwards hasn’t been able to score and the Suns have torched Minnesota’s defense when they go small. 

Minnesota likes to concede midrange shots, leading to their No. 1 defense, but the Suns have a ton of talented middy shot-makers. The Wolves also don’t have anywhere to hide Karl-Anthony Towns on defense when the Suns move Kevin Durant to a small ball center. He’s going to struggle in this series.

Scott Rafferty: I’ll go with the obvious answer in Milwaukee.

The Bucks were my preseason pick to make it out of the Eastern Conference, but the fit between Lillard and Antetokounmpo hasn’t been nearly as smooth as expected, and Milwaukee is still searching for an identity. I still probably would’ve picked them to beat the Pacers if Antetokounmpo were healthy, but not knowing his availability puts the Bucks at real risk of losing in the first round.

MORE: Victor Wembanyama can be this generation’s Wilt Chamberlain

What under-the-radar player will become a star in the playoffs?

Steph Noh: Is Jalen Williams still under the radar? He’s a popular pick for Most Improved Player. He’s turned into a great 3-point shooter, hitting a stunning 42.7 percent of his triples this year. And he has a knack for getting into the paint, whether through smart cuts or relentless drives. 

While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gotten more buzz for All-Defensive honors due to his gaudy steal numbers, Williams is by far the more solid defender. He moves his body and hips well, and he offers good weakside rim protection as a guard. 

Scott Rafferty: Franz Wagner isn’t exactly unknown — he’s already a very good NBA player and he’s had moments with the German national team — but he isn’t a household name, either. This is a feisty Magic team that while young could win a round or two if things break right for them. Paolo Banchero leads the way, but Wagner will almost certainly have a big role to play if the Magic make a bit of a run.

Gil McGregor: How under the radar are we talking? Because Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams is the first to come to mind for me.

The masses know about Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie Chet Holmgren (even when his singing is flat) but they will soon learn how valuable Williams is to the Thunder and their operation.

It wouldn’t at all be surprising for Williams to turn in a 30-point performance in a crucial spot or turn in a signature performance to lead OKC to a win. That is how stars are born.

Kyle Irving: “Star” is a little strong, but give me Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo.

DiVincenzo has been a sniper all season. Stephen Curry (357) and Luka Doncic (284) are the only players in the NBA who made more 3s than him (283) in the regular season. DiVincenzo has been a reliable outlet for his former Villanova teammate Jalen Brunson and has a knack for showing up in big moments.

The Knicks are already considered underdogs in their first-round series against the 76ers despite being the higher seed. I still like New York to advance, and DiVincenzo’s 3-and-D play will be an X-Factor in making it happen.

MORE: Ranking every playoff team’s odds to win the 2024 NBA Finals

Who’s your pick to win the Eastern Conference?

Kyle Irving: The Celtics. After coming up short of the NBA Finals last year, Boston will be laser-focused on returning to that stage this year. Even though they’ve struggled to get over the hump in the past, this Celtics team has played at a different level this season. They’ll be locked in and ready to keep their momentum rolling.

Scott Rafferty: It’s got to be the Celtics. The rest of the Eastern Conference is a mess, with Antetokounmpo dealing with an injury, Julius Randle out for the playoffs and Embiid maybe not being 100 percent. Boston should cruise to the Finals.

Gil McGregor: Boston. Simply put, the Eastern Conference is the Celtics’ to lose this year. 

In addition to the redemption arc after last year’s playoff disappointment, this Boston team is simply head and shoulders better than the rest of the conference. The Knicks are probably best suited to challenge the Celtics but even that feels like a stretch.

Stranger things have happened, but the landscape of the East heavily favors Boston.

Steph Noh: Boston. Let’s not overthink this. The East is weak and the Celtics are historically great based on their net rating. They’re going to clobber everyone in that conference. 

Jayson Tatum Kristaps Porzingis Boston Celtics

Who’s your pick to win the Western Conference?

Steph Noh: Denver. The West is going to be a bloodbath, but the Nuggets are so poised at the end of games with Nikola Jokic. They have the experience, the best player and probably the best starting five in the league. 

Losing Bruce Brown Jr. will hurt them. They’re probably not quite as good as last year’s squad due to that loss. But these guys ran through everyone last year, going 16-4. Jokic is still unstoppable, and he should get them back to the Finals.

Gil McGregor: Ultimately, the Nuggets will make it back to the NBA Finals.

The West has been scary good all year and Denver will be tested from the first game of the opening round but it won’t matter. With Nikola Jokic leading the way, it’s hard to envision any team in the West defeating the Nuggets four times in seven games. 

Kyle Irving: Yes, that’s a chalk pick for an NBA Finals matchup, but for good reason. Denver proved that it is still the team to beat this season, and Nikola Jokic proved he is still the best player in the world. The Western Conference Playoffs are going to be a gauntlet, but no team is as complete and consistent as the Nuggets.

Scott Rafferty: The Nuggets. They have the best player in the NBA, they’re a well-oiled machine, they showed last season that they can reach another level in the playoffs and, most importantly, they’re healthy. I do have some concerns about Denver’s depth, but it should still have enough to make it back to the Finals.

MORE: Expert All-Defense picks from Steph Noh

Who wins the 2024 NBA Finals?

Gil McGregor: The Nuggets are going to go back-to-back.

It’s important not to put too much stock into the regular season but the season series between Denver and Boston did give an idea of how a series might look. Denver is one of four teams to win at TD Garden this year so it won’t be fazed by not having home court. The Nuggets proved to be too much when the teams played at Ball Arena and, like every other team in the league, the Celtics do not have an answer for Jokic.

Scott Rafferty: I’m going with the Nuggets.

The Celtics have been the best team in the league all season long, but I still don’t trust them at the end of games. Also, small sample size, but Jokic dominated the Celtics in the regular season, averaging 33.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists over two games.

If Jokic gets some help from Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and/or Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets will go back-to-back.

Kyle Irving: The Celtics. Denver got them in both regular season matchups, but Boston still retained home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by owning the best record in the NBA. I would fully expect that series to go seven games, and it’s going to be extremely tough to steal Game 7 at the TD Garden with the Larry O’Brien trophy in the building. This is the year they hang Banner 18.

Steph Noh: Denver seems to be the popular pick, but I’m going Boston.

Yes, the Celtics lost both of their games to the Nuggets during the regular season. They also shot extremely poorly from 3. If they hit their average, those are two convincing wins. 

The Celtics have burned me before — I’ve picked them in each of the last three years. They are anxiety-inducing at the end of games, but they were so dominant in the regular season that I am going with them. 

Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets Jayson Tatum Boston Celtics

Who’s your pick for playoff MVP?

Steph Noh: Jayson Tatum. He’s the best player on the best team, he’s played good defense this year and he’s been a great volume scorer. 

Is he one of the top five players in the NBA? No, but he leads the ensemble cast in Boston, so he gets the award. 

Kyle Irving: Jayson Tatum. For a player who has had a ton of postseason success at a young age and several loud moments in crucial playoff games, Tatum is always labeled by his shortcomings. That’s just how it goes until you win the whole thing. 

He has a chance to change that narrative for good with a championship this year. Remember, LeBron James didn’t win his first title until he was 27. Tatum is still 26.

Scott Rafferty: Nikola Jokic. This isn’t complicated: Joker is the best player in the league and an all-time performer when the lights are the brightest. Another MVP, championship and Finals MVP would put him in some serious company.

Gil McGregor: Nikola Jokic. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself but this is starting to evoke memories of Shaquille O’Neal during LA’s three-peat or LeBron James during the Heatles’ run. 

If you don’t have an answer for Jokic, you don’t have a chance to win the title. As it stands, no one has an answer for the Joker. 

Good luck, NBA.

Jokic is in his prime and only getting better. My pick is for these playoffs and these playoffs only but until further notice, the rest of the league is going to have to ride this dominant run out.

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