NBA playoffs preview and predictions: All signs point to Boston and Denver duking it out for the title


There will undoubtedly be upset results here and there in the NBA playoffs but there’s an overwhelming sense of fait accompli that Boston will be trying to steal Denver’s crown when the final two teams are standing. 

Now that the play-in tournament is almost sorted, attention turns to the proper post-season with a cavalcade of intriguing subplots.

Golden State were unable to extend their “Last Dance” past the play-in, which will likely accelerate the transition into a new era with only Steph Curry certain to stay around with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green potentially on their way out. 

Denver have been usurped as championship favourites by Boston’s league-best regular-season campaign. 

The Nuggets have a much tougher task in getting out of a Western Conference stacked with at least four other teams that could go all the way while the Celtics have the luxury of a bracket in the East filled with teams with little playoff experience or ones that have been trending down form wise for way too long to be considered legitimate hopes of being contenders.

But if those two teams meet in the finals, the Nuggets should be considered the team to beat – Boston have an all-round deeper team with no weaknesses but Nikola Jokic’s ability to get the best out of his support cast is up there with Magic Johnson’s decade of dominance with the Showtime Lakers. 

Here’s how the playoff picture is shaping up heading into the opening games on Sunday morning (AEST).

Eastern Conference

1 Boston vs 8 Miami/Chicago

There are no chinks in Boston’s armour and the only question is whether Jayson Tatum has the all-round game to lead a team all the way. If Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White stay on the floor, there is no better five-man line-up in the NBA. 

Miami should account for Chicago on Saturday (AEST) to clinch the eighth seed but despite all the warnings that the Heat could once again revive a seemingly listless campaign come playoff time, Jimmy Buttler is out so even if that is not a guarantee. Bulls guard Coby White should win Most Improved Player. He’s become a bona fide future star virtually out of nowhere. Celtics in 5

Coby White was in a different mode during his 42-point performance in the #SoFiPlayIn ????

White and the Bulls visit Miami tonight for a chance at the #8 seed in the East at 7pm/et on ESPN!

— NBA (@NBA) April 19, 2024

2 New York vs 7 Philadelphia 

Joel Embiid is still not back to his absolute best after his knee injury lay-off and that should concern the Knicks. If he can round into top form, the longer this series goes the less like Jalen Brunson can take New York into the second round for only the third time this century. 76ers in 7

3 Milwaukee vs 6 Indiana 

The Bucks have been the NBA’s biggest disappointments, particularly since Doc Rivers took over mid-season. They were lucky not to sink to fourth and even though they will likely get past the Pacers, they’ll go no further. Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss at least the first couple of game with his calf injury – this series is looking like a major upset candidate. 

Luckily for Milwaukee, star guard Tyrese Haliburton has not recaptured his early-season form which made him one of the most potent players in the NBA before a hamstring injury struck. Bucks in 7

4 Cleveland vs 5 Orlando 

The Cavaliers threw their final regular season game against the “might” of Charlotte to get the fourth seed. One question – why? They probably have a better chance to advance to the second round against the young Magic line-up but the reward is a showdown with the Celtics. They’re accepting mediocrity. Cavs in 7

Western Conference

1 Oklahoma City vs 8 New Orleans/Sacramento 

The Thunder lobbed into first in the West when Denver slipped up in their penultimate game against Victor Wembanyama and San Antonio’s G-League crew. OKC are being under-rated and just because they’re young doesn’t mean they have no chance. 

Whether it’s the Pelicans minus the yet again injured Zion Williamson or the Kings, they’ll canter into the second round. OKC in 5

2 Denver vs 7 LA Lakers 

The Lakers have surged home in the final weeks of the regular season to rise from 10th and potential play-in oblivion to seventh. The prize? A showdown with the Nuggets. 

As great as LeBron James was and Anthony Davis can occasionally be, they will be lucky to take this series to six after losing their past eight meetings with Denver. They have no answer to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray working in tandem down the stretch. AD does a decent job on Jokic but LeBron’s 40-year-old legs can’t defend the other four. Nuggets in 6

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

3 Minnesota vs 6 Phoenix 

The Timberwolves are combusting again. They have copped a couple of poundings from the Suns in recent weeks and after looking likely to top the West, they’re now up against the bogey team while trying to work Karl-Anthony Towns back into the line-up after his latest injury. The Suns are dangerous with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal but unreliable. Timberwolves in 7

4 LA Clippers vs 5 Dallas 

This is easily the hardest match-up to predict. The Clippers looked like the best team in the NBA for several weeks of the season but then regressed into Clipper mode too often for anyone’s liking.

Dallas, powered by an unexpected defensive renaissance, have been the form team over the past month and with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving firing, hold the slightest of edges. Mavericks in 7

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