With the 2020-21 season nearing the end, it’s time to make some updated NBA playoff predictions, and project which teams from the Eastern and Western Conference will qualify for the postseason.
Check out our updated NBA playoff predictions below.
Eastern Conference predictions
- 1) Brooklyn Nets; 2) Philadelphia 76ers; 3) Milwaukee Bucks; 4) Miami Heat; 5) Boston Celtics; 6) New York Knicks; 7) Atlanta Hawks; 8) Indiana Pacers
- Original picks: 1) Bucks; 2) Heat; 3) Nets; 4) Celtics; 5) Raptors; 6) 76ers; 7) Pacers; 8) Wizards
The trade for Jrue Holiday was a massive move for Milwaukee, but Giannis Antetokounmpo signing a supermax contract extension. Antetokounmpo needs a championship to cement his legacy — and has to go through Brooklyn’s Super Team before the NBA Finals.
Brooklyn made an amazing trade for James Harden. Kyrie Irving hasn’t wrecked the team with his antics, and thanks largely to Harden’s MVP-caliber play, the Nets thrived without Kevin Durant for a long stretch and ascended to the top of the East.
Western Conference predictions
- 1) Utah Jazz; 2) Phoenix Suns; 3) Denver Nuggets; 4) Los Angeles Clippers; 5) Portland Trail Blazers; 6) Los Angeles Lakers 7) Dallas Mavericks; 8) Memphis Grizzlies
- Original picks: 1) Lakers; 2) Clippers; 3) Mavericks; 4) Nuggets; 5) Warriors; 6) Suns; 7) Pelicans; 8) Jazz
One clear takeaway from our Western Conference predictions: The Lakers fail to defend their conference title in the regular season. Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis derailed those hopes.
Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks started slow but are officially off the mat. Doncic is scoring at the most efficient rate of his young NBA career, and Dallas has picked up the slack on defense.
The Utah Jazz have been the best team all season. Joining them among the West’s elite are the Phoenix Suns, who’ve stunned everyone with their rapid ascent, which Chris Paul has much to do with.
Another notable team with resilience and star power is the Portland Trail Blazers. They stayed afloat while CJ McCollum missed extended time, and he and Damian Lillard form a truly elite backcourt.
NBA Playoff bracket predictions: Matchups and Winners
Updated Eastern Conference bracket:
- No. 1 Nets defeat No. 8 Pacers, 4-0; Nets advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
- No. 2 76ers defeat No. 7 Hawks, 4-1
- No. 3 Bucks defeat No. 6 Knicks, 4-2; Bucks advance to Conference Finals, 4-3
- No. 5 Heat defeat No. 4 Celtics, 4-3
Original Eastern Conference bracket picks
- No. 1 Bucks defeat No. 8 Wizards, 4-1; Bucks advance to Conference Finals, 4-1
- No. 2 Heat defeat No. 7 Pacers, 4-1; Heat advance to Conference Finals, 4-3
- No. 3 76ers defeat No. 6 Pacers, 4-3
- No. 5 Raptors defeat No. 4 Celtics, 4-3
It’d be tough to see the Heat and Celtics square off so early. That’s what happens you fall short of preseason expectations. In the end, Miami sends the Celtics packing in an epic rematch of the 2020 Conference Finals.
Whereas the Heat are the ultimate team, the Nets face championship-or-bust expectations. Alas, Brooklyn is too talented to be defeated in the semis. Once Harden, KD and Irving are all on the court again, there’s no stopping the Nets.
A Bucks-76ers semifinals showdown would be epic. As long as Giannis can make it difficult enough for Joel Embiid to get his buckets, Milwaukee’s perimeter defense would likely make them prevail.
Updated Western Conference bracket:
- No. 1 Jazz defeat No. 8 Grizzlies, 4-1
- No. 2 Suns defeat No. 7 Mavericks, 4-3; Suns advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
- No. 6 Lakers defeat No. 3 Nuggets, 4-2; Lakers advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
- No. 4 Clippers defeat No. 5 Trail Blazers, 4-2
Original Western Conference bracket picks
- No. 1 Lakers defeat No. 8 Jazz, 4-1; Lakers advance to Conference Finals, 4-1
- No. 2 Clippers defeat No. 7 Pelicans, 4-2
- No. 3 Mavericks defeat No. 6 Suns, 4-1; Mavs advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
- No. 4 Nuggets defeat No. 5 Warriors, 4-3
If the Mavs are the seventh seed, they’re going to be a problem. However, CP3 and Devin Booker would will Phoenix to advance in seven.
When it comes to the Clippers bowing out in Round 2, recall their blown 3-1 lead last year. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George aren’t getting over that any time soon.
Our projections have the Lakers KO’ing Denver and Utah once Davis and LeBron are back in the lineup. After a gauntlet of the Nuggets, Jazz and Suns, LBJ haters will bite their tongues as an NBA Finals duel for the ages emerges.
NBA playoff predictions: NBA Finals matchup and champion
2021 NBA Finals: Lakers defeat Nets, 4-3
L.A. has looked almost unstoppable when LeBron and AD have been on the court, as the Lakers boast a combination of depth, size and star power their previous title-winning team didn’t have.
While the Nets have a disadvantage rebounding, if Irving, Harden and Durant are firing on all cylinders, great offense beats great defense any day.
All that said, the pressure is on the Nets here. Harden is eying his first championship. Irving is trying to prove he’s not toxic and can help lead a perennial contender. Win or lose, Durant is going to catch grief due to his latest Super Team membership.
The Lakers are more battle-tested, though. LeBron will again defy the odds, claim his fifth title and further close the GOAT debate gap on Michael Jordan.