NBA playoff predictions: Bracket picks & Finals champion

Here are our NBA playoff predictions. Will LeBron and the Lakers repeat, or will the Nets' Super Team prevail? Explore our full bracket and Finals predictions.

With the 2020-21 season all wrapped up and the first round of the playoffs in the books, it’s time to update our NBA playoffs and Finals predictions, and project how all the qualifying teams from the Eastern and Western Conference will fare this postseason.

Check out our NBA playoff predictions below, which feature the original preseason picks, and will be refreshed shortly after the play-in tournament.

Related: NBA Power Rankings – Update after first round of the playoffs

Eastern Conference predictions

  • Top seeds in the East (actual): 1) Philadelphia 76ers; 2) Brooklyn Nets 3) Milwaukee Bucks; 4) New York Knicks; 5) Atlanta Hawks 6) Miami Heat; 7) Boston Celtics; 8) Washington Wizards
    • Original seeding predictions: 1) Bucks; 2) Heat; 3) Nets; 4) Celtics; 5) Raptors; 6) 76ers; 7) Pacers; 8) Wizards
Eastern Conference predictions
Jan 29, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (left) and guard Kyrie Irving (right) celebrate during a time out against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The trade for Jrue Holiday was a massive move for Milwaukee, but even more crucial was Giannis Antetokounmpo signing a supermax contract extension. Antetokounmpo needs a championship to cement his legacy — and has to go through the reigning East champion Miami Heat in Round 1. Tough start.

Brooklyn made an amazing trade for James Harden and are entering the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. 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 and The Beard for long stretches. Brooklyn should defeat Boston with ease, especially since the Celtics are without Jaylen Brown.

Western Conference predictions

  • Top seeds in the West (actual): 1) Utah Jazz; 2) Phoenix Suns; 3) Denver Nuggets; 4) Los Angeles Clippers; 5) Dallas Mavericks; 6) Portland Trail Blazers; 7) Los Angeles Lakers; 8) Memphis Grizzlies
    • Original picks: 1) Lakers; 2) Clippers; 3) Mavericks; 4) Nuggets; 5) Warriors; 6) Suns; 7) Pelicans; 8) Jazz
NBA playoff predictions: Donovan Mitchell and Utah Jazz are humming in the West
Feb 2, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) reacts after beating the Detroit Pistons at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers failed to defend their conference title in the regular season. Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis derailed those hopes, and squaring off with the Phoenix Suns proved

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks started slow but eventually got 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, which set up a first-round rematch with the Clippers that showeed Doncic needs more help.

The Utah Jazz have been the best team all season. Joining them among the West’s elite are the 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. Unfortunately, as we’ll see, their downfall against Denver is bringing about big changes, starting with the parting of ways with head coach Terry Stotts.

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NBA Playoffs bracket predictions: Matchups and Winners

Updated Eastern Conference bracket:

  • No. 1 76ers defeat No. 8 Wizards, 4-1; 76ers advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
  • No. 2 Nets defeat No. 7 Celtics, 4-1; Nets advance to Conference Finals, 4-1
  • No. 3 Bucks defeat No. 6 Heat, 4-0
  • No. 5 Hawks defeat No. 4 Knicks, 4-1

Original Eastern Conference bracket picks (post-regular season)

  • No. 1 76ers defeat No. 8 Wizards, 4-1; 76ers advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
  • No. 2 Nets defeat No. 7 Celtics, 4-1; Nets advance to Conference Finals, 4-3
  • No. 3 Bucks defeat No. 6 Heat, 4-3
  • No. 4 Knicks defeat No. 5 Hawks, 4-2
NBA playoff predictions: Brooklyn Nets surge to Conference Finals
Jan 18, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets shooting guard James Harden (13) and power forward Kevin Durant (7) high five during the fourth quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center. The Nets defeated the Bucks 125-123. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It was tough to see the Heat and Bucks square off so early — but even tougher to see Miami not even put up a fight. The Heat were behind early as they struggled under the weight of preseason expectations and a variety of other factors. In the end, Milwaukee sent Miami packing in a quick sweep that seemed destined to go the distance.

The Nets face championship-or-bust expectations, and facing a play-in tourney opponent to start took some of the pressure off. Brooklyn still feels too talented to be defeated in the semis, too, even against the Bucks. Even with Harden aggravating his hamstring injury recently, KD, Irving and Blake Griffin are all on the court, and no one’s had a consistent answer for the Nets yet.

Related: 50 Top NBA players of 2021 – Chris Paul back in the Top 10

A Knicks-76ers semifinals showdown would’ve be epic, but the Atlanta Hawks proved they’re for real by bouncing New York in five games during the first round and pulling an upset in Game 1 against Philly. The Sixers’ star power should allow the favorites to advance, but again, Brooklyn’s offense is too elite for the Sixers to beat a full-strength Nets team in the Conference Finals four times out of seven.

Related: NBA games today – TV schedule, daily fantasy picks, and best bets

Updated Western Conference bracket:

  • No. 1 Jazz defeat No. 8 Grizzlies, 4-1
  • No. 2 Suns defeat No. 7 Lakers, 4-2; Suns advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
  • No. 3 Nuggets defeat No. 6 Trail Blazers, 4-2
  • No. 4 Clippers defeat No. 5 Mavericks, 4-3; Clippers advance to Conference Finals, 4-3

Original Western Conference bracket picks (post-regular season)

  • No. 1 Jazz defeat No. 8 Grizzlies, 4-0
  • No. 7 Lakers defeat No. 2 Suns, 4-3; Lakers advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
  • No. 5 Mavericks defeat No. 4 Clippers, 4-3; Mavs advance to Conference Finals, 4-2
  • No. 3 Nuggets defeat No. 6 Trail Blazers, 4-2
Western Conference NBA playoff bracket: Los Angeles Lakers stun Phoenix Suns in Round 1
Apr 13, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and Devin Booker (1) against the Miami Heat in the second half at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Lakers were the seventh seed, they were still favored against the Suns in Round 1. In a best-of-seven with LeBron and AD healthy, Phoenix wouldn’t have enough firepower to keep up. Well, Davis was injured during the series, and his value to the Lakers from a pure basketball standpoint is even greater than CP3’s to the Suns. Combine that with Devin Booker’s emergence, and it was a perfect storm for Phoenix to crush the defending champs.

Our original prediction had the Clippers bowing out in the first round. Recall their blown 3-1 lead last year. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George aren’t getting over that any time soon, and Luka got injured when Dallas met them in the Orlando bubble. Credit LA, because Kawhi and Co. were on the ropes, and responded by besting the Mavs in seven.

Our projections had the Lakers KO’ing Phoenix and Utah, but obviously, they’re out, largely due to injuries to LeBron and AD. Now, it feels like the Clippers will be representing Los Angeles in the NBA Finals.

NBA playoff predictions: NBA Finals matchup and champion

2021 NBA Finals predictions: Nets defeat Clippers, 4-3

NBA playoff predictions: NBA Finals matchup and champion
Feb 2, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant (7) and point guard Kyrie Irving (11) and shooting guard James Harden (13) and Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) await a replay review during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Original NBA Finals prediction: Lakers defeat Nets, 4-3

The hope is that this is the matchup, because let’s face it, that’d present the best showcase of star power the league could hope for.

While the Nets would have a disadvantage rebounding against any other remaining Western foe, the Clips are undersized as well. If Irving, Harden and Durant are firing on all cylinders, great offense beats great defense any day. Having said that, Kawhi and PG13 can get as hot as any of the NBA’s dynamic duos, and are capable of locking down Irving and Harden.

Both squads would be under a ton of scrutiny. 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.

Meanwhile, Leonard and George have largely not lived up to the hype since arriving in LA. They need to deliver a championship in short order, and things almost really took a turn for the worse when they staved off elimination against Dallas.

The Nets just have more weapons. In the end, as long as Harden is healthy enough for the Finals, Brooklyn will raise a championship banner after a phenomenal seven-game series.

Related: NBA MVP Race 2021-22 – The old and the young converge

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