NBA playoff predictions: From top seeds to bracket & Finals

Here are our NBA playoff predictions. Will LeBron and the Lakers repeat, or will the Nets' Super Team prevail? Find out how our projected bracket plays out.

By Matt Fitzgerald

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.

Related: NBA power rankings – Phoenix Suns now a championship contender

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
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 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
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

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.

Related: NBA defensive rankings – Heat and Suns lead league’s elite, Mavs make massive move

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.

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

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
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’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.

Related: 50 Top NBA players of 2021 – Historical performance has Zion Williamson on the rise

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.

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

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
Western Conference NBA playoff bracket: Utah Jazz upset LA Clippers
Jan 26, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) slaps the hand of center Rudy Gobert (27) during the third quarter against the New York Knicks at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah Jazz wins 108-94. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA playoff predictions: Lakers defeat Nets in 2021 NBA Finals
Jan 13, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) gestures against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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