Wednesday, May 22 2024
<img class="caas-img has-preview" alt="Jayson Tatum’s Boston Celtics are the betting favorites to take the NBA title. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP” src=”” data-src=””>

Team that will be most missed from the postseason …

Golden State Warriors. It feels flat-out wrong to have a postseason without Stephen Curry, but regardless of how good he still is, that’s the way the cookie crumbles when you don’t give him an adequate supporting cast. Hopefully the Warriors will take the summer to retool a clearly insufficient roster. CDL

Golden State Warriors. We may well have seen the end of the Big 3 era. It’s going to be super weird when Klay is cantering around the Chase Center floor in a Utah Jazz uniform and Draymond is, ahem, working out his frustrations in Detroit. AL

Memphis Grizzlies. We were meant to be watching a newly acquired Marcus Smart transform Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr and company into a group capable of going deeper into the playoffs. Instead we got an endless spate of injuries: just last week, Memphis listed 13 players out for their game against the Lakers, which seems almost impossible. Morant, fresh off his suspension, guided the Grizzlies to a 6-3 record before suffering a season-ending injury. Smart played just 20 games, Bane 42. Kind of a shame not to see what kind of chaos this core may have caused. Wait till next season. DL

San Antonio Spurs. But that’s not really because of their team. It’s because of Victor Wembanyama. He’s the most exciting player absent from this postseason and this may be the only time in his career he misses out. The 7ft 4in Frenchman is on the shortlist for Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA Third Team, despite the Spurs winning just 22 games. He’s an alien. JU

High seed at risk of going out early

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a truly impressive season, and Anthony Edwards will clearly be sitting atop the league’s star power rankings for years to come. But they drew an absolute worst-case-scenario first round opponent in the Phoenix Suns – a high octane offense buoyed up by All-Star vets with tons of experience in the postseason. CDL

Oklahoma City Thunder. They face the Sacramento Kings, who already ended the Warriors dynasty and split the season series with OKC this year. What’s more, the Kings are still salty about last year’s first-round exit, and Domantas Sabonis has been playing like a man on a mission. AL

Minnesota Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns has never made it to the second round of the playoffs. Will this year be different? It better be: the series that Towns calls the most important of his career comes after the best Timberwolves regular season since Kevin Garnett took Minny to the conference finals in 2004. So yeah, expectations are high, but their opponents are no ordinary sixth seed. Phoenix, with Kevin Durant the healthiest he’s been in years, were 3-0 v the Wolves this season, one in which Devin Booker was his usual All-Star self, playing alongside an adjusted roster better suited to make a finals run. The bookies don’t believe: Minnesota are slight underdogs despite the seedings and will surprise few if they go out early, again. DL

Milwaukee Bucks. With Giannis Antetokounmpo hurt and set to miss a few games, Milwaukee, a team who have been sputtering, could be bounced by the Indiana Pacers, who beat them several times this season anyway. Damian Lillard has carried the Bucks at times, but he’s also looked less than himself this year. While the inexperienced Thunder and Timberwolves could go early, the Bucks could actually get swept. JU

Long shot to win

I don’t know how much of a long shot a team with a star who is likely to come in a close second in MVP voting this year can be considered, but the Dallas Mavericks are my favorites to upset the venerable Denver Nuggets and come out of the West. Luka Doncic has never looked better, he and Kyrie Irving sorted out their chemistry, the Mavericks’ trade deadline moves were sensational, and they are firing on all cylinders at the perfect time. CDL

Philadelphia 76ers. If they can get past the New York Knicks, who, let’s be fair, aren’t exactly over their playoff demons, the conference bracket is the Sixers’ oyster. AL

When you’re a second seed you’re not supposed to be a 40-1 longshot, but the New York Knicks are just that. Knicks fans point first to their all-NBA point guard Jalen Brunson as the chief reason their team could make a title run. That New York are 20-3 when OG Anunoby is on the court, and just a .500 team while he was out, may be a better reason to believe the Knicks could win their first ring since 1973. The key to this upset is keeping the oft-injured British forward out of the trainer’s room and on the court, a challenge amid the physicality of playoff basketball. DL

Earlier this year, in our “bold predictions” I said a first-time team could win the championship this season. So, I’ll stick with that and say the Los Angeles Clippers, a four-seed, could take it. In fact, I think the winner of Clippers-Mavericks will make the Western Conference finals and face Denver. JU

Most important player this postseason

Jimmy Butler is hobbled, Joel Embiid doesn’t seem quite right yet, and while the Knicks are looking formidable, they’re still down a star and a half in Julius Randle and a sub-fully-healthy Anunoby. The stars are aligning for the Boston Celtics to finally get over the hump, pending one thing: will Jayson Tatum finally slay his postseason demons and look as good in the later rounds as he did during the regular season? Can he become unstoppable in clutch time? Tatum holds the key for the Celtics. CDL

Joel Embiid. The reigning MVP proved the haters right by spraining his knee right as Philly opened the playoffs against Boston last year. And lo and behold, he’s hurt again. If the Sixers falter again, there’s going to be more than a few fans ready to move on from this “process” – if they haven’t already. AL

We often wondered: “What if Kyrie Irving could just keep his head down and just play Hall of Fame basketball, wouldn’t that be something?” And so it was in 2023-2024, when Irving finally shared less of his less endearing off-the-court self, stayed out of the NBA’s doghouse while thriving in Dallas alongside Doncic. All Kyrie ever has to do to be vital to his team is be there, which he was for 58 games, while answering all questions about whether he and Doncic could play together. Now Irving is poised to be the Dallas’ difference against a Clippers team that has ousted Luka’s Mavs from the playoffs twice. DL

It’s a long list from rookie Chet Holmgren to Anthony Edwards, Doncic, Giannis, Nikola Jokić and Kristaps Porziņģis. But the answer is Jalen Brunson. If he gets hot, the Knicks can make the Eastern Conference finals and challenge the Boston Celtics. JU

Western Conference finals

Nuggets over Mavericks. CDL

Nuggets over Thunder. AL

Timberwolves over Mavericks. DL

Nuggets over Mavericks. JU

Eastern Conference finals

Celtics over Knicks. CDL

Celtics over Bucks. AL

Knicks over Magic. DL

Celtics over Knicks. JU

Your NBA champion will be

Denver Nuggets. The biggest challenges the Nuggets face will take place long before they reach the finals, if they manage to get there. The West is an absolute gauntlet this season, far more difficult than the one they traversed last year. Denver will have to slay a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis, followed by either a tough, huge Timberwolves squad or Durant and Booker with a better supporting cast than last year, and potentially Doncic and Irving and a red hot Mavericks. Yes, the Celtics had a sensational regular season and will theoretically be better rested due to a far easier path to the finals than Denver, but beating the best of the best gives me more confidence in a team, and the Celtics simply won’t have to. I have the Nuggets in Game 7. CDL

Denver Nuggets. Boston try and try – and be clear: the preseason swap for Holiday at least proves successful in getting them back to the finals. But when it comes right down to it, nobody beats the Wiz – and by that I mean the Serbian seven-footer whose game and supporting cast remain head and shoulders above the rest. AL

New York Knicks. The league is so wide open that the Knicks will go on to win what I’ll call a “title of opportunity”. There will be upsets abound as the big boys collapse, allowing the Knicks to walk through a wide open championship window, winning their first ring since the Nixon administration. Few would look at their roster and say, “that’s a championship team”, but with a little help, a lot of hustle and the tight teamwork that’s made New York so resilient this season, it’s more than possible that Broadway hosts one of the most unlikely ticker tape parades in NYC history. And, yes, I know I said the Wolves are at risk of going out early but if they can survive the first-round I like them to gain momentum and get to the finals. DL

Boston Celtics. This could come back to haunt me, but it also just seems like their year. They won 64 regular season games while the next best total was 57. While I would pick Denver in a vacuum, they have seemed a half-step slow, and they’ve played a ton of games over the past year. Boston are younger, fresher and maybe hungrier. If Tatum can avoid wilting late in games and if Jaylen Brown can take care of the ball, they should win. But Boston need to take it, which is something they’ve avoided doing since the Garnett era. Boston over Denver in seven. JU

Source: Yahoo Sports


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