NBA Playoffs have me feeling ’21

16 teams hope that it’s their year to win Larry O’Brien trophy, but two best bets fought for it two years ago


Jeramey Jannene

Our intrepid sports columnist predicts that the 2023 Finals will be a rematch of the 2021 Finals in which the Milwaukee Bucks bested the Phoenix Suns for the title. Despite the fact that the Suns have added two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant, the Bucks are the pick to win as they did in 2021. Photo accessed from the Flickr account of Jeramey Jannene. Reposted here with permission under a creative commons license.

Charlie Partheymuller, Knight editor in chief

With the NBA regular season wrapped up, we now get to elimination basketball, which makes every player step up their game and gets every fan interested. The Milwaukee Bucks are the odds on favorites, but at only +240 on FanDuel, showing how the experts don’t have a strong favorite. The Eastern Conference has had the powerhouse teams all season with the Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers leading the way, but the Denver Nuggets have always been in that conversation as well out West. Since the trade deadline though, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have finally made the race in the West interesting and given their fans hope that their team might raise the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. 

First Round 

Eastern Conference 

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Miami Heat 

This is the third time in four years these teams will have faced each other in the playoffs, with the Bucks having swept the Heat on their way to the 2021 Finals championship. In the 2020 season, the Heat won in five on their way to the Finals in the pandemic-induced bubble using a strategy of building a wall that stifled two time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to averaging more than seven points below his season average. But a lot has changed for the Bucks since that bubble season. They traded for all-defensive guard Jrue Holiday, won a championship, were touted to repeat last year until all-star Kris Middleton’s injury and are the odds on betting favorites to win this year’s championship. I don’t see them falling to this year’s Heat team who have looked dysfunctional all year offensively and are playing a top five-rated defense in the Bucks. 

Prediction: Clean sweep, Bucks in four.

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 New York Knicks 

This is my favorite round one matchup, in part because of the difficulty in choosing a winner and also because we get to see playoff Donovan Mitchell. In five playoff campaigns, Mitchell’s points per game have jumped up almost four points from his regular-season average, and he has made the playoffs every year of his career. On the other hand, the Knicks are a deep team that could’ve had two all-stars with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. While the Knicks took the season series over the Cavaliers three to one, Mitchell is the x-factor in this series and Cleveland boasting the best defense in the league is the why-factor. 

Prediction: In the toughest first round matchup, the Knicks regret not giving up more for Donovan Mitchell this past offseason as he sends them home packing in six. 

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets 

With the Nets having a bit of a fire sale at the trade deadline, dishing out their two all-stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, no one is really giving them a chance in this series. The team has been incredibly fun to watch since the trades, and Mikal Bridges has been ridiculous, scoring almost 10 points more per game than before the trade, but the Nets are a team of the future playing the probable MVP in Joel Embiid and a team on a mission this year. 

Prediction: Sixers.

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Atlanta Hawks 

The Celtics have cooled down since their hot start to the season, with their win percentage dropping by six percent since the all-star break and the team having lost the No. 1 seed in the East to the Bucks. Offensively, the Celtics have been incredible this season from the three-point line, shooting the second most attempts and making the sixth best perentage. The Hawks meanwhile have been the definition of mediocre this season, finishing 41-41. The blockbuster Dejounte Murray trade this offseason now looks just meh. In Marcus Smart and Derrick White, the Celtics have the guards to defend Trae Young and Murray, while the Hawks can’t stop both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 

Prediction: Celtics in five after one Trae Young game allows the Hawks to avoid a sweep. 

Western Conference 

No. 1 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Nuggets have struggled in the playoffs since their conference finals run in the bubble, but Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are available for this series, which is immensely important because it will give two-time MVP Nikola Jokic some help on offense. On the other end of the court, Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will have to do the bulk of the defensive work but are up to that challenge. The Timberwolves lost their best defender to injury a week ago and don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Nuggets. 

Prediction: Nuggets in five with playoff Jamal Murray returning. 

No. 4 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers 

With Kevin Durant in the starting lineup, the Suns have been undefeated although in a very limited sample size. But the team’s apparent invincibility makes sense because guarding Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul (who is still a mid-range assassin and the point god) seems an impossible task. As deep as the Clippers are and as good as Kawhi Leonard has been this season, without Paul George (injured) to add some star power, there is no chance they can keep up with the Suns, which is a shame in what could’ve been a great series. 

Prediction: Kawhi Leonard facing the Avengers without Paul George is a recipe for disaster for the Clippers faithful, Suns in five.

No. 3 Sacramento Kings vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors 

The best offense in the league vs a washed-up team? Yup the best offensive team in the league is the Sacramento Kings, but let me correct myself and say the Warriors are not washed up. The Warriors are a much more balanced team, still led by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, while the Kings boast the 25th best defense in the league which is simply too much of a detriment to overcome in the playoffs. The Kings deserve all the praise in the world for this season, but missing the playoffs for 16 straight years and then playing the defending champions in your return is a harsh hand to be dealt. 

Prediction: As much as I want to say, “LIGHT THE BEAM!” Warriors in six. 

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers 

Yes, the Lakers just finished up one of the worst basketball games I’ve seen in a while beating the Timberwolves to qualify for the playoffs. But the Lakers have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, the fourth best defense since the all-star break and their trade acquisitions have now acclimated. And they’re playing a team with two injured big men that shouldn’t be able to handle the Lakers big men when they drive to the basket. Memphis does have the frontrunner for defensive player of the year, but Jaren Jackson Jr. tends to get into foul trouble and with Memphis already suffering from limited big man depth, give me the Lakers. 

Prediction: Lakers in seven. 

Second Round 

Eastern Conference 

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 

While Antetokounmpo may not have his best series here with the Cavaliers’ twin towers of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen down low, Middleton and Holiday should feast here. 

Prediction: These teams are so similar, but one has the best player in the world. Bucks in six.

 No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers 

Easily the best matchup of the second round with two MVP caliber players dueling in Tatum and Embiid, Embiid will be trying to make his first conference finals and Tatum will be trying to lead his team back to the Finals. We just saw this game in the last week of the regular season, and Embiid dropped a 50-burger on the Celtics with Boston finding no answer to stop him. 

Prediction: I’ve got to go with the MVP frontrunner in Embiid and the Sixers to squeak this series out in seven. 

Western Conference

No. 1 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 4 Phoenix Suns 

I can already imagine all the Nikola Jokic pick-and-rolls that the Suns will put him in to hunt mismatches, and I can’t imagine that being any good for Denver. 

Prediction: The Suns make right after last year’s mishap in this round and advance in six. 

No. 6 Golden States Warriors vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers 

The NBA scriptwriters love this matchup for the ratings it will earn. LeBron vs Curry. This feels like a matchup Anthony Davis should dominate size wise, but we as NBA fans have been burned by believing in the Lakers too many times. 

Prediction: Warriors in seven because offense wins game. 

Conference Championships 

Eastern Conference Finals 

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #3 Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers simply don’t have the depth necessary to last this long in the playoffs I fear.

Prediction: The Bucks end Philly’s dreams and yet again a Philadelphia team comes up short, this time in seven games. 

Western Conference Finals 

No. 4 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors

Once again the NBA scriptwriters don’t disappoint with Kevin Durant having to get over the hurdle of his former team, the Golden State Warriors, just like he had to in Oklahoma City. This Suns team, however, is built to support Durant much better with stars to relieve him and many excellent shooters to score when Durant kicks the ball to them after getting doubleteamed. 

Prediction: Phoenix in five. 


No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 4 Phoenix Suns 

Finally a rematch of the 2021 NBA finals is reborn, but with some different casts. The Bucks have added Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen and Joe Ingles, solid role players that play their physical brand of basketball and offer three-point ability. The Suns have added a top-five player in Kevin Durant, at the expense of depth. On paper Phoenix has the star power to get the job done, but the Finals is not played on paper; that would be boring. The Bucks power through with Antetokounmpo gaining his second ring. 

Prediction: Bucks in six once again.