June 18, 2024

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NBA Predictions: Conference Finals picks experts pick for Celtics vs. Pacers and Timberwolves vs. Mavericks

NBA Predictions: Conference Finals picks experts pick for Celtics vs. Pacers and Timberwolves vs. Mavericks

After two Game 7 games on Sunday — including one classic — to conclude the second round, the conference finals will be set for 2024. NBA Playoffs. In the East, the No. 1 Boston Celtics face the sixth-seeded Pacers, who crashed the party for the 2021 Hawks. In the West, it’s the No. 3 Timberwolves who ensured we’ll have a new champion for the sixth straight season by eliminating the Nuggets, vs. Mavericks No. 5.

Think of the young legacies starting to build here: By the end of June, one of Anthony Edwards (22), Tyrese Haliburton (24), Luka Doncic (25) or Jayson Tatum (26) will have their first championship. Each of these men will go down as a younger hero for the first time with the likes of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Nikola Jokic, and Dirk Nowitzki, among others.

So, who will it be? Well, we have to decide the conference finals first. With that in mind, here are our experts’ picks below.

Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics vs. Pacers

Botkin: Celtics at 4. I don’t think Indiana has a game here. Lots of weapons for Boston. Indiana is in the running for the 2021 Hawks as the seedings are completely blown away for an upset conference finals win over two injury-plagued teams in the Bucks and Knicks, but the dream ends here. And it ends quickly.

Herbert: Celtics at 5. These are two great offensive teams, and it will continue for much longer than that if the Celtics aren’t as sharp as they should be. Boston’s defense is much better than Indiana’s, and Joe Mazzola will make sure his team understands that it all starts with decision-making: If the Celtics take care of the ball and open up the floor properly, they should be able to limit the ball. The Pacers are in a transition phase, where they are most dangerous.

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Quinn: Celtics at 5. Game 7 was proof of how dynamic the Pacers are when shots are falling. The rest of the Knicks series shows how vulnerable they are when they aren’t. Even without Kristaps Porzingis, Boston is much stronger than the depleted Knicks. The Celtics offer Indiana’s weaker defenders nowhere to hide, and Boston has scored 126 points per 100 possessions against Indiana this season. The Pacers will win the shooting game alone, but they are outscored in the series overall.

Ward Henninger: Celtics at 6. Defense will be a big issue for Indiana, but I think the Pacers’ ability to put up high point totals will help them against a Celtics team that is prone to offense here and there. However, talent will win out, especially if Kristaps Porzingis can return at the end of the series. It’s been a tremendous run for Indiana, but it ends here.

Wimbish: Celtics at 6. The Pacers have benefited from injuries to both of their opponents to this point, and now Porzingis is out for Boston. But the Celtics have enough firepower to get past Indiana even if KP doesn’t play a single game in the series. But I’ll give the Pacers two games because their offense could catch fire.

Botkin: Timberwolves at 7. This feels like another coin flip, and in the series that ends, I’ll be choosing great defense for victory. It all started for Dallas with the creation of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, and the Wolves have waves of defenders attacking these guys and waves of big bodies behind them. OKC had plenty of perimeter defense as well and had success particularly limiting Irving as a scorer, but it opened up shooters and PJ Washington torched them. First, I don’t see Washington shooting like that again, and second, Minnesota is better at beating screens and smothering ball handlers and may not have to help shooters as much with such strong duos.

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Herbert: Timberwolves at 5. On the one hand, the Mavericks weren’t great offensively against OKC, and now they face a taller team they can’t bully. On the other hand, the Timberwolves weren’t great offensively against Denver, and now they’ll face a team that made the third-best offense in the league look disjointed. This is not an easy decision, but I chose Minnesota because I have more confidence in the players who play the role.

Quinn: Timberwolves at 7. This would be like biting your nails. Oklahoma City threw doubles at Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in an attempt to force their teammates to beat them. Minnesota will likely try to at least defend them directly earlier, and they have defenders who can make them work. Dallas owned the paint in the final drive. Minnesota is much larger than Oklahoma City was. Derrick Jones Jr. will upset Anthony Edwards. Can Mike Conley handle additional set-up duties while playing while injured? In the end, I’m falling behind on home-field advantage. This could go either way.

Ward-Henninger: Timberwolves at 7. It’s hard to watch the Wolves manage to stifle the defending champions and we believe the Mavs, who have struggled offensively for most of the postseason, will be able to thrive. However, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are the kind of unique talents who can consistently torch even the greatest defenses. Part of the reason I picked against Minnesota in the last two rounds is because I didn’t trust their clutch attack, and I’m still not sure I do, but I converted to the church of Anthony Edwards, so I won. Can’t choose against him again.

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Wimbish: Mavericks at 7. The Wolves are a tough matchup against Dallas, and they’ll have a hard time getting points at the rim with Gobert and Catt close by. Say goodbye to all those high-flying Derrick Jones Jr., Daniel Gafford, and Derrick Lively II. But I’m betting their defense will cause problems as well, and I’ll pick the duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as the most consistent stars.