Predictions for NBA Play-In Tournament and First Round of Playoffs

Before we get to the 'true' NBA postseason, the final seeds will be decided in this week's Play-In Tournament.

April 15, 2024

In the first week of the NBA playoffs, home teams have dominated. They won the first 11 games before two road teams — the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks — won on Tuesday.

Starting Thursday, all the first-round series shift to the lower seed’s home court for games 3 and 4. Prior to the Play-In Tournament, we made our predictions for the play-in and the first round.

Here are those first-round predictions and the odds for the next games:

Western Conference

No. 8 Warriors def. No. 1 Thunder in seven

Prediction: No. 2 Nuggets def. No. 7 Lakers in six

Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: No. 3 Timberwolves def. No. 6 Suns in seven

Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns

Prediction: No. 5 Mavericks def. No. 4 Clippers in six

Dallas Mavericks at LA Clippers

Eastern Conference

Prediction: No. 1 Celtics def. No. 8 Heat in six

Boston Celtics at Miami Heat

Prediction: No. 2 Knicks def. No. 7 76ers in seven

New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers

Prediction: No. 3 Bucks def. No. 6 Pacers in five

Milwaukee Bucks at Indiana Pacers

Prediction: No. 4 Cavaliers def. No. 5 Magic in seven

Cleveland Cavaliers at Orlando Magic

Update 4/18/2024:

The NBA has two games left in the Play-In Tournament before the first round of the playoffs officially begin Saturday — the Chicago Bulls square off against the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings play the New Orleans Pelicans, both on Friday.

Both games have interesting storylines for you to know before placing your bets with Tipico, so let’s get to it.

Western Conference Play-In

Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans, 9:30 p.m. ET Friday

Momentum is clearly with the Kings, who trounced and eliminated the Golden State Warriors in their first play-in game on Tuesday. The Pelicans have lost six straight home games, and power forward Zion Williamson is out with a hamstring injury he suffered after scoring 40 points in the Tuesday defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pels will have to rely heavily on Brandon Ingram, who has scored 24 points in 48 minutes in the past two games. New Orleans did defeat Sacramento in all five of their matchups during the regular season.

The winner of this game will become the No. 8 seed and will face the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The loser is eliminated.

Prediction: Kings win and cover

Eastern Conference Play-In

Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat, 7 p.m. ET Friday

The Heat will likely be without team leader Jimmy Butler, who injured his knee in Miami’s 105-104 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers in their first Play-In game on Tuesday. Butler reportedly has a MCL injury, and the latest reports say he could be out “weeks.”

The Bulls are coming off a blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, thanks to Coby White’s 42 points and 46 combined from DeMar DeRozan and Nicola Vucevic.

The winner of thsi game will face the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics in the first round. The loser is eliminated.

Prediction: Bulls win

-Alex Valdes


No. 8 Lakers at No. 7 Pelicans — Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT

The Lakers surged to an 11-3 record down the stretch to get to this spot. Los Angeles finished 47-35 overall, but just 19-21 on the road. New Orleans was actually better on the road than at home, with a 49-33 record overall, but just a 21-19 home mark. The Pelicans also have the dubious distinction of being the first team in NBA history to post a winning record without winning a single game in which they trailed to begin the fourth quarter.

These two teams met in the semifinals of the NBA In-Season Tournament in Las Vegas on Dec. 7, and the Lakers routed the Pelicans 133-89. The Lakers also won 124-108 at New Orleans in the regular-season finale.

Assuming Anthony Davis (back) is available to play after leaving Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter, he and LeBron James are in good position to guide the Lakers to a road win and lock in the No. 7 seed. Those veteran stars are well prepared for this moment, while New Orleans’ offense tends to devolve into a series of inefficient iso possessions from Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram or CJ McCollum in the clutch.

Prediction: Lakers cover and win outright

No. 10 Warriors (-135 ML, -2.5) at No. 9 Kings —Tuesday, 10 p.m. EDT

Like the Lakers, the Warriors are peaking at the right time, as Golden State finished the regular season on a 10-2 run. Meanwhile, the Kings dropped to the ninth spot with a 4-7 finish. Stephen Curry is the best player on the floor, and the Warriors have a massive edge in big-game experience, as they have four titles among their six NBA Finals appearances in the past decade.

Sacramento endured a 16-year playoff drought prior to last season, in which the Kings landed the No. 3 seed thanks to strong seasons from De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis — but they were knocked out in seven games in the first round by the Warriors.

The Warriors won Game 7 on the road in that series, and Golden State went 25-16 on the road in the regular season, so the Warriors are well positioned to win another win-or-go-home game in Sacramento.

Prediction: Warriors win and cover


Eastern Conference Play-In

No. 8 Heat at No. 7 76ers — Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT

The 76ers went 31-8 when Joel Embiid played this season and went 16-27 without him. Last season’s MVP missed significant time due to a knee injury but returned down the stretch and helped Philadelphia close out the regular season with an eight-game winning streak. Embiid averaged 34.7 PPG when available, and Philadelphia also got 25.9 PPG from guard Tyrese Maxey, who enjoyed a breakout season.

Miami’s postseason pedigree is nearly unmatched, and the Heat went from the Play-In Tournament to the NBA Finals just last season. Coach Erik Spoelstra will try to draw up a defensive scheme that limits Embiid’s effectiveness, and Jimmy Butler is likely to make a major impact on both ends.

This one’s likely to come down to the wire, but Embiid and the 76ers should hang on, much to the Philadelphia crowd’s delight.

Prediction: 76ers win, Heat cover

No. 10 Hawks at No. 9 Bulls — Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. EDT

Trae Young returned from a finger injury for Atlanta’s last three games of the regular season, but he couldn’t help the Hawks snap a losing streak that ballooned to six games heading into the tournament. Atlanta finished the year with an ugly 36-46 record, but Chicago was only marginally better at 39-43.

The Hawks have the edge in talent, as the Bulls have been playing without Zach LaVine (foot) since mid-January and have spent the entire season without Lonzo Ball (knee). DeMar DeRozan (24 PPG), Coby White (19.1 PPG) and Nikola Vucevic (18.0 PPG) have picked up the slack for Chicago on offense, and they will look to capitalize on a poor Atlanta defense that allowed the third-most points per game in the regular season (120.5).

Despite their defensive shortcomings, the Hawks have to like their chances here between having the best player on the floor and their superior playoff pedigree, having won a play-in game in Miami to reach the postseason last year, and they went on a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021.

Prediction: Hawks cover and win outright

Many of the matchups below are predicated on the outcomes of the play-in tournament games above, and thus don’t have odds from Tipico Sportsbook as of this writing.

Play-In Tournament 8-Seed Game Predictions

No. 10 Warriors at No. 7 Pelicans

Golden State has been a group of road warriors all season, and they would have a golden opportunity to sneak into the playoffs the hard way in this scenario. Given New Orleans’ struggles in close games and Stephen Curry’s ability to take over, homecourt advantage wouldn’t mean much for the Pelicans in this matchup.

Prediction: Warriors  

No. 10 Hawks at No. 8 Heat

The Hawks got the better of this head-to-head in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup in last year’s tournament, but in a win-or-go-home scenario, it’s hard to pick against the Heat at home. Miami’s superior ability to get stops could prove to be the difference here.

Prediction: Heat

NBA Playoffs First Round Predictions

Western Conference

No. 8 Warriors def. No. 1 Thunder in seven

No. 2 Nuggets def. No. 7 Lakers in six

No. 3 Timberwolves def. No. 6 Suns in seven

No. 5 Mavericks def. No. 4 Clippers in six

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Celtics def. No. 8 Heat in six

No. 2 Knicks def. No. 7 76ers in seven

No. 3 Bucks def. No. 6 Pacers in five

No. 4 Cavaliers def. No. 5 Magic in seven

Sasha Yodashkin
Sasha Yodashkin has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.