NBA

NBA Playoff Picks: Who Advances to the Conference Finals?

The Cavs are the only major underdog in the four conference semifinal series — can they pull off a shocker?

May 6, 2024

The second round of the NBA playoffs has just begun, as one series has already played a game, and the other three are set to tip off shortly. Below is a series preview/update for each of the four second round series, accompanied by odds from Tipico Sportsbook and predictions.

Western Conference

1 Thunder (-122 odds to win series) vs. 5 Mavericks (+100)

The Thunder’s lack of playoff experience wasn’t an issue in OKC’s first-round sweep of New Orleans, but Dallas is a major step up in competition from a Zion Williamson-less Pelicans team. The Mavericks have two superstars in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, who were both dominant scoring forces in Dallas’ six-game first-round series win over the Clippers.

Doncic led the team across the board with 29.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 9.5 APG, while Irving chipped in 26.5 PPG. Dallas has bolstered the defense, depth and chemistry around its two stars through in-season moves, but the Mavericks will ultimately go as far as Doncic and Irving take them.

OKC has home-court advantage, but the Thunder could have some rust to shake off in Tuesday’s Game 1, as they will have been off for over a week after completing their first-round sweep last Monday. MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way for OKC with 27.3 PPG against the Pelicans, Jalen Williams added 21.3 PPG, and Rookie of the Year finalist Chet Holmgren contributed a well-rounded 15.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 2.8 blocks per game.

Dallas’ playoff experience could prove to be the difference in this series, though the lights certainly haven’t looked too bright for the young Thunder at any point this season.

Prediction: Mavericks in 6

2 Nuggets (+470) vs. 3 Timberwolves (-650); Timberwolves lead series 2-0

No team has looked more impressive this postseason than the Timberwolves, who took Game 1 in Denver 106-99 on Saturday after sweeping Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and the Suns in the first round. If anybody has the personnel to slow down Denver’s Nikola Jokic-centric offense, it’s Minnesota, as the T-Wolves have likely DPOY Rudy Gobert and sixth man of the year Naz Reid at center.

Thanks to Gobert’s defensive prowess, Minnesota is one of the few teams with a chance of adequately defending Jokic without sending double teams, thus limiting the effectiveness of Denver’s supporting cast. The efficacy of that strategy was on display in Game 1, as the Nuggets got only 67 points from players other than Jokic. While Gobert drives Minnesota’s excellent defense, Anthony Edwards is the team’s engine on offense, as the 22-year-old superstar is averaging 33.4 PPG this postseason after scoring 43 in Game 1.

Whichever team wins this series will be arguably the favorite to win it all moving forward. Denver’s five-game first round series win over the Lakers was a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, which the Nuggets swept en route to the title.

Jokic leads the team across the board with 28.8 PPG, 14.8 RPG and 9.7 APG. Jamal Murray (22.5 PPG) added to his reputation as one of the league’s best clutch players by hitting two game-winners in the final seconds against Los Angeles, and Michael Porter Jr. has used the basketball court as an escape from his family turmoil to put up 22.3 PPG.

Winning in Denver is an uphill climb both literally and figuratively, as opponents have to deal with not only a raucous crowd but also breath-sapping altitude, which the Nuggets are used to playing in. The Nuggets are 67-15 at home in the last two regular seasons, and Saturday’s loss was only the second defeat for Denver in 15 home games over the last two postseasons.

The Timberwolves are unlikely to steal another road game, so the Nuggets just need to win one of three in Minnesota. Denver having home-court advantage will still prove to be the difference in this series.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7

Eastern Conference

1 Celtics (-1400) vs. 4 Cavaliers (+770)

Boston took care of a depleted Miami team in five games in the first round, benefitting from a balanced 22.8 PPG from Jaylen Brown, 22.4 PPG from Derrick White, and 21.8 PPG from Jayson Tatum. Boston’s biggest concern heading into the second round is that center Kristaps Porzingis (calf) is likely to miss this series after getting injured in Game 4 against Miami. Porzingis’ mix of shooting and interior defense will be missed, though the Celtics could catch a break if the Cavaliers remain without center Jarrett Allen (ribs), who missed the last three games of Cleveland’s seven-game first-round series win over the Magic.

Donovan Mitchell led the way for the Cavs in the first round with 28.7 PPG, including 39 points in Game 7. Mitchell will likely be the best offensive player in this series given Tatum’s inability to consistently perform like a superstar in the postseason — but Boston’s balanced attack will be hard for the Cavaliers to counter given Cleveland’s lack of offense behind Mitchell, especially if Allen remains unavailable.

Cleveland’s inability to win on the road is also a major problem considering the Celtics have home-court advantage. The Cavaliers went 0-3 on the road in the first round against Orlando, dropping those games by an average of 22.3 points.

Prediction: Celtics in 5

2 Knicks (-400) vs. 6 Pacers (+300); Knicks lead series 1-0

The Knicks are coming off a highly competitive six-game series win over the 76ers, while the Pacers capitalized on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s (calf) absence to knock off the Bucks in six. New York has the best player in this series in Jalen Brunson, who joined elite company in the first round while averaging 35.5 PPG and 9.0 APG.

Per Josh Dubow of The Associated Press, Brunson became just the third player since at least 1968 to record at least 210 points and 50 assists in the first six games of any playoff series, joining Michael Jordan in 1989 and LeBron James in the 2015 NBA Finals. The point guard’s elite production came out of necessity, as a Knicks team that was already without two-time All-NBA forward Julius Randle (shoulder) also lost key bench piece Bojan Bogdanovic (foot) for the remainder of the postseason during the first round.

New York’s key players are used to playing big minutes under coach Tom Thibodeau, and they’ll have no choice but to keep doing so with injuries reducing the Knicks’ rotation to seven players. Meanwhile, the Pacers’ biggest advantage is their depth. Indiana had seven players average at least 9.5 PPG in the first round, led by Pascal Siakam’s 22.3 PPG, Myles Turner’s 19.2 PPG and Tyrese Haliburton’s 16.0 PPG. Haliburton also led Indiana with 9.3 APG and has shown no ill-effects despite playing through back spasms since Game 4 against Milwaukee.

The Pacers live up to their name and love to push the pace. If they can do so consistently in this series, it could tire out a Knicks rotation that has the starters playing almost the whole game, thus counteracting New York’s far superior defense.

Prediction: Knicks in 6

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.
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