The National Basketball Association (NBA) Playoffs are as open as they have ever been, allowing higher possibilities for seeding upsets and long-lasting series. While predicting the NBA Finals matchup is quite difficult with so much basketball left to play, here is my prediction.
The Western Conference has been beyond entertaining this season. At the end of the regular season, the margin of wins between the fourth and ninth seeds was three games, meaning much of the Western Conference bracket has essentially already been playing playoff basketball over the past couple of weeks. The top three seeds, the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Sacramento Kings, were allowed a little more rest down the stretch; but with each having limited playoff experience, their stays in the postseason could not be as long as hoped. Fully healthy as they are now, the Phoenix Suns are undoubtedly the strongest roster in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant playing, who they acquired at the trade deadline, the Suns are 8-0 and have a +11 average point differential, which would rank first in the NBA. Phoenix boasts the best starting lineup in the NBA, teaming Durant up with Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. Their first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers is a tough one, to say the least, but I think they will get past Kawhi Leonard and company. The Western Conference overall will be a hassle to get through, as, in addition to the Clippers, Phoenix will likely have to face the Nuggets and one of the Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, or Los Angeles Lakers. Despite all these high-quality pending series for Phoenix, their offensive star power is unmatched and will be the reason they reach their second NBA Finals in three years.
While the Eastern Conference is more top-heavy, with the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers ruling the conference all year, we can still expect exciting matchups in every round. A first-round series I’m looking forward to is the Cleveland Cavaliers against the New York Knicks, who split their regular season games, giving us expectations for some thrilling basketball. Still, the winner of this series will almost certainly have to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. On the other side of the bracket, assuming they each get past their first-round foe, the Celtics and 76ers will collide in a highly-anticipated, second-round matchup. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been excellent this season, leading the Celtics to the second seed a second straight time. However, they will be facing the annual scoring and assist leaders Joel Embiid and James Harden. Embiid, who is the Most Valuable Player award frontrunner, and Harden lead a Philadelphia team who have seemed to finally put it all together this season. Their 54-28 record is the best they’ve had in over 20 years, and their chemistry is established and on point, with the core of their team being in Philadelphia all year. A Finals run will likely require them to beat both the Celtics and Bucks, but I believe they can do this. Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and the rest of the 76ers rotation have the ability to take some of the scoring load off of Embiid, which will be much needed. This is the best recent opportunity the 76ers have had, and it is now or never for Doc Rivers’s team.
NBA Finals – Suns vs. 76ers
Who wouldn’t love to see this matchup to decide the season? It would be an offensive battle, the two teams having some of the most impressive scorers in the NBA on their respective teams. In the end, I think the Suns will be too much for the 76ers. Paul should be able to go assist for assist with Harden. Ayton can force heavier reliability on the 76ers’ surrounding cast by limiting Embiid. It will be virtually impossible to contain both Booker and Durant. Adding Durant to this already championship-caliber team proves to be the deciding factor. The Suns went all in to get him and are rewarded with their first ring.
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