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Prediction time: NBA Playoff projections, with the Celtics winning it all

Michael Smith, Michael Holley and Marc J. Spears look ahead to both must-watch first-round series in the NBA Western Conference.

Before the season tipped off, I predicted the Bucks would beat the Clippers in this year’s NBA Finals. As the playoffs tip-off, I don’t have either of them making the Finals today, although seeing the Bucks there wouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s time for NBA playoff predictions and here is where I stand, where the East will largely follow the chalk but the West… who knows?

Western Conference

First Round

Nuggets over Timberwolves (five games)
Grizzlies over Lakers (seven games)
Warriors over Kings (six games)
Suns over Clippers (six games)

Second Round

Suns over Nuggets (seven games)
Grizzlies over Warriors (seven games)

Western Conference Finals

Suns over Grizzlies (six games)

The Suns get the nod mainly on the “I trust Kevin Durant to be great” theory, but the idea they could lose in the first round is not crazy (if Paul George were healthy I might have picked the Clippers, but without him it’s a big ask for Kawhi Leonard).

And that sums up the West completely — I don’t trust any of these teams and could be wrong from the start. The Lakers and Anthony Davis could consistently get Jaren Jackson Jr. in foul trouble and win that series (I never feel comfortable picking against LeBron James in the playoffs). I do not believe in the Warriors’ playoff muscle memory kicking in enough to come out of the West, but they could (they could fall to the Kings in the first round, although I think this is a bad matchup for Sacramento). A second-round Phoenix vs. Denver series could be the defacto Western Conference Finals.

Bottom line, I would pick the field over the Suns, or any other team in the West. But I’ve got to pick someone, so I will trust Durant to be great.

Eastern Conference

First Round

Bucks over Heat (five games)
Celtics over Hawks (five games)
76ers over Nets (five games)
Cavaliers over Knicks (seven games

Second Round

Bucks over Cavaliers (six games)
Celtics over 76ers (seven games)

Eastern Conference Finals

Celtics over Bucks (seven games)

I have the East following form much more. Miami could give Milwaukee a tougher time than a gentlemen’s sweep, but this year’s Heat team should not be confused with last year’s. The only interesting first-round series in the East is Knicks vs. Cavaliers, and that could go either way.

Betting on the Celtics to come out of the West is largely a bet on Robert Williams III being healthy enough to play 25+ minutes a night, especially in the second round and beyond. If not, maybe the Celtics can get by a 76ers team that is just not a good matchup with the wing attacks of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but I don’t think the Celtics beat the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo without a heavy dose of Williams.

I believe the much-anticipated Celtics vs. Bucks Eastern Conference Finals is a coin flip and is the true NBA Finals.

NBA Finals

Celtics over Suns

Durant or not, whoever comes out of the East will handle whoever comes out of the West with relative ease. The three (and maybe four) best teams in the NBA are in the East.