NBA playoff picture set as play-in tournament wraps up

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AM 21-22 NBA Playoff Predictions

East FinalistMilwaukee Bucks
West FinalistPhoenix Suns
NBA ChampionPhoenix Suns
Sleeper PickDenver Nuggets
Biggest FlopBoston Celtics

With the 21-22 play-in tournament complete, the NBA playoff picture is set, and round one is ready to get underway. After a dominant regular season across the board, it’s hard to bet against the Phoenix Suns. At the very least, a return to the Finals seems likely, but frankly, anything short of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy should be seen as a massive disappointment for a Suns team that has been head and shoulders above any other team in the Association this season. The Grizzlies and Warriors (if Steph is healthy) should also be in the mix, but the wildcard is Nikola Jokic. Denver has a grueling path to the Conference Finals, with a first-round matchup against Golden State, followed by a probable second-round battle with Memphis (barring a massive Minnesota miracle). Jokic is a dominant force who could steal the Nuggets a series or two, so we have Denver as a sleeper pick – but the West is the Suns’ to lose.

The East is a different story. There is minimal separation between the top four, and a case can be made for the HeatCelticsBucks, and 76ers coming out of the East. After going through a bit of a lull in March, Miami ended the season on a high note and locked up home-court advantage for a likely finals run. We think the defending champs will be right there with them in the conference finals. Meanwhile, Boston and Philly have had solid regular seasons, but both teams have several past playoff disappointments looming over their heads. Can either finally take the next step when it matters most?

And don’t forget the Brooklyn Nets, which have two of the most dominant players in the NBA on their roster in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So far, the Nets’ season has not gone according to plan, from the failed Harden experiment to the Irving drama. Still, you can never count out a team with a couple of game-breakers who can take over a series. It feels like Brooklyn will be the ultimate boom-or-bust team, either bowing out in the first round or making a run to the Finals. We have the Nets and the Heat as serious contenders in the East, but still like the Bucks’ chances to defend their title in a Finals rematch with the Suns.