Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA column

Logo for Diehlman at Halftime column. - Graphics Editor / Julia Quennessen

It’s everyone’s favorite time of the year in the NBA. One of the 20 playoff (or play-in) teams will conquer the postseason to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy and bragging rights.

So, who’s looking scary enough for a title run?

Note: Predictions were made before play-in tournament started

Play-In Tournament Predictions:

MIA vs. ATL — Even with Quin Snyder coming to Atlanta to replace Nate McMillan, the Hawks are still mediocre. It’s time for Miami to put their foot down and escape the play-in tournament.

Verdict: Heat get No. 7 seed

TOR vs. CHI — The winner goes to the next round of the play-in, while the loser gets eliminated from postseason contention. Despite Lonzo Ball’s extended absence, give me Chicago all day.

Verdict: Raptors get eliminated

ATL vs. CHI — Trae Young vs. Zach LaVine. One of these two will go up against the Bucks in the first round. Currently, though, I think Chicago has more to lose if they miss the playoffs.

Verdict: Bulls get No. 8 seed

LAL vs. MIN — Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert was suspended for this game due to an altercation with teammate Kyle Anderson. Jaden McDaniels fractured his hand after punching a wall. Could my prediction be any more obvious?

Verdict: Lakers get No. 7 seed

NOP vs. OKC — New Orleans wishes Zion Williamson was healthy, and the Thunder are on their way to becoming a contender. Oklahoma City won’t be a contender this year, however.

Verdict: Thunder get eliminated

MIN vs. NOP — New Orleans had the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference earlier in the year. Spoiler alert: they’re not anymore. Instead, they’ll defeat the Timberwolves to sneak in as the No. 8 seed.

Verdict: Pelicans get No. 8 seed

Bracket Predictions: First Round

MIL vs. CHI — A rematch from last year’s first round. I was generous back then by giving Milwaukee a five-game series win. I’m not being so generous this year.

Verdict: Bucks in 4

BOS vs. MIA — Remember last season when this series was the Eastern Conference Finals? Whoops. The Heat are terrible this year. Boston won’t need to blink, as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown take care of business.

Verdict: Celtics in 6

PHI vs. BKN — Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges will face the team that drafted him and proceeded to trade him on draft night. Joel Embiid looks to secure his first MVP, and he can’t afford to lose in the first round.

Verdict: 76ers in 5

CLE vs. NYK — This is a perfect first-round matchup for these two squads. Jalen Brunson’s ascension has been impressive, but Donovan Mitchell will become the second-most hated man in New York after Trae Young.

Verdict: Cavs in 5

DEN vs. NOP — Although the Nuggets have been slipping, they’re the No. 1 seed in the West for a reason. There’s no way on the face of the Earth a No. 8 seed upsets this team.

Verdict: Nuggets in 5

MEM vs. LAL — Memphis’ Dillon Brooks wanted to face LeBron James in the first round, and he got his wish. Even with the Lakers’ recent winning ways, they’re not getting past the Grizzlies.

Verdict: Grizzlies in 6

SAC vs. GSW — A California battle between the Kings and the Warriors. Sacramento Head Coach Mike Brown will face the team he was an assistant with for the previous seven years. Here’s a bombshell: this will be an upset.

Verdict: Warriors in 6

PHX vs. LAC Paul George will miss the beginning of this series due to a knee issue. Kevin Durant is in his first playoff series with Phoenix. Both L.A. teams can kiss their title chances goodbye.

Verdict: Suns in 6

Bracket Predictions: Semifinals

MIL vs. CLE — We’ve seen Donovan Mitchell put up crazy numbers this season (e.g. a career-high 71 points in early January). Ultimately, though, the Cavs are outmatched against Milwaukee.

Verdict: Bucks in 5

BOS vs. PHI — The Celtics have had the 76ers’ number for a while now. As a 76ers fan, Embiid and Harden will be tough for Boston to handle. But, Boston will take the series.

Verdict: Celtics in 6

DEN vs. PHX — With back-to-back MVP awards under Nikola Jokić’s belt, his next mission is to have more success in the playoffs. Unfortunately for him, he’s running into the juggernaut that is the Phoenix Suns. The Suns’ expectations are too high to lose in the semifinals.

Verdict: Suns in 5

MEM vs. GSW — We discussed the Warriors’ and Grizzlies’ beef a few weeks ago. Memphis is the No. 2 seed here, while Golden State is the sixth. To be honest, though, never bet against Steph Curry.

Verdict: Warriors in 6

Bracket Predictions: Conference Finals

MIL vs. BOS — This is a very probable Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Boston took two of three games from Milwaukee in the regular season. Prepare your popcorn. And don’t worry, folks. This series will be nice and slow.

Verdict: Bucks in 7

PHX vs. GSW — Kevin Durant vs. the Warriors. The NBA’s scriptwriters are working overtime on this one. In 2019, Durant went from Golden State to Brooklyn. Then, he was traded to Phoenix this February. The Warriors are good, but the Suns are better.

Verdict: Suns in 6

Bracket Predictions: Finals

MIL vs. PHX — I literally predicted this last year after the Bucks beat the Suns in the Finals the year before. What did we get last year? Boston vs. Golden State. There’s no way I’m wrong this time. I probably just jinxed it, though.

Verdict: Suns in 6

Let the craziness begin!

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