NBA Predictions: Conference Finals Expert Picks for Celtics vs. Pacers and Timberwolves vs. Mavericks

After two Game 7s on Sunday — including an instant classic — the conference finals are set for a second-round finish in 2024. NBA Playoffs. In the East, it’s the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics vs. the sixth-seeded Pacers who crash the party in the 2021 Hawks’ run. In the West, no. It was the Timberwolves who eliminated the Nuggets against the No. 5 Mavericks to ensure that they would have a new champion for the sixth straight season.

Think of the young legends starting to build here: In late June, one of Anthony Edwards (22 years old), Tyrus Halliburton (24 years old), Luka Doncic (25 years old) or Jayson Tatum (26 years old) will have their first championship. Each of those would be younger than LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Nikola Jokic and Dirk Nowitzki as first-time champions.

So, who would it be? Well, the conference finals must be decided first. With that in mind, below are our expert picks.

Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics vs. Pacers

Botkin: Celtics in 4. I don’t think Indiana will get a game here. More weapons for Boston. The Indiana 2021 Hawks are on a run where a surprise conference finals bracket over two injury-plagued teams in the Bucs and Knicks is rightfully broken, but the dream ends here. And it ends quickly.

Herbert: Celtics in 5. These are two fantastic offensive teams, and if the Celtics aren’t as sharp as they should be, this could be a lot longer than this. Boston’s defense is better than Indiana’s in the world, and Joe Mazzula is going to make sure his team starts with decision-making: If the Celtics take care of the ball and space the floor properly, they can control it. Fast bowlers, that’s where they’re most dangerous.

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Quinn: Celtics in 5. Game 7 was a testament to how dynamic the Pacers can be when the shots are falling. The rest of the Knicks streak showed just how vulnerable they will be in their absence. Even without Kristaps Porzingis, Boston is stronger than the lowly Knicks. The Celtics didn’t give Indiana’s weak point guards any places to hide, and Boston scored 126 points per 100 possessions against Indiana this season. Pacers will not only win a game in the shootout, but they will win the series in a big way.

Ward-Henninger: Celtics in 6. Defense will be a major issue for Indiana, but I think the Pacers’ ability to put up more points will help them against the Celtics with an offensive clunker here and there. That being said, talent wins out, especially if Kristaps Porzingis can return by the end of the series. It’s been a huge run for Indiana, but it ends here.

Wimpish: Celtics in 6. The Pacers have benefited from the injury bug that has plagued both of their opponents at this point, now that Porzingis is out of Boston. Even if KB doesn’t play a game in this series, the Celtics have enough firepower to get past Indiana. But I’ll give the Pacers two games because their offense will catch fire.

Botkin: Timberwolves at 7. It feels like another coin flip, and in a series, I’ll go with amazing defense to win. It all starts for Dallas with the formation of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, and the Wolves have waves of defenders to throw at those guys and waves of big bodies behind them. OKC also had a lot of perimeter defense and was particularly successful in limiting Irving as a scorer, but it opened up shooters and PJ Washington burned them. One, I don’t see Washington shooting like that again, and two, Minnesota is still better at stifling ball handlers past screens and doesn’t need to help shooters with such tough doubles.

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Herbert: Timberwolves in 5. On the one hand, the Mavericks weren’t all that great on offense against OKC, and now they’re going up against an even longer team that can’t be bullied. On the flip side, the Timberwolves weren’t all that great on offense against Denver, and now they’re going against a team that arguably produced the third-best offense in the league. It’s not an easy call, but I choose Minnesota because I have the most confidence in its stakeholders.

Quinn: Timberwolves at 7. It can be a nail biter. Oklahoma City threw the duo against Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as their teammates tried to beat them. Minnesota will at least try to defend them straight up early, and they have defenders who can make them work. Dallas held the paint in the final round. Minnesota is much bigger than Oklahoma City. Derrick Jones Jr. will trouble Anthony Edwards. Can Mike Conley take on additional creative duties while injured? In the end, I failed to gain home-court advantage. It could go either way.

Ward-Henninger: Timberwolves at No. 7 It’s hard to see how the Wolves were able to suffocate the defending champs, and it’s hard to think the Mavs, who have struggled offensively for much of the postseason, can thrive. That being said, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are the type of unique talents who can consistently torch even the biggest defenses. One of the reasons I picked against Minnesota in the last two rounds was because I didn’t believe in their clutch offense, still not sure, but I was converted to Anthony Edwards Church so I won. Don’t stand up to him again.

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Wimpish: Mavericks in 7. The Wolves present a tough matchup for Dallas, and it will be difficult for them to score points on the rim with Gobert and KAT. Say goodbye to Derrick Jones Jr., Daniel Gafford and Derek Lively II. But I’m betting on them causing problems on defense, and with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as two more consistent stars.

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