Mac Weekly sportswriters make NBA playoff predictions

Graphic by Zander Leong 26.

Graphic by Zander Leong ’26.

With the first round of the NBA playoffs underway, the pressure ramps up as exhausting journeys that began in September come to a close, each team vying for a championship ring. Here are five of The Mac Weekly’s sportswriters’ predictions for this year’s outcomes, as well as their explanations for their picks.



This year’s playoffs offer a unique power structure compared to previous seasons. In the top-heavy east, three teams dominate the conference: the Bucks, Celtics and 76ers. The most interesting series in the first round is the Knicks-Cavaliers matchup. In what could very well be a preview of the 2026 Eastern Conference Finals, two young squads go head to head, but I have the Cavs taking the series. 

In the west, we have complete chaos. Outside of the Nuggets-Timberwolves series, any team could advance. I’m picking the Clippers to hold their nerve and take down the Suns, and choosing the Kings to take out the defending champs. I think the Lakers will ride their play-in momentum to knock off the Memphis Grizzlies, in what will be the upset of the first round, as their opponents face injuries and a tumultuous season on and off the court. 

Into the second round, I have the 76ers taking down the Celtics in what will probably be a drawn out, tough series that could be the de facto Finals. That’s because I’m having the Cavaliers knock out the Bucks, who may have to do without their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo due to injury, and who looked shockingly mortal against the Cavaliers in the regular season, dropping two of three games. 

Over in the West, I’m having the Kings eliminate the Lakers in what will surely be a massively cathartic series for their fans, and I have the Nuggets easily defeating the Clippers.

For the conference finals, I think the 76ers will take care of business against the Cavs pretty easily.

In the West, the matchup of the Kings and Nuggets will have many hoping for a Nuggets win to create a storybook Finals clash between rival big men Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, but I think they’ll end up disappointed as the Kings go to the finals, behind Domantas Sabonis’ breakout year, De’Aaron Fox’s typically prodigious production and their team depth.

Now to the Finals. Call me a homer for picking my 76ers. That’s alright. The 76ers are the team nobody wants to face, with mainstays Embiid and James Harden firing on all cylinders along with young star Tyrese Maxey and the mercurial Tobias Harris peaking at the right time, they are equipped to take down anyone.


Graphic by Zander Leong ’26.

This year’s playoffs are as wide open as they’ve ever been. In the East, the series to watch is the Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs the New York Knicks (5). Both teams are young and exciting with explosive big men (Evan Mobley and Julius Randle, respectively), and I expect the series to go the full 7 games. I don’t anticipate much trouble for the top seeds in the east; the Bucks, Celtics and 76ers should roll into the conference semis. 

In the Western Conference, every series not featuring the Denver Nuggets (sorry, Wolves fans) is a complete coin toss. The Kings have started exceptionally strongly against the favored, if worse-seeded, Warriors, and I expect them to hold on and advance. The 7 seed Lakers don’t feel like an upset pick, given the vast gap in experience between them and the Grizzlies. They’ll win in 5 or 6. The best watch will be the 4-5 matchup yet again, as Kawhi, PG and co. go up against a Suns “superteam” that hasn’t really seen the court as a unit for any significant amount of time. Both these teams have Finals potential, but I give the edge to the Clippers.

In the Conference Semifinals, I see the Bucks cruising by the relatively young Cavs, and the 76ers just beating out the Celtics thanks to great performances from scoring champion Joel Embiid. In the West, the Nuggets will roll, as will the Lakers, over inconsistent opposition. 

The Conference Finals will deliver a pair of star-studded matchups. The Giannis-led Bucks have rolled all season, but will falter against the 76ers at the penultimate hurdle. Out west, despite willing his 7-seeded Lakers to the precipice, Lebron James will fall just short of a 9th Finals appearance at the hands of the most complete team in the league. 

The Finals will be a matchup of the two best big men in the league; Number One and Number One-A will face off in a series that will have the pundits at First Take salivating. I think Jokic is a bit better than Embiid, and the edge in the highest profile matchup will prove the difference. The Denver Nuggets will be your 2023 NBA Champions in a physical 6 game series. 



Graphic by Zander Leong ’26.

This year’s NBA playoffs will look a little bit different than it has in the past couple of years. This first round seems to present viewers with a very interesting scenario in which the typically dominant Golden State Warriors fall out of the playoffs in the first round after going down 2 to the Kings. There are also a few sleeper teams which will surprise fans of the NBA, such as the Cleveland Cavs who, led by Donovan Mitchell have had a very successful season and are currently 1-1 in their series against the New York Knicks. I believe that the Cavs will go on a run, beating the Knicks and then the number 8 seeded Heat who I believe will advance past the 1 seeded Bucks as a result of Giannis Antetokounmpo being held back due to his back injury. A team to watch as well is the Denver Nuggets who, led by two-time reigning league MVP Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., are looking as dominant as ever and I believe could go on a pretty significant run, and maybe even find themselves in a position to win the championship this year. But, I think the team to keep an eye out for, and who I believe will end up winning the entire thing this year is the Boston Celtics, who are currently up 2-0 against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. After a heartbreaking loss in the finals last year, this Celtics team with a more experienced Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are looking to make back to back finals appearances, and hopefully cement their names in NBA history winning the NBA Championship this year.



Graphic by Zander Leong ’26.

The Bucks have been dominant all season behind MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although he suffered an injury that sidelined him for most of game one and will sideline him for game two as well, I believe that the Bucks will still be able to climb their way back and move on to the conference semifinals where they will face off against the Cavs. Although they have not had much success against Cleveland this season, I think the Bucks will be able to take a seven game series and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers will surely play the Bucks tough but I think their playoff run will end against Milwaukee in a six game series. This win would set up the Bucks against Boston, where I think the Bucks will run out of juice in a very tough seven game series, ending their playoff run just short of making the finals.

Now looking at my pick from the East, the Boston Celtics, I think they truly have what it takes to go all the way. The quick series with Atlanta will provide them with some good rest before taking on the Sixers which will definitely be a tough series. If the Celtics can contain Joel Embiid, which is much easier said than done, they should be able to take care of Philly and move on to face Milwaukee in the ECF’s. Where they will prevail against the Bucks  in a seven game series and go on to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. 

As exciting as it is to see new young squads like the Cavs and Knicks in the playoffs, I don’t think they have quite the firepower and experience just yet to keep up with the dominant big three in the conference but it will surely be exciting to see them continue to grow as they look to make a return next season. 

As for the Western Conference, no one expected the Lakers to be in the playoffs, let alone make the finals and win. Although they are my hometown team, I truly believe that this new Lakers squad has what it takes to win a championship. The Lakers were able to heat up towards the end of game one and I think that momentum will carry them over the Grizzlies in the first round, especially now that Ja Morant’s status is unclear after suffering a hand injury. After upsetting Memphis, the Kings will truly be a test for the Lakers. Although the Kings are young and lack playoff experience, they are hungry and can score the basketball in a number of ways, truly making them a threat. After that the Lakers will have to play in another tough series against Phoenix where we can hopefully finally get the Lebron and Kevin Durant matchup many have been waiting for. In a seven game series, the Lakers will be able to hold on and return to the finals where they will prevail in a six game series between the Celtics. 

Since adding one of the greatest scorers in the game to the team  in the form of Kevin Durant, the Suns have looked like a whole new team. The duo of KD and Devin Booker is truly a scary sight and I think that duo will power them through a tough round one against the Clippers. In a series that will go to seven games, I do not see the Clippers being able to hold on without Paul George. Although Kawhi Leonard is playing lights out on both ends of the floor, the Suns will prevail and face Denver. The Suns will come in and shock Denver in 5 games to set up a date with the Lakers. Despite a great run, it will come to an end against Los Angeles and set up a great matchup between two of the best franchises in the league, the Lakers and the Celtics.