Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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NBA conference finals bold predictions: Anthony Edwards and KAT keep it going, Jayson Tatum heats up, more

The 2024 NBA conference finalists are set. We kick off Tuesday night with the East, where the top-seeded Boston Celtics will play host to the No. 6 Indiana Pacers. On Wednesday, the West gets started with the No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves hosting the No. 5 Dallas Mavericks

Parity abounds in the today’s league, where we will have a new champion for the sixth straight season. It feels like anything can happen, and to some degree already has. With that in mind, here are my five bold predictions for the conference finals. 

1. Anthony Edwards goes off in Game 1

Edwards was probably too passive to start Game 7 against the Nuggets and he wound up out of rhythm for most of the night. It speaks to his unflappable confidence and poise that he ratcheted up the aggression in the second half and hit two huge 3s, one to end the third and one to put Minnesota up 10 late in the fourth. Those buckets were two of the most important shots of the game despite that lack of rhythm, but it’s not going to happen twice in a row. 

After Edwards was held to 15 in Game 5 against Phoenix, he went for 36 in Game 3. After he was held to 19 in Game 3 against Denver, he went for 44 in Game 4. After 16 in Game 7 on Sunday, the trend continues in Game 1 on Wednesday, which spells trouble for Dallas. 

2. Tyrese Haliburton averages less than 20 PPG

Haliburton needs to be aggressive to score like he was in Game 7 at New York if the Pacers have any shot of even putting a scare into Boston. Unfortunately, the Celtics are loaded with elite perimeter defenders in position to make his life a living hell in the half-court, where the Pacers will be operating more than they’d prefer because they won’t be able to get consistent stops against Boston’s defense. 

One of Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be right there waiting. Indiana will try to get Haliburton switched onto Al Horford, but even Horford was able to make life tough on the perimeter for Darius Garland. Haliburton will see lines of defenders coming at him in this series. He’ll probably have a big game in there somewhere, but when it’s said and done his scoring numbers for the series will underwhelm. 

3. Jayson Tatum shoots over 40% from 3

Tatum has connected on less than 30% of his 3s in each of Boston’s first two series. I don’t see that trend continuing just on the law of averages, but also, the Celtics are going to stretch the Pacers’ defense to the breaking point. Aaron Nesmith can’t guard everyone. Penetration will not be a problem and it will, when he isn’t being double teamed, result in plenty of catch-and-shoot 3s for Tatum. Over time, he has been a much better shoot off the catch than when he’s pulling up off the dribble. 

4. Kyrie Irving eclipses 25 PPG

I think Irving has to score bigger against Minnesota than he did against OKC (15 PPG) if the Mavericks are going to have enough to beat Minnesota’s defense. The Wolves are going to tighten the screws on Luka Doncic whenever and however they can. P.J. Washington turning into Ray Allen probably isn’t a replicable formula when the ball is being forced out of Luka’s hands. 

The Wolves have enough perimeter defenders to make life difficult on both Luka and Irving, but the latter will be receiving the ball amid rotations more often. He has to be on the hunt for his offense, and I think he will be throughout the series. 

5. KAT’s redemption tour continues

Everyone said the Timberwolves shouldn’t have traded for Rudy Gobert, and a lot of those same people said they should have traded Towns. Wrong on both accounts, as Gobert formed the foundation of what might be on the best defenses we’ve ever seen while Towns has settled into an awesome secondary star who now plays his butt off defensively and picks his spots as an offensive aggressor. 

Towns was the best player on the floor in Minnesota’s Game 7 win over Denver, legitimately stonewalling Nikola Jokic while keeping the Wolves’ offense just barely afloat (along with Jaden McDaniels) until it finally broke a little bit loose in the second half. Towns had some monster buckets down the stretch when every possession felt like it was swinging the game, and his put-back dunk with under a minute to play sealed Minnesota’s win. 

The career narrative on Towns — who before this season was largely viewed as a non-winning player who didn’t commit defensively, was overtasked as a No. 1 offensive option, and wasn’t made of, shall we say, the most competitive fabric — is shifting before our eyes, and it continues with a big series against Dallas. 

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