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Sports Expert picks for 2022 NBA playoffs: Phoenix Suns over Milwaukee Bucks in Finals a safe bet?

17:11  15 april  2022
17:11  15 april  2022 Source:   usatoday.com

Brooks leads short-handed Grizzlies past Suns, 122-114

  Brooks leads short-handed Grizzlies past Suns, 122-114 MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 30 points and the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Phoenix Suns 122-114 on Friday night in a matchup of the NBA's top two teams, extending their winning streak to seven. Brooks converted a three-point play with 32 seconds left for an eight-point lead and the short-handed Grizzlies held on to snap the Suns' nine-game winning streak. Ziaire Williams scored 19 points for Memphis and De’Anthony Melton added 17, including six straight free throws in the final 20 seconds. Devin Booker led the Suns with 41 points, while Mikal Bridges added 18. Cameron Payne finished with 11 for Phoenix.

The NBA's play-in tournament created a lot of buzz during the final month of the season, largely centered around if the Los Angeles Lakers, a preseason favorite to win the NBA title, would sneak in and have a shot at a playoff spot.

Once the Lakers were eliminated, the discussion turned to another preseason title favorite: the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets won their play-in game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, claiming the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. And now the question becomes, can they become the lowest playoff seed to win an NBA title?

But that’s just one of several questions as the postseason begins on Saturday. Can the Milwaukee Bucks repeat as champions? Will Chris Paul finally win a title with the Phoenix Suns? And what to make of the upstart Memphis Grizzlies? Can Ja Morant lead them to their first title?

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We asked our NBA experts from around the USA TODAY network for their safe and bold picks for the Eastern and Western Conference finals as well as the NBA Finals. Some of their answers may surprise you.

Will Suns guards Chris Paul (3) and Devin Booker (1) get the last laugh this season in the NBA Finals? © Ross D. Franklin, AP Will Suns guards Chris Paul (3) and Devin Booker (1) get the last laugh this season in the NBA Finals?

Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

Milwaukee knows how to win at this level and it has 2021 Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. No one else does.

Bold pick: Raptors over Celtics

In the second half of the season, the Raptors had the second-most wins in the East, plus they have championship experience, an innovative coach and enough talent.

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Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Grizzlies

The Suns have been the best team in the West all season and that doesn’t change in the playoffs.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Suns

It’s unusual for an up-and-coming team to jump from first-round playoff loss one season and to NBA Finals the next, but the Grizzlies have a star and depth and enough offense and defense to get there.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

The Suns get it done, and Chris Paul get his championship.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Raptors

In what would be a remarkable story, Ja Morant leads Memphis to its first NBA championship way ahead of schedule.

Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

The defending champions edge out the Heat to reach the Finals once again.

Bold pick: Celtics over Heat

The Celtics have been the best team since the All-Star break and will continue their regular season momentum. If Robert Williams returns from injury after the first-round as expected, Boston is in business.

76ers, Bucks or Celtics? Who is the best playoff matchup for Raptors?

  76ers, Bucks or Celtics? Who is the best playoff matchup for Raptors? With a gratifying 118-108 routing of the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the Toronto Raptors guaranteed their eighth postseason appearance in nine seasons. Firmly locked into a top-six seed, the Raptors will face one of three teams, all of who can lay claim to being the beast of the East. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics each have MVP-calibre stars and a solid supporting cast with more experience than the Raptors. WithFirmly locked into a top-six seed, the Raptors will face one of three teams, all of who can lay claim to being the beast of the East. The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics each have MVP-calibre stars and a solid supporting cast with more experience than the Raptors.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Grizzlies

The Suns have been the best team in the league, hands down. And they didn’t win a record 64 games this season just to fall short of the Finals. Phoenix has experience on their side this time, something Memphis does not have.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Suns

The shorthanded Grizzlies had an impressive win over the full-strength Suns toward the end of the regular season. They continue that momentum with their star Ja Morant back in the lineup.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

The Suns had a 2-0 lead in the 2021 Finals before losing the next four to the  Bucks. This time around, the Suns get it done and win their first championship.

Bold Pick: Bucks over Grizzles

Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates his way to back-to-back Finals MVPs after the defending champions win their second consecutive title, this time over an inexperienced Memphis team.

Matt Eppers, USA TODAY

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

Milwaukee and Miami have been the most consistent teams in the East all season, and as strong as the Heat defense is, no one in the conference is equipped to slow Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo eager to win title a 'second time, third time'

  Antetokounmpo eager to win title a 'second time, third time' MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo acknowledges there is pressure in the NBA playoffs and after the winning the first title, “your mind wants to win a second time or a third time.” A leading MVP candidate again this season, Antetokounmpo likes to compare playing basketball to creating a work of art and he'll try to produce another postseason masterpiece this weekend. His last time on the playoff stage, Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in a Game 6 victory over the Phoenix Suns that gave the Bucks their first championship in a half-century.

Bold pick: Celtics over Sixers

Jayson Tatum continues his ascent to top-tier stardom and leads Boston to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, while denying Joel Embiid and Philadelphia a breakthrough of their own.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Warriors

Golden State rediscovers enough of its championship form to get back to the conference finals, but Phoenix proves a dominant regular season was no fluke and gets through the West with relative ease.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Mavericks

Ja Morant and Memphis have the talent, depth, coaching and swagger to keep smashing expectations and reach the NBA Finals over a Dallas team that could also surprise with a deep playoff run.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Suns

The two best teams in the league meet in an NBA Finals rematch that leaves Phoenix heartbroken again as Antetokounmpo turns in another transcendent performance to lead Milwaukee to a second straight title.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Celtics

The young Grizzlies show they have no intention of waiting their turn and march all the way to the title, with Morant getting the better of Tatum in a matchup of future perennial MVP contenders.

Duane Rankin, Arizona Republic

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over 76ers

Phoenix Suns favorites to win NBA title, but they still feel disrespected. Are they overlooked?

  Phoenix Suns favorites to win NBA title, but they still feel disrespected. Are they overlooked? The Suns are favorites to win their first NBA title, but they somehow still feel disrespected. Does Phoenix get the recognition it deserves?When a media outlet omitted the Suns' historic feat in favor of the Lakers’ defeat, Devin Booker took it as a slight. "How bout 'Suns just set franchise record for W's,'" he wrote.

Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Joel Embiid for a trip to the Finals would be epic, but the defending NBA champions have the more complete team.

Bold pick: Celtics over Raptors

Toronto stuns the 76ers and Heat before running out of gas against the NBA's best defensive team.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Warriors

Klay Thompson in the mix and a healthy Stephen Curry makes this a seven-game series, but the home crowd pushes the Suns over the top in a classic Game 7 in Phoenix.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Mavericks

Major disclaimer is Luka Doncic's health. If he's able to go, Dallas pushes past Utah, shocks Phoenix, but can't keep up with the deep and talented Grizzlies led by superstar Ja Morant.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

Suns avenge squandering a 2-0 series lead to the Bucks last year in bringing the franchise its first NBA championship.

Bold pick: 76ers over Warriors

Golden State's perimeter punch vs. the sheer inside force of Embiid, but James Harden finally comes up big when it matters most with major help from Tyrese Maxey.

Marla Ridenour, Akron Beacon Journal

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over 76ers

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I’m not picking a James Harden team to win a championship until after he has held a Larry O’Brien Trophy. While Harden and Joel Embiid are a dynamic duo, I’m giving the edge to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ deeper bench.

Bold pick: Celtics over Heat

I’m a big believer in momentum and the Celtics are 17-5 since the All-Star break. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum possess otherworldly talents. The biggest question mark is center Robert Williams’ knee.

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Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Warriors

The Suns seem driven to become the 15th team to win the title after losing in the previous year’s Finals. They have the league’s fourth-best offensive rating and third-best defensive rating. The Warriors went 5-0 in April and could get hot at the right time, but thus far have ridden the league’s top defense.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Jazz

With an average age of 23.9, the Grizzlies arrived earlier than expected and might ride that wave of confidence all the way to the Finals. The 3-point loving Jazz boasts the league’s best offensive rating and is extremely deep.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

Devin Booker and Chris Paul may not be denied. But the Suns also have a close, fun-loving team, critical during a championship run. Of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo might raise his game to another level (is that possible?) as he did a year ago.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Celtics

It’s hard to call the Grizzlies an underdog after they went 56-26 and earned the West’s No. 2 seed, but they could have a chip on their shoulder over the lack of national TV exposure. Ja Morant is not afraid of the spotlight and Desmond Bane has become my favorite young player among Cavs opponents, a spot once held by Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen.

Jim Owczarski, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

It feels like the 76ers are not moving in the right direction and Miami will have enough inside to counter Joel Embiid while on the opposite side of the bracket. No team has an answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo – even if Robert Williams III somehow can return for Boston. As for Milwaukee and Miami meeting for the third straight postseason, it could be a classic series but, again, who is really going to stop Antetokounmpo?

Bold pick: 76ers over Bucks

Despite an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid and swinging for the fences with the James Harden trade, Philadelphia is the No. 4 seed, remember. Four seeds rarely make the NBA Finals. Since 1984, only two have done so (along with three lowers seeds). To do this, Philadelphia would have to overcome not having their best defender in Toronto and then upset the No. 1 seed and defending champions without home court advantage.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Grizzlies

What is safer than No. 1 beating No. 2? Phoenix has been the best team in the league all season long and Memphis has that youthful swagger – and firepower on both ends of the court – to hold their seed before finally meeting its match.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Jazz

I don’t think the bold part of this is necessarily Memphis making the Finals “early,” but rather Utah putting it together and being the team I thought they could be at the start of the season. The Jazz feel all kinds of dysfunctional but this is an experienced team with very good players – maybe the reverse of the last few years happens and it comes together in the playoffs.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Suns

Suns coach Monty Williams is right – losing last year’s Finals made them better. But what’s safer than predicting the fifth different Finals rematch and the fifth team to repeat as champs since 2000?

Bold pick: Grizzlies over 76ers

When you’re this good who cares if you’ve arrived to the party early as long as you closed the thing down? The Grizzlies are really good and if Ja Morant is 100% they could shock everyone but themselves in winning the chip.

Omari Sankofa, Detroit Free Press

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Celtics

It's tough to bank against Giannis Antetokounmpo in a seven-game series. Boston has been red-hot in 2022 and have emerged as an Eastern Conference favorite.

Bold pick: Nets over Sixers

Joel Embiid was arguably the best player in the East this season, and an invigorated James Harden could give the Sixers the push the need for a postseason run. Brooklyn had a tougher-than-expected season due to injuries and Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, but Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant, and Ben Simmons' potential return could give Brooklyn the lift it needs for a Finals appearance. Also, just imagine the drama that would come with this series. I'm all in.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Grizzlies

Phoenix and Memphis owned the NBA's two best records this season. They're two of the deepest teams in the league and are led by two of the league's best point guards in Chris Paul and Ja Morant. It's hard to count out Memphis' depth, but Phoenix was by far the best team this season and is coming off of a Finals appearance.

Bold pick: Warriors over Mavericks

The Mavericks, led by Luka Doncic, emerged as one of the NBA's best teams down the stretch. It's tough to see them winning a series over the Suns to get to the Western Conference finals, but certainly not impossible. Golden State has battled injuries this season, but Steph Curry could return in time for round one, and a healthy Golden State team is a championship favorite.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

This is a rematch of last year's Finals, with a different end result. Phoenix won 64 games this season, eight more than the second-place Grizzlies. Chris Paul is running low on opportunities to win his first ring. It's tough to not pick the Suns here.

Bold pick: Warriors over Celtics

As I said earlier, a healthy Golden State team is a favorite to win the title. Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are one of the NBA's most successful trios ever and have already won three championships together. They have great depth this season, with Jordan Poole emerging as a go-to offensive option, Jonathan Kuminga putting together a strong rookie season and Andrew Wiggins settling in as a good two-way wing. The Celtics are talented enough to reach the Finals, but Golden State would be a safe bet to win this series.

Berry Tramel, Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

Milwaukee has been pacing itself since winning the NBA title last summer, and still the Bucks landed right where they wanted to be. In the third seed. Prime slot for a repeat.

Bold pick: Celtics over 76ers

Boston was 21-22 in mid-January. Since then, the Celtics are 30-9. They have the NBA's No. 2 defense and No. 5 offense. That's a recipe for success.

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Warriors

Phoenix has been the NBA's best team all season, and it's not like the Suns are emerging. They emerged last season, making the NBA Finals and nearly taking out Milwaukee.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Suns

Memphis is often written off as too green, but the Grizzlies proved their mettle, going 19-5 even when young star Ja Morant was out. Memphis, like Boston, combines top-10 offense and top-10 defense.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Suns over Bucks

Chris Paul finally gets his NBA championship.

Bold pick: Celtics over Grizzlies

The 1-2 punch of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, along with the defense led by Marcus Smart, delivers Boston its 18th NBA title.

James Boyd, Indianapolis Star

Eastern Conference finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Heat

Miami does its best to keep Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in check, but Jrue Holiday is once again the difference maker that helps the Bucks reach the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.

Bold pick: Celtics over 76ers

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown solidify themselves as the better one-two punch when facing MVP candidate Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden, and the Celtics use their stout defense to spoil “The Process.”

Western Conference finals

Safe pick: Suns over Warriors

All-Star backcourt Chris Paul and Devin Booker won’t be denied as they lead Phoenix back to the NBA Finals, with Paul defeating Warriors superstar Stephen Curry in a playoff series for the second time in four tries and first time since 2014.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Suns

Superstar point guard Ja Morant and the inexperienced Grizzlies prove they’re the real deal by dethroning the defending Western Conference champion Suns and reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

NBA Finals

Safe pick: Bucks over Suns

Phoenix may have the better team from top to bottom, but Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo. The six-time All-Star continues his ascension and leads the Bucks to back-to-back titles, becoming the 13th player in NBA history to win multiple Finals MVPs.

Bold pick: Grizzlies over Celtics

Ja Morant doesn’t have a true co-star, but as he goes nuclear, Desmond Bane and the rest of the Grizzlies’ talented role players step up to help them win one of the most improbable championships in league history.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Expert picks for 2022 NBA playoffs: Phoenix Suns over Milwaukee Bucks in Finals a safe bet?

NBA playoffs 2022 live updates: Luka Doncic listed as 'day-to-day' but is out for Game 1 .
The NBA playoff field is set, and Saturday begins the first round of the postseason. The Utah Jazz visit the Dallas Mavericks at 1 p.m. ET.With the final two playoff spots determined with Friday night’s play-in games, the chase for the NBA championship officially begins with four playoff games on Saturday.

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