NBA playoff predictions: No. 8 seeds and title favorites

Who are the favorites in the new NBA playoff races, and which team will win it all?

The NBA is planning to restart with 22 teams in Orlando on July 31, featuring an eight-game regular season, a potential play-in series for the No. 8 seeds and then the playoffs. A play-in series will be instituted in either conference if the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed. The No. 9 seed will need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 will need one win from the two potential games.

When we last polled the ESPN Forecast panel for predictions in March, the Milwaukee Bucks were the pick to win the championship. But how much has changed since then?

Here are updated predictions for the winners in the playoff races and the NBA Finals.

MORE: Reintroducing the 22 teams that can still win a championship

Who will be the No. 8 seed in the West?

Zion Williamson and the Pelicans were the favorites here in our March forecast, but now it looks like a tight race between New Orleans, Portland and Memphis.

Even though the Blazers are 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies (currently in the No. 8 spot), a couple of things help their case: Injured big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are expected to return, and the NBA using win percentage gives them an edge in tiebreakers.

Given the parity here, a play-in series looks likely.

  • Portland Trail Blazers: 35.3%

  • Memphis Grizzlies: 32.4%

  • New Orleans Pelicans: 29.4%

  • San Antonio Spurs: 2.9%

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Who will be the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the East?

The Nets are currently in the No. 7 spot with a half-game lead on Orlando and a six-game lead on the Wizards, with Washington needing to climb to within four games of the eighth seed to force a play-in series.

Only a small portion of our panel gives the Wizards the playoff nod here over the Magic, with the Nets being the overwhelming favorite to clinch the No. 7 seed — avoiding a tough first-round matchup against the league-leading Bucks.

  • Brooklyn Nets: No. 7 (70.6%) | No. 8 (29.4%)

  • Orlando Magic: No. 7 (29.4%) | No. 8 (64.7%)

  • Washington Wizards: No. 7 (0%) | No. 8 (5.9%)

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Who will be the Eastern Conference finalists?

The Bucks racked up all possible votes here, but there’s disagreement on their conference finals opponent.

With no real home-court advantage in Orlando, the Raptors’ current lead in the standings gives them less of an edge. Our panel sees Boston as a bit more likely to advance than Toronto, with Philadelphia and Miami further behind.

Note: Voters made two selections.

  • Milwaukee Bucks: 100%

  • Boston Celtics: 41.2%

  • Toronto Raptors: 32.4%

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 23.5%

  • Miami Heat: 2.9%

MORE: Best matchups, biggest unknowns and the new title chase


Who will be the Western Conference finalists?

The Lakers and Clippers run away with this one. But one underrated thing to watch will be whether that matchup goes down before the conference finals.

The No. 2-seeded Clippers have a three-game lead in the standings on the fourth-place Jazz. With eight seeding games, there’s at least a chance the Clips slide and meet their local rivals in the second round.

Note: Voters made two selections.

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 97.1%

  • LA Clippers: 85.3%

  • Houston Rockets: 8.8%

  • Denver Nuggets: 5.9%

  • Dallas Mavericks: 2.9%

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Who will make the NBA Finals?

Bucks-Lakers is our most popular Finals pick, with the Clippers trailing the Lakers as West favorites.

While there could be a chance for more upsets than normal given the unusual circumstances in Orlando, the front-runners from before the shutdown have held firm.

Note: Voters made two selections.

  • Milwaukee Bucks: 88.2%

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 61.8%

  • LA Clippers: 38.2%

  • Toronto Raptors: 5.9%

  • Boston Celtics: 5.9%

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Who will be the NBA champions?

The Bucks took more than 60% of this vote in March, but the Lakers have surged ahead now.

The Lakers also are betting favorites at +200, ahead of both the Bucks (+275) and Clippers (+325), per Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Los Angeles Lakers: 50%

  • Milwaukee Bucks: 26.5%

  • LA Clippers: 23.5%

MORE: How Adam Silver, the NBA’s stars and owners negotiated these playoffs

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