NBA playoffs: Predictions for Celtics-Cavaliers and every second-round series

Round 2! The conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs are here, and the entire field is now set. Who wins Celtics-Cavs? Knicks-Pacers? Thunder-Mavs? Nuggets-Wolves? Our writers make their picks.

How to watch tonight's games, where to stream and more.

Dan Devine: Celtics in 5. Cleveland barely cracked a point per possession against the Magic’s smothering defense and needed a 45-minute, 17-free-throw, 39-point takeover from Donovan Mitchell to squeak past an opponent that could barely score. Now, they’ve got to deal with a Celtics team that has similarly elite point-of-attack defensive depth (Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum) and scores like the best offense in the NBA — even without Kristaps Porziņģis. That’s a recipe for a short stay in the second round for the Cavs, and for Boston briskly moving on to the next step in its journey toward Banner 18.

Ben Rohrbach: Celtics in 5. Boston has too many defensive options to throw at Donovan Mitchell, including Jrue Holiday, a five-time All-Defensive selection. Slow him, and Cleveland’s offense could come to a grinding halt, as it did at times against Orlando in the first round. The Celtics’ offense is not the Magic’s, as all those defensive options can score in bunches, too. The math does not compute for the Cavaliers, who are counting on anomalies to stay in this series.

Vincent Goodwill: Celtics in six. Cleveland is limping into this series and nobody is sure about the status of Jarrett Allen because of his rib injury. Kristaps Porziņģis missing this series cannot be glossed over, either, diminishing an effective dynamic of the Celtics' offense. That may cost them a game, and maybe another. But the Cavaliers don’t have the size at the guard spots to truly exploit the Celtics. Donovan Mitchell solved Orlando’s long and lanky defense, and this is another test — he’ll have an explosion for a game or two, but won’t have enough help for Cleveland to challenge Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Jake Fischer: Celtics in 5. The Celtics did away with Miami so easily aside from the Heat’s historic shooting in Game 2. I expect this matchup to be of similar length, albeit a much more difficult puzzle for Boston to solve. The Celtics could struggle against Cleveland’s length without Kristaps Porziņģis. Jarrett Allen’s own health is a question. But Al Horford has proven he’s still up to the task.

Read our Celtics-Cavaliers series preview.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 10:  Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks handles the ball against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on February 10, 2024 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Fischer: New York in 5. Maybe the Knicks will prove too battered and bruised after a six-game slugfest with Joel Embiid and Philadelphia. But three days off before New York welcomes Indiana to Madison Square Garden should be plenty for Tom Thibodeau’s 40-minute marathoners to regroup and take care of Tyrese Haliburton and Co.

Devine: Knicks in 7. The Pacers, the NBA’s No. 2 offense with All-Star facilitator Tyrese Haliburton at the controls, are built to play beautifully. These Knicks, though, are built to destroy something beautiful.

Rohrbach: Knicks in 6. Madison Square Garden is going to be an absolute animal — one this edition of Indiana has never seen before — and the Knicks are tough enough to travel. Reggie Miller is not walking through that door. Jalen Brunson and the 'Nova Knicks are, and they are a wildcat.

Goodwill: Knicks in 6. I’m not sure how well the Flying Brunsons are playing, or if they’re just playing hard and doing that excellently. The Brunson-Haliburton matchup will be fun, and there will be some recall to the rivalry of the '90s, but I don’t see the Pacers having enough to give the Knicks more than a little scare at MSG.

Read our Knicks-Pacers series preview.

Rohrbach: Thunder in 6. As talented as Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are, and they are remarkable, Oklahoma City is just as impressive — and deeper — as a team. People will learn a lot about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren, who all play beyond their years.

Goodwill: Mavericks in 7. Calling for the upset! Not because Dallas is better — Oklahoma City is, and more dynamic. Will the Thunder be desperate enough to match what Luka and Kyrie bring? They do have Lu Dort and Williams to defend those two, and Shai’s length on the wings, and Chet at the rim. Wait, why am I calling for the upset? Only because Dallas will recognize the desperate moments of truth and Dončić will be the best player on the floor late. But I’m not confident about this pick.

Fischer: Thunder in 7. They were as ready as advertised in the first round, sweeping New Orleans without Zion Williamson standing in their way. OKC has a much more daunting task with rivaling an All-Star playmaking combination of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving that Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum hoped to be. The Thunder, though, simply know what pros want, despite their youth and inexperience.

Devine: Thunder in 7. In what promises to be an absolute war, I think I trust Oklahoma City’s cadre of perimeter defenders to at least make Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving work for everything more than I trust their Dallas counterparts to tamp down on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams. That, plus OKC having home-court advantage, nudges me over to the side of youth being served.

Devine: Nuggets in 7. I have faith Minnesota’s defense and Anthony Edwards are good enough to beat the best competition in the league. But I know, beyond a doubt, that Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Co. are good enough to do it. And in what feels like a coin-flip series, that certainty is enough to tip me toward the defending champs.

Goodwill: Nuggets in 6. This has the makings of a 2-2 series, both teams winning on the other’s home floor before the champs use experience and sweat equity to eek out another tough one. Minny is well-equipped to beat them, and this will serve as the official Anthony Edwards coming out party, featuring Jaden McDaniels. Can’t wait, but this will bring the best out of Nikola Jokić, and a rested Jamal Murray.

Rohrbach: Nuggets in 7. This is a high-pressure series, perhaps the biggest of any non-Finals set, and Denver was an automatic bucket in the opening round. As incredible as Anthony Edwards has been, he has never been in a situation like this. Bet against Nikola Jokić at your own peril.

Fischer: Nuggets in 7. Minnesota will likely pose the greatest, biggest and most daunting playoff challenge that Denver has seen dating back to last year’s run to the championship. The Timberwolves have the size to combat the Nuggets’ own length. Minnesota is a defensive juggernaut. Anthony Edwards is ascending, but the tie goes to the reigning champs.

Read our Nuggets-Wolves series preview.