NBA and NHL Finals Preview: Big-Time Toss-Ups

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics are seeking the franchise's first title in 16 years, but will have to go through a red-hot Luka Doncic and the Mavericks first.

It’s that time of the year where I can try and flex my muscles as an expert in sports other than MLB and NFL. The NBA and NHL Finals are upon us, and these two showdowns truly appear to be toss-ups. The oddsmakers would have you believe otherwise, with the Celtics installed as a prohibitive favorite (-220). Florida gets the slight nod over Edmonton (-130), but make no mistake: the Mavericks and Oilers are not your typical underdogs.

Let’s dive in, starting with the NBA Finals:

(5) Mavericks vs. (1) Celtics

Dallas has had the tougher road to get here, and that’s something to always be taken seriously. The Celtics went 12-2 through the East against three clubs missing their best player: Jimmy Butler was absent for the Heat, the Cavs played without Donovan Mitchell, and the Pacers lost Tyrese Haliburton for the second half of their four-game sweep. That doesn’t mean that Boston isn’t talented and deserving of their favorite status, but the Mavs have knocked off a talented Clippers team, the top-seeded Thunder, and a Timberwolves outfit that knocked out the defending-champion Nuggets.

Can the Celtics slow Luka Doncic? Can Kyrie Irving thrive against his old mates? Can the Celtics avoid another colossal postseason failure for a franchise seeking its first title in 16 years? All these questions will be answered over the next two weeks, but my hunch is that Dallas is playing with a ton of confidence and all the pressure is on Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised or even disappointed to eat my words, but give me the underdog Mavs to finish off their miracle run. Prediction: Mavericks in 7.

Oilers (2) vs. Panthers (2)

The Panthers are back in the Finals after falling short last year against Vegas and for the third time overall. 1996 and 2023 didn’t go their way, but the Panthers feel like this year is different. They’re deeper and healthier and primed to neutralize an Edmonton team playing on this stage for the first time in 18 years. It’s hard to ignore the immense scoring talent the Oilers bring to the table, and Stuart Skinner has emerged as a star for Edmonton this postseason. But even though it took Connor McDavid nine years to reach this point, he and his mates are in for perhaps their biggest test yet. Sasha Barkov is on fire during these playoffs, and Sergei Bobrovsky is putting up sparkling postseason numbers yet again. My hunch is the Panthers finally break through and take home the franchise’s first Cup. Prediction: Panthers in 6.

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