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The 2024 NBA Finals are set to begin Thursday night with the top overall seed Celtics hosting the fifth-seeded Mavericks from the West, who have made good on all the talk that they were the scariest lower-seeded team coming into these playoffs. The Celtics, who eliminated the Heat, Cavaliers and Pacers en route to the Finals, is slotted as the favorite to win this series.

Boston is listed as a -220 favorite to take home the title, but that feels a bit too rich for my blood. In fact, I think the Mavericks, who took out the Clippers, Thunder and Timberwolves on their path through the West, are going to win this series because of their two late-game magicians in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

Reasonable minds can obviously disagree on this, which brings us to our Finals predictions. Below are our CBS Sports staff picks, and the one thing you'll notice right away is nobody has this series going fewer than six games. Personally, I went Mavs in seven. It's going to be a close one either way. Here's how we see it shaping up.

2024 NBA Finals staff predictions

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Brad Botkin
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James Herbert
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Jack Maloney
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Sam Quinn
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Colin Ward-Henninger
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Jasmyn Wimbish
Celtics vs. Mavericks

Botkin: Mavericks in 7. I'm riding the Luka and Kyrie train. I can't help it. I don't know if I'm a prisoner of the moment, but this is going to be a tight series full of tight games and I simply trust these two to close games out in a way I don't trust the Celtics collectively. I won't argue with anyone who disagrees with me on this pick. This is a coin flip. But I just can't get past the greatness of Luka and Kyrie and the legitimacy of this Mavs defense with Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II at the rim.

Herbert: Celtics in 6. If Kristaps Porzingis is the same guy he was before his calf injury, Boston should be able to spread Dallas out the way nobody else has in these playoffs. This matchup will test the Celtics in new ways, too, but everything they've done this season -- the cross-matches, the ball pressure, the opportunistic post-ups -- should have prepared them for this. I understand if you're hesitant to trust that Porzingis will be himself, and I understand being wary of Boston's decision-making, but I'm going with the team that has profiled as the championship favorite all along.

Maloney: Celtics in 6. No need to overthink this one. Yes, they've had a comfortable path to the Finals, but the Celtics have been the best team in the league for eight months now. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are an elite 1-2 punch, they have the defensive personnel to at least make life difficult on Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, a superior supporting cast and home-court advantage.

Quinn: Mavericks in 6. It comes down to this: I don't believe Kristaps Porzingis is going to be 100% in this series. If he is, that changes things. If he's not? Putting a physically compromised big man that wasn't all that mobile in the first place on the court against Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving becomes a potential death sentence. They are going to switch-hunt him. They'll want to test that calf. As stout as the rest of the Boston defense is, one weak link can prove devastating against two shot-creators this good. The Mavericks played another offense that emphasizes 3-pointers in the second round, when they beat Oklahoma City. They at least proved capable of taking away the easy ones and forcing the Thunder to make contested looks. If the Thunder and Timberwolves struggled to get to the rim against Dallas, I think Boston will too, and I'm not going to bet on them to make enough contested triples to win this series that way. A healthy Porzingis might offer their offense enough space and enough versatility to swing this thing, but until I see how he looks on the floor in a high-leverage moment, I'm just not going to believe he's in the kind of shape he'd need to be for Boston to win this series.

Ward-Henninger: Celtics in 7. You can call this a matchup of star power vs. depth, but at this point I think each team has displayed proficiency in both categories. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are capable of equaling Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving on any given night, while Dallas' role players have repeatedly answered the bell when called upon, especially defensively. So, to me, this series comes down to which team will more consistently sustain excellence. Despite having a path to the Finals paved in gold, the Celtics have given us no reason to believe that they won't continue to be the juggernaut we've seen all season long. Most importantly, they have a versatile defensive roster seemingly created to make life hell for players like Doncic and Irving. As Joe Mazzulla said, you can't stop them, but I believe Boston will do enough to slow them down to win four out of seven games.

Wimbish: Mavericks in 7. In the last two rounds, the Mavericks have faced the No. 1 defense and the No. 4 defense, and in both of those matchups the refrain was that the opposing team would have enough weapons to make life difficult for Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Both times the Mavericks proved that thought process wrong. The Celtics have the No. 2 defense, and while it will be the most difficult task for the Mavericks with all the versatile defenders Boston possesses, Dallas has the two best clutch players in this series. As long as the Mavericks can keep these games close until the final five minutes, I'm going with Doncic and Irving to pull out more wins down the stretch.