The regular season is now over and it’s time for some playoff basketball. There are many storylines and questions going into the postseason. It should be an exciting start to the playoffs as many of the matchups seem more competitive than in recent years. I will be breaking down each first round series below and give my picks for which team will win and in how many games. Let’s get right into it!
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Portland Trail Blazers
Prediction: Warriors in 5 games
The Golden State Warriors go into the playoffs as the overwhelming favourite to win the NBA Championship and for good reason. Their star power is undeniable with 4 all-stars in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The rest of their team is built around these four guys. Portland can provide some problems for the Warriors with their very talented backcourt. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will need to be better than ever to even compete with Golden State. Curry’s defence will be tested by these two as he will have to guard one of them while Klay takes the other. A big question for the Trail Blazers is if Jusuf Nurkic will be healthy enough to play in this series. His status for game 1 is still uncertain which means even if he plays, he might not be as effective as he once was. In the end, I see Golden State winning in 5 games as Portland’s defence will not be able to handle one of the best offence’s ever assembled.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Utah Jazz
Prediction: Clippers in 7 games
This series should be a very close one as both teams provide different strengths to the game. For the Clippers, their offence is anchored by one of the best, Chris Paul. He is the leader of this team along with his star big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. These star players for the Clippers will need to be at their best to get past this talented Jazz squad. This core for the Clippers may be in their last run as Paul and Griffin could leave for free agency this summer. Utah has been the best defence all year and they are anchored by defensive player of the year candidate Rudy Gobert. It will be hard to score in the paint while he’s in there but Blake and DeAndre will be hard covers for him as well. Rising star Gordon Hayward will be key for the Jazz as they try to take down an experienced and battle tested Clippers team. I think experience will be the deciding factor of this close series and that is why I have the Clippers winning in 7 games.
#3 Houston Rockets vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Prediction: Rockets in 7 games
This Rockets/Thunder series definitely has the most intriguing storyline of this year’s first round. MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be facing off in what should be a very exciting and close series. Both players have been in the MVP conversation all year and both will need to be the focal points once again for their teams in the playoffs. The Rockets will rely heavily on their 3-point shooting barrage as they set records for most 3’s made and attempted this year. The Thunder will incorporate both an inside and outside game. Defensively, the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley and the Thunder’s Andre Roberson will have the tasks of guarding Russell Westbrook and James Harden respectively. We’ll see who gets the edge defensively but I still think that the Rockets’ fire power will prove to be too much for the Thunder and I have the Rockets winning in 7.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Spurs in 4 games
Once again, the Spurs and Grizzlies meet up in the first round. And just like last year, I think the Spurs will sweep the Grizzlies. San Antonio lost Tim Duncan but Kawhi Leonard has emerged as a formidable superstar and MVP candidate. Pau Gasol also adds some help up front along with LaMarcus Aldridge. The only question is their guard play as guys like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are aging and aren’t much help on defence. The Grizzlies still have Pau’s brother Marc Gasol and Mike Conley finally looks healthy. Losing Tony Allen to injury won’t help their cause as he is a big part of their team especially on defence. In the end, Coach Pop’s team looks like they are ready to challenge for the West crown this year. The Spurs just look too strong for the Grizzlies again this year.
#1 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Chicago Bulls
Prediction: Celtics in 7 games
The Celtics had a very impressive regular season on their way to capturing the East’s #1 seed. Their opponent should not be treated like your typical #8 seed. The Bulls have struggled this season but their team packs a lot of playoff experience. Their guard duo of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade along with star swingman Jimmy Butler will give the Celtics some issues in this series. Boston is also a poor rebounding team so Chicago will look to expose that as well. With that said, the Celtics are a well-balanced team led by star guard Isaiah Thomas. He will look to score in bunches while guys like Al Horford will look to help out as well. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart will be key to stopping both Wade and Butler. This series should be a close one but I still have the Celtics moving on in 7 games.
#4 Washington Wizards vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Wizards in 6 games
Washington has been a team to be reckoned with this season. John Wall and Bradley Beal have cemented themselves in the conversation for best backcourt in the league. Both guys will need to continue their excellent seasons to lead their team. Otto Porter provides consistent shooting and defence while Marcin Gortat clogs up the paint on pick and rolls. The Wizards also made moves to bolster their bench so they have more weapons heading into the playoffs. Atlanta has had their ups and downs this season. Consistency has been an issue for this team but they still have the talent to compete with Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder leading their team. Their role players will need to step up in order for the Hawks to make some noise against a talented Wizards team. After all that, I have the Wizards taking care of business and winning in 6 games.
#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Raptors in 6 games
The Raptors have built their team to make a big run and their first opponent in the postseason is an interesting one. The Bucks come in as the 6th seed and are led by 22 year old Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” is the first player in NBA history to be in the top 20 of five major statistical categories this season: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He will be a matchup problem for the Raptors. Khris Middleton is back and he has looked great since returning early from a hamstring injury. With all that said, the Raptors should be able to handle them. The backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan are stronger than ever but they will need to prove their worth in the playoffs where they have struggled. Key additions Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker provide some much needed help on the defensive end. Jonas Valanciunas will look to be a force inside as well. The Raptors look good going in and I have them beating the Bucks in a well-contested 6 games.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #7 Indiana Pacers
Prediction: Cavaliers in 5 games
The defending NBA champions take on a familiar foe especially for Lebron James. Lebron has had his moments against the Pacers especially during his tenure with the Miami Heat. The Cavs will look to improve on a terrible end to their regular season. We should expect them to turn it on in the playoffs with their big three, Lebron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, leading the way. Indiana will look to stifle the Cavs and it all starts with their superstar, Paul George. George will have the task of containing Lebron and he will need to score a lot as well. The rest of this Pacers team will need to play well in order to compete with this stacked Cavs team. Should be interesting to see how Lance Stephenson, who has returned to the Pacers, will impact this series with his history against Lebron. In the end, I have the Cavs taking it easily in 5 games.