The NBA playoffs are shaping to be some of the most competitive in recent memory, particularly in the wide open Eastern Conference. With the Warriors showing vulnerability out west, what we thought we knew in October may not be the case today. How will things shake out in the first round?
Rockets vs. Timberwolves
The Rockets have been the best regular season team this year by far, both by virtue of the eye test and the numbers. Houston had the most wins and best margin of victory of any team this year. They enter the playoffs as prohibitive first round favorite.
Minnesota went to overtime in the last game of the season to barely slide into the last available spot. They are much better on both sides of the ball when Jimmy Butler plays, but that will not be enough.
Prediction: Rockets in 4.
Warriors vs. Spurs
The name on the front of the San Antonio uniforms garners deserved respect, but this team is a shadow of the normal Spurs teams playing in April. Without Kawhi, the Spurs are lacking in firepower and will have to play flawless games to compete.
Or will they? Since Durant, Green, and Thompson have resumed playing together they have a negative plus/minus. Golden State recently lost by 40 to Utah and does not have nearly the same fire as years gone by.
Prediction: Warriors in 6, but it might look ugly in the process.
Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans
It is a testament to both coaching staffs they we are talking about these two teams in the playoffs. After the Cousins injury, many people gave the Pelicans up for dead, but Anthony Davis has been otherworldly.
Portland relies on their guard play and Lillard and McCollum have not disappointed this season. Nurkic has been solid down low and has provided some balance to the Blazers.
Prediction: In a battle of two teams off of the mainstream, Portland gets it done in 5.
Thunder vs. Jazz
The 4 vs 5 matchups are typically hard to predict because the teams are usually evenly matched. Adding to the intrigue, is that this matchup is a clash in styles. The Jazz rely on tough defense and a slow pace while Oklahoma City pushes the tempo and scores in bunches.
Prediction: The Thunder have bigger names, but the Jazz play a much more sound game. Jazz upset the Thunder in 6.
Raptors vs Wizards
Something has to give in this matchup featuring two teams that stumbled to the finish line. Both teams have been disappointing in the playoffs in recent years. The Wizards are finally healthy, but have not played well since the return of John Wall.
Toronto has home court and did win almost 60 games this season. They boast a deep rotation and two guys in Lowry and DeRozan who can get shots for themselves.
Prediction: The Wizards appear to have chemistry issues that can’t get fixed overnight. Raptors get it done in 5.
Celtics vs. Bucks
No team has done more with less than the Celtics. No team has done less with more than the Bucks. If you put these two rosters in NBA2K and played a season with them, you would undoubtedly do better with Milwaukee’s team.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the games are not played on paper and coaching matters. In many people’s minds Brad Stevens is the best coach in the NBA.
Prediction: In future seasons, the Bucks will be a major factor in the Eastern Conference, but not right now. Boston in 5, somehow.
Sixers vs. Heat
Philadelphia enters the playoffs as the hottest team in the NBA and the winners of 16 straight, including a bunch without the services of Joel Embiid. The Sixers are very young and even the veterans do not have much in the way of playoff experience, which could play a factor.
Miami does not have many big names anymore, but Wade is back. The Heat handled the Sixers the last two times that they played, including a win at the buzzer.
Prediction: Really any outcome is possible here from the Sixers running the Heat out of the gym to Miami getting it done with savvy. The pick is Philadelphia in 6, but not with conviction.
Cavaliers vs. Pacers
Indiana has played the Cavs tough over the years, and this is Lebron’s worst supporting cast in years. Lebron will have to play out of his mind to win another series, but he has done so all season long.
Prediction: Have to take Lebron until someone finally dethrones him. Cavs in 6.
The 2017-18 NBA playoffs begin this weekend have many intriguing matchups. It does not seem like the outcomes will be forgone conclusions as it has been the case in recent years.