The NBA regular season is finally over and if the last couple of days are anything like the Playoffs then we’re in for a treat. We have our sixteen teams, so kick back, relax and watch all the madness tipping off Saturday afternoon.
(1) Toronto Raptors VS. (8) Washington Wizards
The Toronto Raptors have surprised a lot of people this season winning 59 games and grabbing the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, Coach of the Year candidate Dwayne Casey has these Raptors playing at a very high level and a much different offense than in years past, the ball is moving a lot more, and they’re not shy about getting up the 3 ball. Yes, they still have their strong backcourt with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry but DeRozan is playing a lot different this year. In the past he has been the master of the mid-range but, he has upped his game and brought it out to the three-point line. Unlike previous season this is probably the deepest the Raptors can reach into their bench to help their stars out. Although they have been the best in the East no one can ignore the Raptors playoff woes, getting swept by Washington in 2015, and swept by Cleveland last year, there’re plenty of questions we have for this team and the answers start with Kyle Lowery who has been known to disappear come playoff time.
It’s no secret that the Washington Wizards have been the most disappointing team in the NBA this year, and losers of 4 out of their last 5 games. The reason for this slippage can be linked to their star point guard John Wall missing a long stretch of time with getting his knee cleaned up, although the team played well at certain times without Wall, some felt they should move on from him during that stretch. Bradley Beal clearly proved that he’s incapable of putting a team on his back and getting the job done, some games he would drop 30 and they still would come up short or Beal would have games where he finished in the teens with points. Although Washington has all this turmoil with players and coaches calling one another selfish this is probably the most dangerous team in the playoffs. John Wall is still an elite point guard and the Raptors have no one that can slow down this monster. Wall will need a lot of help from his shooters Beal, Kelly Oubre, & Otto Porter, Markieff Morris is a rough rider and will get his. The Achilles heel of this Wizards team though is their bench, they have a lack of depth that can only go about 6 deep which can be costly. The Wizards won’t lay down nor do they fear the Raptors this series can go either way honestly.
Prediction: Raptors 4-3
(2) Boston Celtics VS. (7) Milwaukee Bucks
This is the best case scenario for the Boston Celtics, after losing All-Star Gordon Hayward opening night to a gruesome ankle injury, point guard Kyrie Irving whom they traded for during the summer just had season-ending knee surgery. The Celtics were still able to grab a number two seed behind key young players Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, & rookie Jason Tatum, also the Celtics have arguably the best coach in the playoffs with Brad Stevens. Boston has been down this road before just last year when they fell in a 0-2 hole against the Chicago Bulls so overcoming adversity is nothing new for this team expect them to play fast, tough, and defend like crazy.
If there is any team that has had a crazy year like Boston insert the Milwaukee Bucks, they fired their Head Coach Jason Kidd early on in the season and things still have been up and down all year. For the most part, the Bucks are a one-man show with star Giannis Antetokounmpo he does have a little help surrounding him with forward Jabari Parker and guard Michael Brogden. The Bucks aren’t a great shooting team at all they rarely get up the three ball, they rely heavily on getting easy baskets in the open court where Giannis is one of the best transition scores in the league. This is where the problem resides during the playoffs the game becomes a half-court game where you’re forced to run your offense and create your own shot. Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the league so look for them to force anybody but Giannis to beat them.
Prediction: Celtics 4-3
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat
Process Trusted!!!!! The 76ers have a young squad that will be a problem for years to come. Led by who should be Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, and All-Star Joel Embiid the Sixers have been riding high being winners of 16 in a row. Let us not get to carried away with the winning streak although winning that amount of games in the NBA is impressive, only 3 of the 16 teams they’ve played are in the playoffs. The Sixers will start this series with question marks to their big man Joel Embiid who has been out with an orbital bone fracture, he has no timetable on his return this leads to the question of how effective will Embiid be going up against another star in Hassan Whiteside when he returns? The two have shared their jabs against one another in the past so things should be interesting. The young Sixers will look to push the pace and get up a lot of threes with guys like JJ Redick, Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli. It also helps that Philly has the number one pick in the 2017 NBA draft Markelle Fultz who missed the majority of the season to work on his shooting motion leading them off the bench.
Talent wise the Miami Heat can’t compare to the Sixers but the things that they do have going for them is that they have a core group of guys who have significant playoff experience with Dwyane Wade leading them. Plus they have a Championship Head Coach in Eriq Spoelstra who knows what it takes in the playoffs. If anything he’ll make sure this Miami team slows Philly down in transition forcing them to execute an offense in half court sets where you’ll see a lot of players going under a Ben Simmons pick-n-roll or sagging off while guarding him forcing Simmons to shoot jump shots where he has struggled this year. Miami is going to need their core of Goran Dragic, Haasan Whiteside, James Johnson, & veteran Dwayne Wade to be effective and contributing each game if they want this series to be close.
Prediction: 76ers 4-2
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers VS. (5) Indian Pacers
If someone told me that the Indian Pacers would be in the playoffs with the 5 seed after dealing their former All-Star Paul George, for basically at the time what most thought was a bag of peanuts ( Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis) I would have deemed them delusional. Turns out it looks like the Pacers won this trade, Oladipo who was an All-Star this past year and a lock for Most Improved Player has put this Pacer team on his back for the most part. The Pacers don’t have stars around Oladipo but they do have solid players to compliment him in Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and oh yeah we can’t forget about Lance Stephenson. If you need a reason to watch this series look no further than Lebron James vs. Lance, there’s no telling what Stephenson will do this time around we know the history of him antagonizing James from his Miami days swiping James in the face along with blowing in his ear.
This is probably the least talented team Lebron James has led in the playoffs since his first stint with the Cavaliers. A season filled with nothing but drama since the summer when they dealt Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for an injured point guard in Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and Bostons 2018 unprotected first round pick (From the Brooklyn Nets). Needless to say, this experiment didn’t workout forcing the Cavs to blow up their team at the trade deadline. They traded Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, and their own 2018 first round pick to the Lakers for a younger and more athletic talent in Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. The Cavs also unloaded Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, plus Iman Shumpert in return they got Rodney Hood, along with George Hill in a three-team trade. LeBron James has this team built the way he likes with a great second option in Kevin Love, shooters everywhere so James can drive and kick in case help defense comes. The Pacers have no answer for James so look for LeBron to be in his bag early going down in the post, aggressively attacking the rim added with exquisite passes.
Prediction: Cavaliers 4-1
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Houston Rockets have been the best team all year also they have the leagues MVP on their Roster in James Harden who has been cooking since the start of the season and pulled away from this race early. No-one knew how Harden and Chris Paul whom they acquired in the offseason from the Clippers would coexist. The two ball dominant players have worked it out just well and have thrived well in Head Coach Mike D’Antoni system where they get up and down the floor at a crazy pace where everyone has the ultimate green light to launch the 3 ball. The Rockets have been a little sloppy in closing out the regular season but that can be argued that they’re bored and ready for this time of the year which counts the most. Harden and company provide a mismatch all over the place for this young Wolves team.
The T-Wolves have a solid core in Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl Anthony-Towns that shouldn’t be an 8 seed but with Jimmy Butler missing significant time with a knee injury that could be the reason for them being in this spot. Or it could just simply be that the Wolves surprisingly aren’t good on defense, considering their Head Coach Tom Thibodeau foundation is built on defense this team gives up 105.1 points per 100 possession. Not playing defense and going up against a Rockets team that can score the basketball don’t mix well together. So look for Paul and Harden to do numbers.
Prediction: Rockets 4-0
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
The Golden State Warriors have limped their way into the playoffs and have had a sporadic type of ending to the season since their All-Star guard Stephen Curry went down with an MCL sprain to his knee. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant plus key members of their bench have also missed a significant time with injuries. It’s unknown how healthy this team is but at the end of the day they still have Durant, Klay, and Draymond to keep them afloat until Steph comes back, this is probably the worst first-round matchup Golden State could have drawn due to the fact that the Spurs aren’t afraid of Golden State.
The Spurs have been without the best two way player in all of basketball in Khawi Leonard, Leonard has played in a total 9 games all season dealing with a quad injury that has been a story all season long in San Antonio. At one point Khawi was cleared by the Spurs medical staff to play but didn’t feel right and sought second and third opinions and was never cleared by his personal medical staff. Even with all the drama the Spurs still found themselves in the playoffs with a first-round matchup they have to love. The Warriors can’t push the pace of the ball as much without Steph, so look for Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich to slow the game down and get LaMarcus Aldridge his touches early and often in the post. If the Spurs can keep the game in the high 80’s low 90’s look for a first-round upset.
Predictions: Spurs 4-3
(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
This is a very interesting match between a Pelican team that seemed like they’d spiral downhill after Center DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury leaving Anthony to carry the team once again like he has done in years past. This time around the Davis has role players that know their role and plays their role well. Nikola Mirotic has come along and helped spread the floor for guards Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to operate. Anthony Davis is the best player in this series but he and his team will have to steal a victory at some point in the Moda Center where the crowd is a hostile as they come.
For Portland, it all starts on the defensive end for them, if they can prove that they can contain the Pelicans when they spread the floor they should be in great shape for the series. We know that the combination of C.J. McCollum with Damian Lillard is very deadly, those two can heat up from the 3 point line at any time and shoot oppositions out the gym but it’s the others that will need to contribute too, wings Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu will be players to keep an eye on as well. The most intriguing matchup for this series comes down to which big three will be better guards Lillard, McCollum, and center Jusuf Nurkic or will guards Rondo, Holiday, and big man Davis outduel them.
Prediction: Blazers 4-3
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Who would have thought these two teams would be matched up here in the first round of the playoffs? Considering the subtractions that were made to Utah this summer when Gordan Hayward left for Utah and then the additions the Thunder made by adding Carmelo Anthony, plus Paul George. The Thunder on paper for sure seemed like a lock for a top two seed but surprisingly the Thunder have struggled on offense at stretches this year with Paul George going into a shooting slump and their offense becoming too stagnant with players just watching Russell Westbrook execute on offense. The Thunder are probably one of the most dangerous teams in these playoffs but the biggest question is can they be the team everyone expected them to be this postseason, especially against a tough Utah team that smothers teams defensively.
Utah Head Coach Quin Snyder has done one of the best coaching jobs in the league he has made chicken salad out of chicken sh**. With who should be Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert missing time the Jazz were able to stay afloat, insert the emergence of Rookie of the Year Candidate Donovan Mitchell who has come in and dominated as a rookie, Mitchell leads the team in scoring and can heat up very quickly. Utah depends heavily on Mitchell to put the ball in the hoop, and if he’s not doing that there are not many other players that Utah has on their roster that can create their own shot. Mitchell is impressive but he’s a rookie going up against his idol in the first round of the playoffs. The monster Russell Westbrook will be a headache for Utah to deal with but expect Utah to try and throw different bodies at Russ to give him different looks.
Prediction: Thunder 4-2