With the playoffs beginning on Saturday, here are my predictions on who will win the first round
In the past few seasons, the NBA playoffs have been a joke. With the winner being accurately predicted before every season, I couldn’t help but feel like watching the postseason was a complete waste of time. That team, of course, is the all-star infested Golden State Warriors.
LeBron James was the only hurdle for this team since 2015, and they only tripped over that hurdle once. However, this year there has a different feeling. Not only is there a sense that the Warriors dominance is soon coming to an end, but there is an exceptional amount of competition throughout this playoff bracket coming from both the Eastern and Western Conferences. With that said, here are my predictions for the first round of the playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks (E1) vs Detroit Pistons (E8)
For the past several days, the only relevant point of discussion (besides the retirement of Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki) involved the Pistons, since the seventh and eighth spots in the East were still up for contention. Trust me when I say the Pistons are nowhere near a playoff team. They finished with a 41-41 record and averaged 107.0 points per game, ranking 25th in the league, the worst amongst all playoff teams.
The Bucks, on the other hand, finished with the best record in the league (60-22), have the number one offense in the league (118.1 points per game) and have the likely MVP on their squad in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee 4 – Detroit 0
Toronto Raptors (E2) vs Orlando Magic (E7)
The Raptors have consistently been good in the regular season, but in the playoffs, they have always struggled. Since 2014, Toronto has never been below the fourth seed in the East; last year they finished as the top seed. Despite this success, they have never been able to win a first-round series in less than six games, and for the past two seasons, they were swept in the second round. However, there is one major difference between this year’s team and the previous—Kawhi Leonard. The addition of Leonard adds playoff experience and leadership this team has lacked.
Although the Magic played well against the league’s juggernauts, with victories over the Celtics, Rockets, Warriors and even the Raptors, Kawhi should carry his team to the second round with ease.
Toronto 4 – Orlando 1
Philadelphia 76ers (E3) vs Brooklyn Nets (E6)
The Nets have had an unbelievable story this season. Led by an incredible year from All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn has seen great production from small-name players. This includes include center Jarrett Allen, who earned 1.5 blocks per game, and backup guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was the team’s second leading scorer with 16.8 ppg. Although the Nets’ numbers don’t jump off your screen, the franchise made the playoffs as the sixth seed.
Unfortunately, they will face the 76ers, with the best overall roster in the East. The starting five of Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris and Embiid is one of the best in the league and should contend with Golden State. If the Sixers are firing on all cylinders, they will be able to defeat the Nets quite easily.
Philadelphia 4 – Brooklyn 1
Boston Celtics (E4) vs Indiana Pacers (E5)
The Celtics have been an absolute disappointment this year. Yes, they finished 16 games above .500, but after last year’s spectacular playoff run with an injury-riddled squad, a healthy Boston club was projected to finish as the top team in the East. Even with a playoff berth, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of enthusiasm around the team, but fortunately for them, Boston will face an even more tepid opponent.
Indiana lost star Victor Oladipo before the All-Star break, and from that point on, the Pacers were considered obsolete, falling from third to fifth in the East. The team has two solid stars in Myles Turner, a probable finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year, and Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a career-best .497 shooting percentage. However, besides these two, this team is lackluster at best.
Boston 4 – Indiana 1
Golden State Warriors (W1) vs Los Angeles Clippers (W8)
We all know the Warriors will win this series, but this regular season run for the Clippers was about more than just making the playoffs. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers led a team without any stars to beat out the Kings for the eighth seed. With general manager Jerry West, the Clippers have become a very desirable free agent destination.
As for this series, the Clippers have no shot. The Warriors’ dominance will continue. Steph Curry will make unbelievable shots, Klay Thompson will scored 35 points in a quarter, Draymond Green will unnecessarily yell at officials and so on.
Golden State 4 – Los Angeles 1
Denver Nuggets (W2) vs San Antonio Spurs (W7)
I haven’t been confident in the Nuggets this season. I can’t see a guy like Nikola Jokic taking a young Denver squad to the finals. However, I can’t deny their 54-28 record. Mike Malone was the second best coach in the NBA this year. Jamal Murray is set to become a star, and the addition of Paul Millsap is finally coming into effect. Nevertheless, the Nuggets’ 20th ranked scoring offense is a big concern.
For San Antonio, their biggest problem is offense as well. Besides DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and an occasional 20-point game from Rudy Gay, no one on the roster is an offensive threat. I can’t see the genius of Gregg Popovich being able to defeat this hot Nuggets team, although I think it could get interesting.
Denver 4 – San Antonio 2
Portland Trail Blazers (W3) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (W6)
With only four games separating these two squads, this should be a solid matchup. However, much like Toronto, Portland is not a historically great postseason team. After this season, they will have made the playoffs for six consecutive years. Only twice in those five previous playoff campaigns did the Trail Blazers make it to the second round, and they failed to make it past there. My question is: what makes this Portland team different? When contemplating this, my answer is nothing. Yes, they finished with a top ten offense, and yes, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard both averaged over 20 points. But that seems to happen every year.
As for the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC), they have everything they need to win a championship. They have a starting lineup with Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams and a top-three MVP finalist in Paul George, and a solid bench run by guard Dennis Schroder and big man Nerlens Noel.
Portland head coach Terry Stotts cannot take another embarrassing series loss after last year’s sweep by the Pelicans, and because of that, I think Portland will play better. But the Thunder have more talent, and if their stars perform, I don’t see Portland advancing to the second round.
Portland 2 – Oklahoma City 4
Houston Rockets (W4) vs Utah Jazz (W5)
This will be the best first-round matchup of the playoffs. Both teams had disappointing beginnings to the season. Houston began the year 11-14, while Utah held a record of 14-20 by Dec. 17. It wasn’t until January that both of these clubs began to take form. Donovan Mitchell bounced back from his sophomore slump and led the team with 23.8 points per game. Rudy Gobert was one of the top defensive players in the league this year, accumulating nine defensive rebounds per game and collecting over two blocks a game.
As for Houston, offensive stars PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul have played well. They combined for nearly 40 points and more than 10 assists in every contest. However, the most effective player on their roster by far is James Harden, who leads the league with 36.1 points per game. His efficiency rating of 33.1 was only below Antetokounmpo’s. However, Harden isn’t his best in the playoffs. In his six playoff appearances with Houston, Harden’s shooting percentage has dropped to .412. Only faith leads me to believe he will fix his playoff frustrations. Nevertheless, Houston is the better shooting team, which should lead to success.
Houston 4 – Utah 3