NBA Playoffs are finally back and I couldn’t be more excited for this postseason. The regular season offered up some very unpredictable seedings in both conferences. In the West, teams were fighting until the very end to even be able to sneak into the 8 seed. In the East, the teams who made it had been set for awhile but we didn’t know the first round matchups until the last day. The playoffs are a time for stars to rise to the occasion and carry their team as far as they can to hopefully win a championship. It should be interesting to see if some of the known playoff chokers can finally pull it through and make it to the NBA Finals and maybe even win a championship. This year’s playoffs should be a good one!
Western Conference Breakdown
(1) Houston Rockets VS. (2) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves have finally snapped the longest playoff drought in the NBA by beating the Denver Nuggets in their final regular season game. As excited as they were to make the playoffs, they have a tough task ahead of them to take on the number one seeded Houston Rockets. Houston has been the best team in the league all year long blowing people out most of the games they played in. James Harden is, in my opinion, is the MVP this year and it will be tough to stop him. Chris Paul and Clint Capela have also been huge pieces for this team and when Capela, Paul, and Harden play, the Rockets were pretty much impossible to beat in the regular season. That said, the Timberwolves only dropped to the 8 seed because Jimmy Butler got hurt. Butler is now back, healthy for the playoffs, and ready to go. Jimmy is a top 2-way player in the league so the matchup between him and James Harden should be fun to watch! Karl Towns is also a huge piece for this Timberwolves team and his numbers against the Rockets since he has been drafted are insane. He’s a great young talent and hungry for greatness. I expect him to have a great series. In the end, I think the Rockets will be too dominant and the Wolves are not going to be able to match their insane scoring ability.
Prediction: Rockets in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors VS (7) San Antonio Spurs
Looking at the other possible matchups Golden State could have gotten stuck with in the first round, this matchup with the Spurs is the best they could have hoped for. Although I say that with some skepticism because this all depends on Kahwi Leonard. Kawhi has been out pretty much all season and the drama surrounding him and his injury have been very confusing to try and figure out what’s actually going on. They have him officially ruled out for game 1 but who knows if he will return or not. The Spurs will instead rely on their other star in LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA has been great this season and carried the Spurs to the playoffs which earned him an All-Star spot this year. Steph Curry is also out for the Warriors which obviously makes a big difference for their whole team. Kevin Durant was great in the playoffs last season but this is his chance to show that he can really be a leader for this team and win a series without Steph. It will be harder without Steph but I still have the Warriors winning the series pretty easily assuming Kawhi does not return.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
(3) Portland Trailblazers VS New Orleans Pelicans
I think this is going to be the best first-round series in the West, and maybe even in the first round in general. These teams tied in the season series 2-2 so I expect this series to go 7 games. Anthony Davis is the key for the Pelicans. He has carried them this season ever since the Demarcus Cousins injury, and even multiple seasons before that, and he is an absolute monster. Nurkic is going to have a tough time stopping him in the paint so I think Davis will have a great series. This could be the first time in his career that he gets a win in the playoffs which is crazy to think about. For the Trailblazers, they will rely on their star backcourt consisting of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. The Blazers shocked everyone when they climbed their way up to the 3 seed. We knew they were good but we didn’t know they were THAT good. The Blazers did struggle down the stretch going 5-7 to end the season but that doesn’t take away from their dominance in a tough Western Conference. Damian Lillard was great this season and worked his way into the MVP conversation with his clutch play. I think this will be a close series but ultimately, the Trailblazers will top the Pelicans to move on.
Prediction: Trailblazers in 7
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder VS (5) Utah Jazz
This series should be a good one. The Thunder won the season series between these two teams 3-1 BUT they have not played each other since December 23rd which is all before the Jazz turned things around and became a force to be reckoned with in the West. Donovan Mitchell has turned himself into a star for the Jazz and has had a great rookie season. He took on a huge offensive responsibility and has helped carry this team to a good seed in the playoffs. Gobert is the X-factor for me in this series. He has a good chance at winning Defensive Player of the Year and matches up well with Steven Adams who can kill teams that don’t have a dominant center. Although the Thunder got the 4 seed, they have been pretty disappointing this season as they almost dropped out of the playoffs in the last few games of the regular season. The Thunder can dominate when they have to and have shown flashes of brilliance this season. When they are locked in, they are tough to beat. I give the coaching edge to the Jazz but just on star power alone I think the Thunder can win this series.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
Eastern Conference Breakdown
(1) Toronto Raptors VS (8) Washington Wizards
The Toronto Raptors has one of their best seasons in franchise history and have looked like a legit contending team this season. Dwane Casey has gotten Coach of the Year considerations and DeMar DeRozan was in the MVP conversation at one point. This has been a successful regular season for them and they are looking to continue that into the postseason. The Raptors have been disappointing in the playoffs in the past but this year seems like it may be different. Lowry and DeRozan have been great for this team this year so we’ll see if they can rise to the occasion and finally get hot in the playoffs. This team has a lot of depth and should be able to use their bench to their advantage. The Wizards have been pretty disappointing this season but that is mostly due to the injuries which have plagued John Wall for a good chunk of the season. Bradley Beal was great this season carrying his team to the playoffs and earning his first All-Star spot. The backcourt of Beal and Wall can compete with Toronto’s backcourt but overall, Toronto has more depth and they are a better team. This one should be over pretty quick.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics VS (7) Milwaukee Bucks
The Boston Celtics were one of the most exciting teams coming into this season but that has changed completely since their whole team has been plagued by injury. Gordon Hayward went down in the first minutes of the season and Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for the entire playoffs by some knee trouble. Brad Stevens is a genius and somehow kept the Celtics in the 2 seed and won games down the stretch with a G-League roster. Celtics will be relying on their young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to help contribute in a big way. They will also rely on Al Horford who made the All-Star team this year and Marcus Morris who helped the Celtics win a lot of games this year. The Bucks are finally fully healthy now. They just had their full roster playing together for the first time in their final regular season game against the Sixers. The Bucks have been another disappointing team this year but they got hit with injuries pretty bad. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the top players in this league and was an early MVP favorite. I expect him to have a big series and could potentially carry the Bucks to an upset over the Celtics. I wanna say the Bucks will upset the Celtics but I’m sorry, I won’t bet against the genius Brad Stevens.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers VS Miami Heat
The Philadelphia 76ers are the hottest team coming into the playoffs. They finished their season on a 15 game winning streak blowing out the Bucks by 35 in their final game of the regular season. The Sixers are rolling with Ben Simmons leading the charge. They like to play fast with Simmons slicing through the open court for a dunk or kicking it out to J.J. Redick for a 3. There’s no question that the Sixers will miss the presence of their All-Star center Joel Embiid who may or may not play at all in the first round. Hopefully, he can return for at least one game to get his first taste of playoff action in his career. The biggest difference between these two teams is experience. The Sixers have only a few veteran players with playoff experience compared to the Heat who is full of players with playoff experience which could play a big factor in the series. The Heat have an All-Star point guard in Goran Dragic who is their leading scorer and they also have Dwyane Wade who is a completely different player in the playoffs. The Heat have a lot of depth and versatility on their bench which could be another advantage for them facing the Sixers. Even without Embiid, I still have the Sixers winning this series.
Prediction: Sixers in 6
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers VS (5) Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers were a huge surprise this season. No one expected them to make the playoffs let alone be contending for the 3 seed at one point in the season. They have a great All-Star shooting guard in Victor Oladipo who really worked on his game this offseason and has transformed himself into one of the top players in the league. I expect him to have a great playoff series against the Cavs who don’t have a very good defense. It’s always fun when Lebron matches up with the Pacers because then we get to see him and Lance Stephenson go at it which is always hilarious. The Cavs have had their moments this season but they also have one of the worst defenses in the league. It’s possible that they will pick it up on the defensive end in the playoffs it’s hard to know for sure after what I watched the entire regular season. Nevertheless, when Lebron is on your team in the playoffs, anything is possible. He is one of the greatest to ever do it and always performs like it in the playoffs, blazing through the Eastern Conference. I think this series will be better than most people expect. The Pacers are scrappers and hard workers on defense and they can make a game tough on anybody. They aren’t scared of the Cavs so I think the series will be good as it usually is when Lebron faces the Pacers. In the end, the Cavs will ultimately triumph as they usually do with Lebron James leading the charge.
Prediction: Cavs in 5