With the first four games of the NBA Playoffs set to tip off today, let’s provide an analysis and prediction of each matchup we will see in the opening round. Are you ready for some playoff basketball?!
Philadelphia 76ers (3) v.s. Brooklyn Nets (6)
Before anything let me just say congratulations to the Nets. Just a year ago you might have (like me) considered them to be one of the most feeble franchises in sports, but they made some smart moves and developed their youngsters on their way to a very respectable season. However, they get stuck with Philly in the first round, and since the Tobias Harris trade the Sixers have been scary. Things get a little interesting with Joel Embiid’s resurfacing knee issue, and if he misses more than just the opener (which he is listed as doubtful for) then Brooklyn definitely has a shot. Nevertheless, Philly’s youngsters proved they could play last season in the Playoffs, so this should be an easy top-seed victory.
Toronto Raptors (2) v.s. Orlando Magic (7)
And while we’re at it, why not congratulate the Magic? They certainly were not as desperate as the Nets, but they were at a similar spot in the standings last year and turned it around this season to post a winning record and vault into the Playoffs. Their young frontcourt with Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic has been great and should continue to be great for years to come, but they lack serious depth. On the other side, the Raptors were outstanding defensively and ran opponents up and down offensively. I know they exit early each year, but they’ve never had Kawhi Leonard before...maybe he pushes them over the top this season, but at the very least he should get them through the first round. This should be nothing more than a brief Florida vacation for the Raptors.
Golden State Warriors (1) v.s. Los Angeles Clippers (8)
This series should be interesting, but I can’t honestly give any chance to the Clippers. Sure, they’ve probably played harder and smarter than just about anybody in the NBA this season, but their past two matchups with the Warriors have been blowout losses. They lack a true star and we know what that gets you in the NBA. And yes, I am well aware that this is the Warriors’ most trying season since they began their reign of dominance, but it’s one v.s. eight and eight has traded all its stars in the past three seasons.
Denver Nuggets (2) v.s. San Antonio Spurs (7)
You can never count Pop and the Spurs out, and Denver did finish the season 5-5...Listen, I love how San Antonio has transformed post-Kawhi. They still play the same style but they do it with different guys and in different ways, but there’s no denying this seems to be Denver’s year. This is clearly their best season in a while, and with Nikola Jokic doing anything and everything that can be done on a basketball court, the Nuggets should spur the Spurs for the second round of the Playoffs.
Boston Celtics (4) v.s. Indiana Pacers (5)
Just a few months ago this would’ve been an easy choice, with Indiana building off of last season and Boston flailing around. Now, Boston is still flailing but it appears Indiana has joined them due to the absence of one Victor Oladipo. Despite the Pacers finishing the season 16-19 after Oladipo went down with his injury, they stand only one game behind the Celtics overall. Boston has had all year to turn it around and have continued to fail expectations, while Indiana has looked like a team without its star (accurately enough)...this all makes it hard to think either team will win, but given the home-court advantage and the fact that Kyrie should be healthy for the Playoffs this year, I’m going to have to go with Boston.
Portland Trail Blazers (3) v.s. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
I know what the seeding says, but I have to give the Thunder the upper hand here. The only reason they fell from that third spot to sixth was the mid-late season struggle they endured, but they appear to have recovered from that and look just as strong as when they were only behind the Nuggets and Warriors. The Blazers had Dame which automatically keeps them in any Playoff series (except for last year), but with Jusuf Nurkic out how far can this team go? I am a big Enes Kanter fan and he has been playing well, but he and Nurkic play much different styles and the rotation is getting thin in Portland. With their best team since KD departed, the Thunder should grab the round one victory.
Milwaukee Bucks (1) v.s. Detroit Pistons (8)
Poor Detroit...another team that failed to capitalize on its talent, they are now stuck facing the Bucks in the first round. This should be a pretty easy one here with the way both teams have been playing, and the Bucks should charge into the second round. Who else is excited for MVP Giannis in the Playoffs?
Houston Rockets (4) v.s. Utah Jazz (5)
Wait, this looks familiar...that's probably because the two teams matched up in the second round last year and we saw the Rockets dismantle the Jazz with a 4-1 series victory. However, Utah has only improved its depth and starters while the Rockets are essentially James Harden shooting with a sprinkle of Chris Paul and an exciting play every once in a while from Clint Capela. I know Houston managed to make a big run off of Harden’s scoring, but this isn’t March Madness where one player can carry a team throughout. You need a complete roster to win in the NBA, and Utah is much more complete than Houston at this point. Also I just want to see Harden and his flopping out of the Playoffs as soon as possible...