The thrilling excitement that is known as the NBA Playoffs are officially upon us. So many questions come into play as round one is set to tip-off. Are the Warriors destined for another championship? Can King James lead Cleveland back to the promise land? Can Boston make a deep run without Irving? Is Philadelphia ready to challenge the East’s elite for a potential finals appearance? Is there a lower seed destined to make some unexpected noise? They don’t play the games on paper, but with that being said, we’re going to go against the golden rule, and attempt to play out the first round on paper anyway.
1 Toronto Raptors: 4
8 Washington Wizards: 1
There should be no reason to think Toronto should be able to take care of business with relative ease, as they draw Washington as the 8 seed. This series will come down to the play in the backcourt, as Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan represent Toronto; while John Wall, and Bradley Beal take the floor for Washington. Both teams have struggled down the stretch, as Wizards’ star, John Wall has been out 17 of Washington’s final 21 regular season contests. While both star studded backcourts could easily be considered a wash, Toronto brings more consistency, as well as depth. A reason why the Raptors hold the top spot in the east is not necessarily their starting five, but a their deep rotation. They’ll utilize it to their advantage, as it’s an area the Wizards are lacking.
4 Cleveland Cavaliers: 4
5 Indiana Pacers: 2
Cleveland may have a 4 in front of their name, but they can easily be considered the most dangerous team in the East because of one player. Do we really need to elaborate on this one? Didn’t think so… It’s very simple, the Cavs will go as far as LeBron takes them. That makes them capable of going back to the NBA finals with a potential rematch with Golden State, but because of the lack of support, it can also find themselves making an early playoff exit. We can attempt to breakdown what the Pacers bring to the table, but this series (and any other series the Cavs are in) will come down to the play of James. We’re ignoring the fact that Indiana won three of four when the two went head to head this season. The playoffs are a whole other animal, and the Cavs are good enough to hold off the Pacers in a best of seven.
3 Philadelphia 76ers: 4
6 Miami Heat: 1
That ole’ saying, ‘trust the process’ might just finally be paying off for a youthful Sixers squad. The years of agony, tanking, and abysmal play have finally landed them enough top draft picks to all of a sudden be a potential contender in the Eastern conference. Miami is a solid basketball team, but their inconsistent guard play is what has left them a six seed entering this playoff tout. Philadelphia brings a team with no glaring weakness, and their only potential demise within this series would be inexperience. With Kyrie Irving out for the season, many could argue Philadelphia now jumps Boston as the ‘real’ 2 seed in the East. Expect a great battle down low between Joel Embid, and Hassan Whiteside, but while that individual matchup is up for a potential debate, Philadelphia is clearly the better team, and should assert themselves accordingly.
2 Boston Celtics: 2
7 Milwaukee Bucks: 4
To round out the Eastern conference, the once favored Celtics now find themselves without their new star PG, Kyrie Irving. Not only that, Marcus Smart is likely out most of the first round, and Marcus Morris has dealt with injury all season, so it should be interesting on how handles the gruesome schedule in the upcoming weeks. Al Horford needs to be at his very best, as the best chance Boston has to win the battle down low. As for the backcourt, all of a sudden the Celtics have a lackluster one, meanwhile Giannis Antetokounmpo remains as a scoring, and defensive staple in his fifth season with the Bucks. The Celtics are plagued by injury, and if Antetokounmpo plays at the top of his game, he could single handedly lead his team into the second round.
1 Houston Rockets: 4
8 Minnesota Timberwolves: 2
Minnesota defeated Denver in a ‘win or go home’ scenario to claim the 8th, and final playoff spot in the West. While that makes a nice temporary storyline, the grand scheme of things ultimately leads to a top seeded Houston as their first round prize. Jimmy Butler, and Karl-Anthony Towns will be the two Minnesota looks to to pull off the ever so rare 8v1 upset. While Butler might be able to contain Harden to a certain degree, Harden and company are fed up with being known as a ‘regular season’ team. Rather than crumble, expect Harden to thrive as he has all season, Houston has benefited from the emergence of Clint Capella down low, which should help nullify Minnesota’s slight advantage in the paint. With Butler being assigned to guard Harden, that leaves CP3 with an opportunity to take hold of a playoff series as he has done in the past in Los Angeles. The much improved, extremely determined, and overall talent of the Houston roster will prevail, with Butler/Towns perhaps being able to win a game or two in Minnesota.
4 Oklahoma City Thunder: 4
5 Utah Jazz: 3
Oklahoma City bring a group of veterans hungry for playoff success in Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. They are lead by a leader is no stranger to playoff success, Russell Westbrook, and offer a solid presence in the paint with C Steven Adams. While Utah brings a talented roster to the table that includes a career year for C Rudy Gobert. The emergence of Guard Donovan Mitchell is arguably what has Utah sitting ‘pretty’ as the five seed as opposed to being a borderline playoff team. Utah rounds out their roster with solid support from Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles, and recently acquired, Jae Crowder. This series should be interesting, as each team will likely have a different approach to the series. Essentially, Oklahoma City will look to play around the perimeter with George, and Westbrook, while Utah will try to run their offense down low with Gobert, and Favors. Whichever team can execute their initial game-plan likely wins the series, as it usually goes with any 4v5 series. This is an absolute tossup, so sticking with both teams holding homecourt seems like a safe, but definitely not a guaranteed statement.
3 Portland Trail Blazers: 2
6 New Orleans Pelicans: 4
Portland is a team that relies heavily on their guard play with Damian Lillard, and CJ McCollum leading the way; they’re superb play has lead Portland to a 3 seed out West. Jusuf Nurkić has been the difference in keeping the Blazers at the top of the conference, as he’s provided much needed consistency in the paint. While Portland is a talented team, as their record, and seeding enforce, this is going to be a tough matchup for Lillard, and company. New Orleans counters the star backcourt with Jrue Holiday, and Rajan Rondo. While Portland likely has the advantage, New Orleans is more than capable of producing out of the backcourt. What the Pelicans do have that the Trail Blazers lack on a consistent basis is an MVP candidate playing the five spot. Anthony Davis could easily be the difference maker in this series, so it is essential Portland has some type of gameplan to contain him. When it comes down to it, Anthony Davis is the only true player that can take control of this series, and single handedly eliminate the favored Trail Blazers. It’s a daunting task for any team, and it won’t be an easy one for Portland, who will need Nurkić to play like he did in Denver, rather than the last few months. Nikola Mirotić also offers an underrated veteran presence, that make New Orleans’ dual-threat roster extremely tough to guard. Oh, and let’s not forget trying to establish a presence in the paint. This will be another series where each team will attempt to run an opposing gameplan from the other. Portland will attempt to get hot from the perimeter, while New Orleans will likely look down low to Davis early, and often. If the Portland hits their shots they could hold New Orleans off, but if their shooting becomes inconsistent… Advantage Pelicans.
2 Golden State Warriors: 4
7 San Antonio Spurs: 0
So does the absence of Steph Curry leave the door open for a potential San Antonio upset? It could, but it likely won’t. The Spurs won’t have their star forward, Kawhi Leonard to take advantage of the first round absence, and after that San Antonio is made up of aging veterans passed their prime. If this series took place five years ago, then we’d have a series with Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge would still in the backend of their prime. Actually, five years ago that San Antonio roster could easily be near the top of the West, and this series could have been a seven game nail biter. However we are in 2018, and Golden State will manage just fine without Curry, as Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson will combine to make up for any lost production. Aldridge will be the ‘go-to’ guy for San Antonio, but Draymond Green is one of the best defenders in the league, and should contain him to a degree where it isn’t a concern. Rudy Gay could be option number two for San An, and that statement in itself says why the Spurs are just not good enough to beat the Warriors (with or without Curry).