Written By: Brad Stonebraker – Staff Writing Intern (@bradbraker97 )
Believe it or not, here we are: NBA playoffs, kicking off in less than 24 hours. It’s one of the most exciting times of my year each and every time it comes around, and I have especially high expectations for this year’s postseason. Considering the incredible talent that was put on display beginning in October 2016, I think we’re in for a treat and could see some outcomes we didn’t think were possible 6 months ago. Here, I’ll predict the outcomes of each first-round matchup and why I think the results will be as so:
Warriors (1) vs. Trail Blazers (8)
Prediction: Warriors, 4-1
Analysis: I don’t think this will shock anyone, as the Warriors were on a tear to end the regular season without the best player on their team. Now that Kevin Durant is back and without limitations, it’s truly going to be hard for anyone to stop them, especially the defensively weak Trail Blazers. I give the Blazers a game in this one due to Lillard having an insane night, but I think Golden State can keep him and his backcourt buddy C.J. McCollum in check for the most part. Even if the Warriors don’t play phenomenal defense, the Blazers play very little of it and will surely be outscored by Golden State.
Clippers (4) vs. Jazz (5)
Prediction: Clippers, 4-3
Analysis: This one is a little tougher to predict, as I really think this series could go either way. The reasons I give the Clippers the advantage here are 1) experience and 2) the center battle. The Clippers have not fared all too well in the playoffs, but they’ve been there before and understand what it takes to advance. If they lose this series, I am almost positive they’ll go into full rebuild mode considering their lack of success in the last few postseasons, so there’s a lot on the line for CP3 and company.
In terms of centers, I find DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert almost unstoppable. But if anyone can slow him down, I think Deandre Jordan is capable. Doing so slows down the Jazz, and without Gobert rebounding and scoring around the rim as he does so well and so consistently, the team isn’t as lethal. This could be the most competitive first-round series.
Rockets (3) vs. Thunder (6)
Prediction: Rockets, 4-2
Analysis: This may be the most fun series to watch. There’s history between guys like Westbrook and Beverley, and each team has incredible defenders to try and slow down the opposing team’s superstar. The Thunder have played their heart out all season, but I think the only thing Houston needs to focus on is a man whose name rhymes with Mussell Bestbrook.
If they can slow him down at all, I don’t think Oklahoma stands a chance against a stacked Houston squad. Houston has too many shooters and scorers and are much more than just James Harden. That being said, I’m not sure they’ll be able to stop him four games straight, so look for the Thunder to snag a game or two in this one.
Spurs (2) vs. Grizzlies (7)
Prediction: Spurs, 4-1
Analysis: This may be the most boring/defensively-minded series, and there isn’t a whole lot to say. The Spurs are so much better, have a phenomenal bench, and shouldn’t have many problems slowing down the two main threats that Memphis has in Conley and Gasol. Kawhi should dominate, especially with Tony Allen out indefinitely, and there should be a key to round two available for the Spurs around the fourth or fifth game.
Celtics (1) vs. Bulls (8)
Prediction: Bulls, 4-3
Analysis: Not a typo. Even as a huge Lakers fan, I’m rooting for the Celtics and what they’ve been able to do this season, because it’s been pretty remarkable. However, I think they’re one step/one rotation player away from being contenders. They’ve been called the worst 1 seed in a long time, if not ever, and with their measly point differential and lack of experience, I understand this.
The Bulls have a lot going their way: Jimmy Butler is a stud and will continue to be one this postseason, Dwyane Wade has played in millions of playoff games and has been successful in almost every single one, and Rajon Rondo has some “revenge” to play for. This one should be fun.
Wizards (4) vs. Hawks (5)
Prediction: Wizards, 4-1
Analysis: This is an interesting one, as one of the teams (Washington) is phenomenal on offense while the other (Atlanta) is great on defense. In this case, I think the Wizards can outrun, outhustle, and overall outplay the Hawks. Atlanta has big advantages at the 4 and 5, but Washington has even bigger ones at the 1, 2, and 3. Dennis Schroder will in no way be able to contain John Wall, and if Kent Bazemore guards him then we can look for Bradley Beal to be more dominant. The Wizards have a lot of weapons, and I see them going very far this postseason.
Raptors (3) vs. Bucks (6)
Prediction: Raptors, 4-2
Analysis: First of all, huge props to the Bucks for being so good after the All-Star break without one of their best players in Jabari Parker. They’ve been as good as anyone and were hungry for a playoff spot, and boy did they earn it. However, I just think the Raptors are an overall better and deeper team. They have both DeMarre Carroll and newly acquired P.J. Tucker to at least attempt to defend Giannis (I say “attempt” because I don’t think anyone has really figured it out yet).
Giannis is going to be dominant regardless, and Milwaukee will have a few other contributors, but overall I think Toronto has more guys that can put the ball in the basket. I have no idea who’ll be able to stop Demar Derozan, and with Kyle Lowry recently back from injury they’re going to be one handful of a backcourt. The Raptors are better, yes, but any series with The Greek Freak playing in it will still be a fun and competitive one.
Cavaliers (2) vs. Pacers (7)
Prediction: Cavaliers, 4-2
Analysis: I love this series because it will not be a cakewalk for the defending champions. Indiana has a stacked starting lineup, and they’ve been good as of late. They also have a guy named Paul George, who has something to prove this year and will look to carry the team on his back.
Lance Stephenson should also make the series more entertaining at least, and should also provide a nice spark off Indiana’s bench. Sadly for the Pacers, their only problem is that they’re playing the Cavaliers and there is just no chance the world’s best player lets his team go out in the first round. I think another Finals appearance is definitely in reach and pretty likely for Cleveland and, despite the tough first round matchup, this is just a stepping stone for LeBron and the Cavs to get to bigger and better things.
That’ll do it. In no way will I correctly predict every game and victor perfectly, but after some analyzing and evaluation of matchups, history, and recent play, I found these the most likely to result. Playoffs kick off tomorrow at 3pm (Eastern) with the Cavs and Pacers facing off. Enjoy!