After a fascinating season from the top of the standings to the bottom, the NBA Playoffs are finally here. Sixteen teams will play for the opportunity to win this year’s NBA Finals, with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers both looking to repeat as conference champions and meet with the championship on the line yet again. Here is a breakdown of each upcoming series, with NBA playoff predictions.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons
Cleveland was supposed to be more or less an automatic qualifier for the NBA Finals this year, but their inability to consistently play a full game well has left the Eastern Conference’s top seed questioning things. While Detroit’s Andre Drummond may cause problems for the Cavaliers, that won’t be enough to stop LeBron James and company from advancing to the first round. Pick the Cavaliers to advance here and move into the next round.
The real key here for the Cavaliers is keeping themselves healthy through this series. In the first round last year, against the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers lost Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs after he suffered a shoulder injury. This year, if the Cavs want any chance to beat the Warriors or Spurs in the NBA Finals, they need to keep everyone healthy leading up to the Finals. That starts with this first round series.
Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers
Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors have built one of the best home court advantages in the NBA, and even with a strong season from Paul George, the Indiana Pacers shouldn’t put up a substantial fight in this first round matchup. A huge reason for this is the advantage the Raptors have on the interior. Jonas Valenciunas is one of the best young bigs in the NBA, and should have a pretty easy time against Jordan Hill, who is a career journeyman. Toronto is clearly the pick to be made.
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets
This could very well be the first upset we see in this year’s NBA Playoffs. Charlotte was one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half of the season, but fell down to the sixth seed after a four team gridlock in the middle of the East dropped them there on the season’s final day. There may not be a player in the Eastern Conference you’d rather see take the last shot than Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. Pick the Hornets and prosper.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics
What a fun series this will be, as the young Celtics will have a legitimate chance to advance in the playoffs. You can flip a coin to determine who will win this series, but home court advantage should be very important in this series. For that reason, backing the Atlanta Hawks is the way to go, but only slightly.
With that said, the young core of the Boston Celtics has proven that they are capable of winning games on the road. They were the first team to beat the Golden State Warriors on the road this season, breaking the Warriors’ 55 game home win streak dating back to last season. Boston made tough shots time and time again in that game and should have no problem competing in Atlanta against the Hawks. So while the Hawks are the pick in this series, there is a chance the Celtics come through.
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Of the first round series in the NBA Playoffs, this should be the most lopsided. Despite being a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors have taken off as the best team in the NBA by far since then. Houston, meanwhile, has changed coaches and needed a win on the final day of the season just to secure a playoff berth. Picking anyone but the Warriors to win this series would be foolish.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Any series between the Grizzlies and Spurs has the potential to be a classic, but this one does not look like it will fall into that category due to the sheer volume of injuries that have ruined the Grizzlies’ season. Even if the Grizzlies were healthy, though, they would need to win at least one game in San Antonio to win the series, and only the Warriors have won in San Antonio this season, so the Spurs are the pick.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks
What is funny about this series is how little it feels like it matters given how great the Warriors and Spurs have been this season. It feels like no matter who wins this series, the Spurs will decimate them in the second round en route to the Western Conference Finals. With that said, the Thunder should roll in this series, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have enough firepower to get through the first round.
With that said, it’s an accomplishment for the Mavericks to be at this point. Dirk Nowitzki is at the end of his career but still playing well, and the team has overcome injuries to key players such as Chandler Parsons. Just to have qualified for the playoffs with so much of the team’s salary cap space tied up in aging players and injured players is a great job by the Mavericks.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers
The reward the winner of this series receives is to play the best team in the history of the NBA, and you can’t envy either of them for having to do that. With that said, the Clippers have Blake Griffin back and have looked strong since getting him back. Portland has had a good season thanks to some great play by Damian Lillard, who would be a candidate for the league’s most valuable player award in any other season. While the Trail Blazers have exceeded expectations this year, their season will come to an end in the first round, so the Clippers are the pick in this series.
By: Jason M Sanin