Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs? It’s finally that time! The grind of the NBA season has come to a close; the Sixers, Knicks, and Lakers have gone home for the summer; and we get to watch great basketball almost every night for the next month and a half! Here is your guide to what is going on in the first-round matchups that started this past weekend.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs #8 New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are in the playoffs! It took a double-clutch, buzzer-beating, game-winning three against OKC back on February 6, and a huge must-win game over the Spurs in the final game of the regular season, but the era of Anthony Davis in the post-season has begun! As fun as that is, the Warriors are coming off a historic regular season, both in terms of wins (67-15) and point differential (10.15). The Warriors still have a lot to prove in April, May, and potentially June, but they should be able to get past the Pels.
Prediction: Warriors 4-1
#2 Houston Rockets vs #7 Dallas Mavericks
There are so many reasons to like this series. There is the “Battle for Texas” factor between Houston and Dallas. Both teams have well-known, polarizing figures leading them in Darryl Morey for the Rockets and Mark Cuban for the Mavs. This first-round skirmish features all sorts of variety with matchups ranging from stars like Dirk and Monta squaring off against Dwight and Harden to has-beens like Josh Smith and Amare Stoudemire dueling it out. The only painful thing about this series is the free-throw shooting, something to expect a lot of in these games. James Harden has attempted, and made, more free throws than anyone else in the league, but these two teams also boast some of the league’s very worst free-throw shooters, so a few minutes of Hack-a-Dwight (Dorsey, Capella, Rondo, Smith) is probably going to happen every night.
Prediction: Rockets 4-2
#3 L.A. Clippers vs #6 San Antonio Spurs
The fact that one of these two teams is going to be knocked out in the first round is insane. The Spurs are the defending champs, they are the most dominant franchise over the last fifteen years, and they have been surging over the last month and a half. They were just a couple breaks away from finishing second in the West, but instead they are sitting as one of the most formidable six seeds in recent memory. As good as the Spurs are, the Clippers have some serious weapons as well. They have the most efficient offense in the league, led by MVP candidate Chris Paul. It’s year four of the CP3/Blake Griffin combo and it’s do or die for the Clips. I say this is the year they do!
Prediction: Clippers 4-2
#4 Portland Trail Blazers vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies
Both of these teams have hit some extreme high points during this season, but unfortunately they both appear to be playing at a level below their peak as they head into the playoffs. Both teams have also been hit by injuries, with the Wes Matthews Achilles tear being the most notable for the Blazers. The Grizzlies have had their share of aches and pains as well and they begin the postseason with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen all nursing injuries. The Grizzlies are better off than the Blazers though, and they are an experienced, veteran team who will get the job done.
Prediction: Grizzlies 4-2
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs #8 Brooklyn Nets
The real storyline here is that no one wanted the Nets to be in the playoffs...not even the Nets. But the Nets slipped into the eighth seed over the feel-good story of the Indiana Pacers and we are stuck with them. The Hawks have been one of the most surprising teams this year, posting a record of 60-22, good enough for the best mark in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks struggled somewhat the last month of the season, but they should have no problem dispatching the hapless Nets.
Prediction: Hawks 4-0
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #7 Boston Celtics
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, it ended LeBron’s first stint with the Cavs in disgrace; unfortunately, this is not the Celtics team of 2010. The Cavs should have no problem with the Celtics, but it should be fun to watch Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving get their feet wet in their first playoff experience.
Prediction: Cavs 4-1
#3 Chicago Bulls vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks
The one redeeming factor in this series is the all-around lankiness of the Milwaukee Bucks. Between Chris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Michael Carter-Williams, the majority of Jason Kidd’s squad could probably tie their shoes without bending over. Otherwise the Bulls should make quick work of this up-and-coming young team. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Co. have their sights on the Cavs in the second round, and they are not going to let the young Bucks get in their way.
Prediction: Bulls 4-1
#4 Toronto Raptors vs #5 Washington Wizards
This might be the most unpredictable matchup in all of the first round. These two teams both exceeded expectations last year, which is always a dangerous situation for an NBA team. The Raptors and Wizards continued their hot streaks at the start of this season as they jumped out to a combined 69-38 record before the All-Star break. Since the All-Star break, both teams have fallen off with the two squads combining for a less-than-stellar record of 26-31.
Prediction: Wizards 4-3