The NBA regular season is more like a drama series than an actual sport. Everyone tries to find interesting storylines within the league during the never-ending 82 game season because when it comes down to it, there only is 3 to 5 teams every year that can win the NBA Finals.
Some of these stories include the unexpected Celtics success despite Gordan Hayward snapping his ankle five minutes into the season, the Kawhi Leonard injury adding doubt to his future with the flawless Spurs organization, the Big Ballers in LA, the LeBron leaving Cleveland for the second time rumors, and Blake Griffin getting moved to Detroit after his former team anointed him as a, “Clipper for Life,” before he signed his five year extension this summer to name a few.
Although I am a sucker for these plots sprinkled throughout the season, my favorite part of the NBA is the high level of play that is exhibited throughout the playoffs. The Warriors have been hurt and disinterested all season, and I do not blame them for the latter. These regular season games for the top 3 or 4 teams in the league drag on for too long, especially when the Cavs and Warriors have gone to 3 straight NBA Finals. Now is the time though these teams flip the switch, and the most talented teams in the world play to their full potential.
I am going to give all my picks for each series in the first round and predictions of how the rest of the playoffs work out. I apologize ahead of time for any teams I might jinx in this process (sorry Sixers fans).
Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards
Season Series: 2-2
The Wizards are 6-13 in their last 19 games. The Raptors have not been great down the stretch either. John Wall might be one of the most overrated player in the league and might be right behind Blake Griffin as the most recent player to receive the super max extension, and then get traded within the year. The Wizards have all the talent to be a top 3 seed in the East, but the roster does not mesh together at all. Their best stretch of the season came when Wall had his knee surgery and Tomas Satoransky took his place in the rotation. This Raptors core took a step up this season and have more depth than they have ever had in the DeRozan/Lowry era. Raptors win this series easily and the Wizards must do a lot of soul searching this summer.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks
Season Series: 2-2
Giannis Antetokounmpo has the chance this series to prove that he is in fact a perennial Top 5 NBA player. The Celtics are arguably the best coached team in the entire league, and the Bucks are arguably the complete opposite. The Celtics are without their top two players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward for the entire playoffs. Marcus Smart is also not available for the first round. The team will then rely on veteran Al Horford and a slew of young talents including Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Bucks have a unique mix of players that do not necessarily make much sense together, but they do have the best player in this series by a long shot in Antetokounmpo, which should be enough to take the Bucks to the second round.
Prediction: Bucks in 6
Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
Season Series: 2-2
I still can’t believe the Sixers have been this dominate this year. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are both top 15 players in the league at this moment. Simmons has been unstoppable during the team’s current win streak, and he cannot shoot a basketball! Embiid has been ruled out for game 1 of this series, which is a problem with a player like Hassan Whiteside on the other side of the court. Miami, like Boston, is a well-coached team that tends to exceed expectations during the regular season. Although coaching is important, I believe you need star power to win in the playoffs, which is something Miami does not have. If Embiid were playing early in this series, I would think this is a potential 4 or 5 game series. Embiid being out for at least game 1 makes me think that this series goes at least 6 games, and maybe goes back to Philly for a game 7 if Embiid is not the same when he returns from his broken face injury.
Prediction: Sixers in 6
Cleveland Cavilers vs Indiana Pacers
Season Series: 3-1, Pacers
I get it, the Cavs are not good at defense. The Cavs did an extreme makeover of their entire roster at the trade deadline, and none of these moves have proven to make a significant improvement to the team. The Cavs also have Lebron James. He owns the East. He has this conference by the balls. Indiana has nothing that can slow down LeBron, and this will be a quick series.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves
Season Series: 4-0, Rockets
The Timberwolves broke the longest playoff drought in the NBA by beating the defenseless (literally) Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. Their core of Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Andrew Wiggins have a lot of potential, but Tom Thibodeau has not been able to unlock the team defensively. They also have no depth on their bench. The Rockets have been incredible this year. It is funny to think now that people were questioning if Chris Paul and James Harden would be able to co-exist on the same team. Clint Capela has taken another step forward, and the rest of the roster can make three-pointers at moments notice. The Rockets should have no issue in this series. We will see in later playoff series if notorious playoff chokers Paul and Harden can change the narrative of their career by potentially taking down the juggernaut built in the Bay.
Prediction: Rockets in 5
Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs
Season Series: 3-1, Warriors
Steph is out round 1.
Kawhi is out round 1.
Warriors have KD, Klay, and Draymond
Spurs have Aldridge
Warriors have a reason to finally play hard
Prediction: Warriors in 4
Portland Trail Blazers vs New Orleans Pelicans
Season Series: 2-2
This is going to be a fun series. I also believe this is the series that Anthony Davis cements himself as a Top 5 player in the NBA. The only thing that the Blazers can throw at Davis is Jusuf Nurkic. That is not a good sign. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum could be the best backcourt in the NBA not named Steph and Klay, but the Pelicans can at least slow them down with Jru Holiday and Rajon Rondo. The Pelicans have been a totally different team since Boogie Cousins suffered a season-ending meniscus injury. Davis is the perfect 2018 NBA center, and I do not think the Blazers will figure out how to slow him down. This is going to be a seven gamer, but I think the best player in the series pulls it out late to add to an already historic season.
Prediction: Pelicans in 7
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz
Season Series: 3-1, Thunder
Russell Westbrook needed 16 rebounds on Wednesday to average a triple-double for the second consecutive season. He got 20. He boxed out Carmelo Anthony during the game for one of those rebounds. I can’t get behind a team that has an alpha leader that cares more about his own stats than his team success. The Jazz are the second hottest team in the NBA going into the playoffs. The Jazz are 28-6 in there last 34 games. The team has flourished under star rookie Donavan Mitchell, and the return of their All-Star center, Rudy Gobert. Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the league and has returned this roster that experts did not expect much from when Gordon Hayward bolted for Boston to the 5th seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder rolled the dice with Carmelo Anthony this offseason, and it did not work out. Paul George has been good, but how much can he really do playing along Westbrook. I think this series is close because of the talented duo of Westbrook and George, but ultimately, I believe Gobert is going to give the pick and roll Westbrook offense trouble, and the Jazz willingness to play as a team will prevail.
Prediction: Jazz in 7
Cavs over Raptors in 6
76ers over Bucks in 5
Rockets over Jazz in 5
Warriors over Pelicans in 6
Cavs over 76ers in 6
Warriors over Rockets in 6
Warriors over Cavs in 5
Image Credit: nba.com