I have been more excited for the playoffs this year than any other year I can remember. The playoffs always find a way to surprise us with upsets or great moments that will live on in our minds forever. This year promises be very volatile, with the East looking the most competitive it has been since LeBron began his now annual finals pilgrimage. These are my predictions for each series, and I’m no Nostradamus, but it is still fun to predict the outcomes. Without further ado, here are my predictions.
#1 Warriors vs. #8 Blazers
The Warriors are just too good to even consider an upset here. I can’t see the Blazers stealing even one game against the Dubs. These teams play very similar styles and to compound the problem the Warriors outclass the Blazers at every position except maybe center. I expect Damian Lillard to have a great series and Jusuf Nurkic will make up for some front-court deficiencies if he plays, but I can’t see them saving the Blazers from the broomsticks.
Warriors in 4
#2 Spurs vs. #7 Grizzlies
This series is much more interesting than it appears. These teams have met several times in the playoffs in the last few years, and the grizzlies even upset the top seeded spurs back in 2011, although the Spurs swept their showdown last year. The Grizzlies are a very tough match-up for anyone, and are better equipped for postseason play than most lower seeded teams. I think this series will be very competitive, and Memphis will win games 3 and 4 with the magic of Grit ‘N Grind, but will have a hard time overcoming Tony Allen’s injury, especially since he is their best perimeter defender and would likely guard Kawhi Leonard. If LaMarcus Aldridge plays up to his potential, I could see the Spurs in 5, but I think the physicality of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be too much for him.
Spurs in 6
#3 Rockets vs. #6 Thunder
Winner takes MVP. The Rockets are fully dedicated to Moreyball at this point, and shoot more threes than any team has in the history of the game. This series will come down to who makes more of the long ball, and the Rockets are much better making and defending them. The Rockets as a team shoot 36% from 3, while the Thunder shoot 33%. The Thunder defend the three at 35%, while the Rockets defend it at 34%. I think the Thunder take game 3. Westbrook will get his, but Andre Roberson is unplayable at the end of games with his DeAndre Jordan-esque free throw shooting, and I worry that Victor Oladipo won’t be enough to guard James Harden down the stretch if Roberson doesn’t suddenly find his stroke from the charity stripe.
Rockets in 5
#4 Clippers vs. #5 Jazz
This series will be the most interesting series of the first round for me. I have felt home court advantage would tip the scales in this series for a while now, and the Clippers held on and have the privilege of hosting game 7. The Clippers have, in my opinion, the two best players in this series with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but the Jazz are considerably deeper with Joe Johnson and Alec Burks off the bench compared to Austin Rivers and the corpse of Jamal Crawford. The Clippers have DeAndre Jordan to help counter Rudy Gobert’s offense, but Gordon Hayward should be able to handle any of LA’s wings. Mo Speights and his shooting ability could prove very valuable in this series if Doc plays him at center, especially when Gobert is in the game. This would help drag Gobert out of the lane and open it up for Paul and Griffin to work inside without the best rim protector in the game hassling them. I think this will be a very hard fought series that will go seven games, and it will be very difficult for the Jazz, with so little playoff experience together, to win a game 7 on the road.
Clippers in 7
#1 Celtics vs. #8 Bulls
I still can’t believe the Celtics caught the Cavs for the #1 seed, and it is extremely impressive they pulled it off. The Celtics feature an advantage at every position over the Bulls except small forward, and Isaiah Thomas is the best player in this series. Robin Lopez should be able to take advantage of the Celtics’ inability to effectively rebound, but I think Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler will be able to steal a game in Chicago. Isaiah Thomas should be able to abuse Rajon Rondo, who is a shell of his former self defensively. The Celtics are decent defensively, and this is where we will see the consequences of the awful spacing generated by the Bulls guards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bulls try and abuse Isaiah Thomas in the pick and roll to throw off his rhythm.
Celtics in 5
#2 Cavs vs. #7 Pacers
The Cavs are the champs, regardless of how terrible they have been here at the end of the season, and that affords them a lot of leeway. Their defense has been really bad over the last few weeks, and frankly they have looked complacent over the second half of the year. If the Cavs want to overcome their defensive issues, they need to put more effort into communication and general court awareness. I think their offense is good enough to carry them through this series, but they still need J.R. Smith to begin hitting his shots at a better percentage if they want to get back to the Finals. The Pacers are going to need someone to step up with Paul George, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Myles Turner be that guy with the Cavs’ lack of rim protection, especially with Tristan Thompson’s hand injury potentially lingering. The Cavs have their issues, but they have enough shooting and enough LeBron to carry them past the Pacers, despite Paul George’s best efforts.
Cavs in 4
#3 Raptors vs. #6 Bucks
The Raptors are very good, and I feel they have been underrated this season, especially since they acquired Serge Ibaka at the deadline. DeMar DeRozan has developed this year into a truly fantastic player, and Kyle Lowry looked awesome back from his injury. P.J. Tucker adds a much-needed toughness to the Raptors, which will help in later rounds. The Bucks will present problems to any team due to their length, but their defense is good enough to contain both Lowry and DeRozan enough to take the series. I think the Raptors finally slayed their playoffs demons last year and will come out of the gate swinging this year. The Bucks will take a game in Milwaukee, but they don’t have enough to take a game in Toronto, especially with Jabari Parker out for the year.
Raptors in 5
#4 Wizards vs. #5 Hawks
The Wizards really turned themselves around this year after their awful start. The Hawks have all season seemed just on the verge of dysfunction to me, probably because Dwight Howard is the most passive-aggressive player in the history of the sport. Tim Hardaway Jr. has really developed nicely this year, and I think he can cause problems against the generally pretty bad Wizards bench. John Wall and Marcin Gortat have excellent chemistry in the pick and roll, and Bradley Beal is an excellent player in his own right. The Hawks have the second best player in this series with Paul Millsap, but this series could go either way and will ultimately come down to whichever will be less awful; the Hawks’ offense or Wizards defense. I am betting on the Wizards winning here.
Wizards in 6