ARE YOU READY FOR BASKETBALL EVERY NIGHT?! Well get ready, because it is happening. For your sake, I hope you have cable or other, possibly nefarious, means to enjoy what will be the best basketball all year.
Yes, the NCAA tournament is a wonderful event, but you never get the best basketball. The NCAA tournament is for amateur gamblers and bored office workers. The NBA playoffs are for people who appreciate basketball.
Here are my thoughts on the first round with predictions included as well. The team with home court is in CAPS.
(1) BOSTON v. (8) Chicago
The surprise #1 seed of the East is Boston. Boston was projected by Vegas to get 52.5 wins (won 53) so Vegas nailed it but Cleveland under achieved according to Vegas. As an all around offensive team (points, turnovers, and point differential) Boston has been very good this year and has one of the best 4th quarter scorers in Isaiah Thomas. This has also led to some crazy Celtics fans talking about some MVP honors for Thomas. He is a liability on defense and could never be considered for an award like that. What also gives the Celtics an edge is they have a great coach; Brad Stevens. As a pure “X’s and O’s” coach, he is one of the best, but he also manages rotations very well.
The #8 seed was not determined until the last game of the season when the Chicago Bulls clinched it with a win against the Brooklyn Nets. They scrapped their way to that 8 spot with 7 wins in their last 10. Jimmy Butler is the clear #1 on the team and Dwayne Wade heard the word “playoffs” and decided his season ending injury wasn’t season ending. Unfortunately for Chicago they are one of the lowest scoring teams and also have a point guard, Rajon Rondo, who is quite fairly a bad shooter. You know how I said Isaiah Thomas was a defensive liability; well in this respect Chicago may be the best match up.
Chicago can go big to give the Celtics problems, but both defensive and offensive edges go to the Celtics. Celtics in 5.
(2) CLEVELAND v. (7) Indiana
Just about everyone thought that Cleveland would be getting to the Finals this year, but most also thought they would get the #1 seed. Defense has not been their strength this year allowing the 10th most points per game (ppg). That number is certainly affected by how Cleveland has been shooting the second most 3-pointers per game, 34, while simultaneously being in the bottom 10 for offensive rebounds. This is not the greatest combination for limiting possessions to the other team. With all that being said they still have three of the top twenty players and have not been playing poorly enough to count them out of the finals. They just won’t roll through the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Indiana, who looked like they might be throwing in the towel before Lance Stephenson came back and all of the sudden they had life, they do not have a point guard to match up with Kyrie Irving. Indiana is also very middle of the pack offensively, with the sole exception of Paul George who is a great player, but may get worn out at times if he decides to defend against LeBron (unless LeBron posts up). Jeff Teague (PG for Indiana) will have to have a great series for Indiana to have a chance.
Cleveland in 6. Maybe 5. Indiana should be good for one win.
(3) TORONTO v. (6) Milwaukee
Toronto has played very well leading into the playoffs. The addition of Serge Ibaka (from a trade with the Magic) has been effective for them defensively and Kyle Lowry is coming back from injury now as well. DeMar DeRozan is consistently a great scorer (averaging 27 points) and will be a match up problem as a 2 or 3.
One guy that could smother DeRozan is Giannas Antetokounmpo, the “greek freak”. He is a terror standing at 6’11” with incredible athletic skill to back his size. He’s not easy to handle offensively or defensively. Do not expect this game to be high scoring though as both teams slow things down at times with the occasional fast break for the 6’11” monstrosity. Giannas leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals per game. Crazy. To be fair, Matthew Dellavedova is their starting point guard so being the assist leader isn’t a high bar to get over.
Toronto in 5. They shake off the bad ju-ju from last year.
(4) WASHINGTON v. (5) Atlanta
The Wizards have really blossomed after the all-star break with the addition of Bojan Bogdanavic and the emergence of Kelly Oubre Jr. as a significant defensive force. Unfortunately, when Oubre is not on the court they are very average defensively. The Hawks should not be able to take advantage of that too much though. The key for the Hawks will be the front court. If Dwight can somehow summon a good series then Marcin Gortat will be in trouble, as he has had trouble with athletic bigs.
The Wizards’ strength is clearly their back court and as long as John Wall and Bradley Beal play well; they should be able to get out of this series without too much trouble.
I am picking the Wizards in 6. It would feel wrong to pick a DC team to sweep someone in a series.
(1) GOLDEN STATE v. (8) Portland
Surprise, surprise the Warriors have the best record in the league. Kevin Durant is back in the lineup. They did lose his first game back (their first loss in 14 games), but I think it would be an accomplishment for the Trailblazers to win one game in this series.
The key to that one victory for Portland would be for Damian Lillard (who is currently not playing due to a minor injury) to put up 50 points; which he has done only one time this season. Lillard has had four games over 40 points and averaged 27 points per game this season. In order for that to happen again, Steph Curry would have to have a poor game and Andre Iguadala and Shaun Livingston would both need to be preoccupied on defense, allowing Lillard to play freely for most of the game. Not inconceivable, but not likely.
Golden State in 4.
(2) SAN ANTONIO v. (7) Memphis
Kawhi Leonard has been one of the most fun players to watch this season, outside of Russell Westbrook, because he seems to be on a different level defensively. He has won defensive player of the year for the past two years and I would be surprised if he didn’t win it again. To put that into perspective, Dwight Howard is the only other player to win three in a row and alongside him Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo are the only players to have won three or more. Rarified air.
For some reason Memphis is one of the teams that has played them very well this season, with Memphis winning the last two meetings. The games were low scoring and typically favored the home team. I think San Antonio pulls this one off, but Mike Conley presents a very big issue for San Antonio’s offense as he can smother Tony Parker or Patty Mills.
San Antonio in 7.
(3) HOUSTON v. (6) Oklahoma City
Welcome to the matchup of the two MVP favorites! The decision of who should be awarded MVP this year has gotten every talking head into a tizzy. That’s right, I used the word tizzy. I have enjoyed watching the triple-double machine known as Russell Westbrook this year the most, but there are arguments against his efficiency. Anyways…This should be a great series!
Houston is second in PPG as a team and OKC is eleventh. They both average nearly the same amount of turnovers. Houston leads them in nearly every other significant statstic. But John, you said this would be a good series. I did. Russell Westbrook will drag his team to a couple of wins by shear will as he has done plenty of times this year. Most recently in Denver when he sank a buzzer beater and the HOSTILE crowd gave him a standing ovation. He even drags other crowds over to his side.
My brain says to pick Houston who is the more complete defensive and offensive team, but my heart wants to see Russell Westbrook carry on. I am wussing out and picking Houston in 6.
(4) LA CLIPPERS v. (5) Utah
The Utah Jazz (without Gordon Hayward) were the team that ended the Warriors winning streak. The Clippers are up in the season series 3-1 with Utah claiming their one game win in Utah. I have written about the Utah Jazz earlier in the year and it has become quite the fashionable pick. Rudy Gobert is a defensive force (possibly threatening Kawhi Leonard for defensive player of the year) and Gordon Hayward is a great player (averaging 22 points), though not close to MVP talk yet.
Luckily for Utah they just got George Hill back and they desperately need him in this one, as even with him the battle of point guards is clearly in LA’s favor with Chris Paul. You can never tell if Jordan Crawford (LA) may put up 30 points either. Statistically both of these teams are pretty similar in point differentials and shooting percentages so both statistics and matchup history seem to point to home team advantage.
I am giving this one to LA as they have home court and more experience. Some of Utah’s best players just haven’t been consistent enough to win me over. I guess I’m jumping off the bandwagon. LA Clippers in 7.
Enjoy the playoffs and expect an article before the second round as well! Let me know how wrong my picks are!