2018 NBA Playoffs
First Round Preview
As the NBA regular season concluded, we saw an amount of parity and competitive balance that has been uncommon for a long time. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavilers looked human, while teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz went on large stretches of winning. The Houston Rockets were the only team in the association to surpass the 60-win threshold, and there was a clutter of teams in both conferences with 40 plus wins. The winners of each conference (Toronto and Houston) have a reputation for failing to perform in the playoffs, yet the teams we are accustomed to seeing do well have weaknesses of their own. Can the Warriors move throughout round one without Steph Curry? Does LeBron have enough support to move on? Are the Sixers legit? Do we trust the Thunder? GIANNIS!?
Well, I simply do not know; only time will tell.
But what I will do is, with the best of my ability (and I’m like a wicked smaht guy), predict the first round of these playoffs… buckle up folks.
Toronto v Washington
I do not know how to feel about this series. Toronto had a stellar regular season. They finally established a bench, and did so by developing youth! Stunning!
Yet just when you felt like things were in their favor, they lose in a shootout to the Cavs (just an example). Can we trust their body of work to hold up?
Well… Washington has all the talent to beat Toronto. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter are no novices when it comes to the playoffs. They have won a playoff series three of the past four seasons and were a game away from reaching the conference finals last season (blame the Olynyk clinic). Nevertheless, they tend to underperform as well (the fact they’re an 8 seed says as much).
This reminds me of the Celtics-Bulls matchup last year… and this time I see the upset happening. If I have to choose a backcourt to perform and win, I’m giving Wall and Beal the (slight) edge. It will be close, and this series could go either way, but I have the tides of luck going to Washington.
Washington in 7
Boston v Milwaukee
If this were right after the All-Star break, and Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis were healthy, this would be a breeze… but they are not. The Celtics have been dealt an undeniably bad hand all season… and yet they won 55 games. They have a brilliant coach who can work with anything, and that has been the case numerous times this season (see Jonathan Gibson).
But can he handle Giannis?
The Bucks have the superstar in this series (a huge plus), and good surrounding pieces in Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton. They have the talent to win this in 5, yet they simply never perform to the level they should. This led to Jason Kidd getting fired, and Joe Prunty is not Phil Jackson.
This series will be a chess match. The Bucks have the advantage, but the Celtics have an elite coach, and a roster of ruthless players who never quit.
The 55-win team is seemingly the underdog, and that is something Brad Stevens is familiar with (see Butler). Folks, I am taking the underdog here.
Boston in 7
Philadelphia v Miami
The 76ers ended the regular season on a 16-game winning streak, finishing 52-30. Process complete? Well, Ben Simmons looked like Magic Johnson. Joel Embiid looked like a superstar. Markelle Fultz actually played (well!) How can you not root for this!?
Hit the brakes, America.
Miami is no stranger to the NBA playoffs. Erik Spolestra has coached in 4 NBA finals, and has made numerous other playoff appearances. The presence of the legendary Dwayne Wade will be an asset (and he is still balling). Miami has been called Boston-lite, meaning that although they may have inferior talent compared to their competition, their coaching and execution is far superior. This should not be forgotten, especially against a young squad where many of the prominent players are making their first playoff appearances.
Joel Embiid will not be ready for game 1, but that did not stop Philly from winning at the end of the season.
This will be a fun series, but the momentum that the 76ers have had of late is remarkable. They are clicking at the right time, and I do not see that stopping.
Philadelphia in 6
Cleveland v Indiana
LeBron James versus the Indiana Pacers in the first round. If this sounds familiar, it is because it happened last year. Unfortunately, this series will not feature the likes of Kyrie Irving or Paul George. Yet it might be even better than last year.
The Pacers have been a nice story this year, winning 48 games with sudden superstar Victor Oladipo (who very well could make an All-NBA team). No one anticipated this team doing much, as they only received Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return in return for George (which was seen by many as pennies on the dollar), yet they exceeded all expectations. Good for them.
Unfortunately, the luck runs out here, thanks to LeBron James.
James has been phenomenal this season. Part of that is due to the fact his supporting cast is as lackluster as he has had since his first Cleveland stint, but we know good and well that means nothing. If you have LeBron, you have a shot, and in most instances, you have a great shot. I see the Cavs, with a healthy Kevin Love, making easy work of the Pacers.
Indy, you were a nice story, and I hope you fill out your team around Oladipo… but do not expect a series here.
Cleveland in 5
Houston v Minnesota
What a treat we got on Wednesday. We witnessed a play-in game for the 8 seed between Minnesota and the Denver Nuggets. In a game that went to OT (and dragged on forever due to replays), the Timberwolves ended a 14-year playoff drought, securing the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Their prize? Facing the juggernaut Houston Rockets.
Houston has exceeded everyone’s expectations this season on their way to 65 wins. No one quite knew what to expect with a backcourt featuring James Harden and Chris Paul. The critics said, “there is only one ball.” Well, for one ball, these two (and the whole team) sure knew what to do with it. When all the pieces were healthy (including Clint Capella), this team was almost unbeatable. It was a sight to behold all year and will absolutely end in some hardware coming to Houston (at least in the form of an MVP trophy going to James Harden).
It’s good to see the T-Wolves here, but they are no match for this year’s best team
Rockets in 5
Warriors v Spurs
Yet another case of “what if everyone was healthy?”
If the Warriors had Steph Curry, this series would be quick. If the Spurs had Kawhi Leonard, this series would be amazing (just like last year would’ve been). Unfortunately, those two will not be playing.
Nevertheless, there is still a loaded Warriors team featuring Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and an institutionally great Spurs organization including the rejuvenated LaMarcus Aldridge.
Great coaching, lots of ball movement, plenty of threes… but the champs move on. San Antonio will not go down easy (even without Kawhi). Even as the Warriors season ended in disappointing fashion by their standards (imagine 58 wins being seen as a down year), they’re just too good, and too accustomed to this moment.
Good games will occur, but Golden State will prevail.
Golden State in 6
Portland v New Orleans
This is going to be a FUN series. These two teams both were at a point this year where they seemed like they would be low seeds, and possibly not even make the playoffs. New Orleans suffered a demoralizing injury when DeMarcus Cousins tore his achilles… yet did even better. They defied the odds and were in contention for a top 4 seed during the last days of the season. Anthony Davis looked like a machine, NBA Rondos (sup Janos) was good, and the team did what we did not think they could: make the playoffs.
The Trail Blazers have always been a team I’ve rooted for from afar. I absolutely love Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum is a baller. They are a group, not unlike the Wizards (or as Fredy has personally told me: the Raptors), that you think they have the talent to succeed, yet they just do not. As the Raptors seem to face (and lose) to the Cavs each year, the Trail Blazers seem to face (and lose) to the Warriors every year. Luckily Golden State is not their opponent (yet?)
Portland finished the season strong, surging to the 3 seed with a strong second half, and securing it on the last night of the season. They showed when all the pieces are clicking, they can be an elite team.
I can say plenty of nice things about each team, but only one can move on.
I have gone back-and-forth all day on this (and will continue to do so) … but right now, I’ll give the edge to Portland (hey, if it gets Anthony Davis mad, he’s one step closer to wanting out… hmmm).
Portland in 7
Oklahoma City v Utah
This is another interesting series. Utah went from looking on from the outside in February, to having a shot at the 3 seed on the last night of the season. What a turn of events, huh? Donovan Mitchell looks like a legit scorer in this league, putting up 20.5 PPG this season. They feature a selfless squad (which includes former Celtics’ Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder) and a potential DPOY in Rudy Gobert. Momentum is on their side… right.
(insert Russell Westbrook meme)
The Thunder have the stars that we all thought would culminate in the third best record in the West (they were close), but ultimately that was not the case. The fit was not as seamless as we thought, as Carmelo had trouble acclimating to his new role, and George has had a tough stretch of late. There have been flashes of what this group can do (like last Saturday), and the pure talent and ferocity of Westbrook alone leaves them in any fight they encounter… but they just have not been in ultimate, true sync.
There is a lot riding on this series. The fate of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony could hinge on how this series goes (unless they have already made up their minds). It’s tough to throw stars together and expect them to mesh… and this is a team sport too, guys 4-12 play a huge role. Having Andre Roberson would help, but nevertheless, I do not think the Thunder will mesh and maximize the talent they have in time (if they do, I’d be peachy). The parts the have are ultimately worth more than their whole…and their whole will not be better than that of the Jazz.
This series will go six because of Westbrook, but it will feel like domination on Utah’s end
Utah in 6
By Nick Collins