The Playoffs have arrived! Sixteen teams will battle each other for the NBA Championship starting on June 1st. The best record in the league belonged to the Warriors (67-15) and the Celtics ended up clinching the #1 seed in the East (53-29). Russell Westbrook broke the NBA Most Triple-Doubles in a season with 42, beating Oscar Robertson’s previous record of 41. Lastly, the struggling Cavaliers went 11-14 over their last 25 games and according to ESPN.com, only two teams have ever had a winning percentage under .500 over their final 25 games and still won the title. But, LeBron hasn’t lost an Eastern Conference Playoff Series since the Celtics back in 2010. Luck could go either way for Cleveland, as they did end up second, but could rebound in the first round against Paul George and the Pacers.
(1) Boston Celtics v. (8) Chicago Bulls: The Celtics are one of the least dominant #1 seeds in a long time, but were led by Isaiah Thomas down the stretch to the one seed, while Cleveland decided to rest players. Thomas averaged 28.9 PPG this season, while hitting 46% of his shots from the field this year. The Celtics overall look more of a team than the Bulls, having more ability to work together and rally back if behind at any point. The Bulls on the other hand won seven of their last nine heading into the playoffs, led by 23.9 PPG Jimmy Butler. Butler is the Bulls’ best overall player at this point, even with the acquisition of Dwayne Wade last off-season and since inserting Rondo into the starting position for PG, they do look like a team that could extend the series. I expect the Celtics to take the series in six games and keep an eye out for Thomas for his elite ability to score and Rondo facing his former team.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers v. (7) Indiana Pacers: As stated above, the Cavaliers went 11-14 in their last 25, but that was due party to resting LeBron, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving down the stretch, but backup players such as J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert looking lazy and disappointing on both sides of the ball. Hopefully this is not the same team that we will see in the first round, but with the rest that the “big three” has had, it most likely will be the dominant force that we know the Cavs are. It’s been three years since Paul George has had the chance to play LeBron in the playoffs again, but George is known for testing the patience and will of King James. Although LeBron has beaten George three of three times, 2012-14, George will look to test him yet again in the first round. I’m taking the Cavs in five, with the Pacers winning game one, but the two players to watch will be George and LeBron, seeing whether or not their “rivalry” is still good for the NBA.
(3) Toronto Raptors v. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: Wow. This is going to be an amazing, all out series from both teams. The Raptors battled injuries from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry but still won a second best in Raptors history, fifty-one games. Coach Dwane Casey did a fantastic job using players off the bench and keeping the team afloat. DeRozan totaled 27.3 PPG along with four assists and five rebounds per game. But, the use of the bench that Casey showed throughout the season will need to work against Greek Freak and the Bucks. In only his fourth year Giannis Antetokounmpo almost averaged a double-double with 22.9 PPG and 8.7 RPG. He would also like to redeem himself as the last time he was in the playoffs did not go as planned, where he was ejected in game six versus the Bulls in 2015. Giannis is known for driving to the bucket, but the Raptors defense in the paint was in the top ten this year, so he will have to throw up some threes or drive and dish back out to an open shooter. Like I said, this series is going to be ridiculous, with the Raptors winning in seven. Watch for DeRozan and Giannis to lead their respective teams to wins.
(4) Washington Wizards v. (5) Atlanta Hawks: The last time the Wizards won the Southwest Division was thirty-eight years ago, but won the sweepstakes for it this year with fifty-one games victorious. Led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, who both averaged 23.1 PPG, the Wizards finally look to be on the same page winning seven of their last twelve. Beal was finally healthy this season, where he shot 48% from the field along with 40% from behind the three point line. I expect Wall to be able to drive to the dish and then kick it back out to Beal or even Otto Porter. Dwight Howard had a very depressing first season with the Hawks, averaging just thirteen PPG along with thirteen RPG. Paul Millsap was looking like he was going to be traded around the January deadline, but the team ultimately decided not to as they were looking on the upside around that time. I’m taking the Wizards in six and keeping my eye on Millsap and Wall from both teams.
(1) Golden State Warriors v. (8) Portland Trail Blazers: Winning seventy-three games last season and losing in the playoffs to the Cavs was something that the Warriors did not have in mind. Then they go out and sign Kevin Durant, after that it seemed that they would win all eighty-two games. This year they won sixty-seven games with an injured Durant for a while, but rebounded as the one seed yet again and as the favorites to win it all. I think that the Warriors are going to play small in the playoffs, with Curry and Thompson running the guards, Iguodala and Durant at three and four, and then Draymond Green running the five. C.J. McCollum definitely earned his four year, $106 million contract, being a valuable piece to Damian Lillard’s offense, averaging twenty-three PPG along with four assists and one steal per game. Lillard, averaged twenty-seven PPG, along with a steal and six assists per game. I’m predicting the Warriors in four games, expecting them to be a dominant force led by Durant and Curry. But, do watch for McCollum and Lillard on the Blazers to try and get something going early in games.
(2) San Antonio Spurs v. (7) Memphis Grizzlies: Despite the MVP race being headlined by Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Kawhi Leonard put up some fantastic numbers and did insert himself into the conversation at several points during the season. He shot about 50% from the field, while averaging 25.5 PPG, along with four assists, six rebounds and two steals per game. But with help from LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, they are looking to defeat the consistently in the playoff Grizzlies. Mike Conley and the Grizzlies led the team to the seventh seed overall in the West, which is much more of a competitive conference than the East. They squeaked in with a 43-39 record over the Blazers. Watch for Conley and Marc Gasol to help this team win at least one or two games against the difficult Spurs. I expect San Antonio to win in a clean sweep of four games, similar to the Blazers, look for early runs from the Grizzlies. Keep your eyes out for Conley and Leonard to dominate games.
(3) Houston Rockets v. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder: Similar to the other three-six match-up we have, this will be another phenomenal series. Russell Westbrook has my vote as MVP, period. The triple-double is something that was a rarity, but to average it for a whole season and break the record for most in a season, where you had more than half of the games as triple-doubles, you get my vote. Yes, Harden was excellent and held his own this year, but give it to Westbrook. As much as I hate to say it, I feel that whoever wins this series will be crowned MVP and that’s a shame because now the Thunder would be at a disadvantage because statistically, they are the lesser of the two. Westbrook rebounded losing Durant by proving to Durant and the world that he is the best. Harden can be in the same conversation as Westbrook regarding the MVP race, but only if you’re saying that he was bested by a man that had 42 triple-doubles in a season. I expect the Thunder in seven. Watch for both “candidates” of the award to dominate in this series.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers v. (5) Utah Jazz: The Clippers are a historically horrible team in the playoffs. In 2015, they blew a 3-1 lead against the Rockets and then last year, lost to Portland in the first round. DeAndre Jordan was stellar this year, averaging thirteen PPG, along with two blocks and fourteen rebounds a game. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are also free agents after this season, so this could be the last time they will be together and to leave a legacy of no good playoff seasons wouldn’t be good for either name. On the other hand, there is the Jazz who could either win this series or be blown out. Led by Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, they look to keep the Clippers playoff wins low this season. Hayward averaged twenty-two PPG, along with three and a half assists and one steal per game. However, this series is going to be extremely slow as neither team are speed demons that run the floor. I’m giving the Clippers in five. Watch out for Chris Paul off of the pick and roll and expect Gobert to give DeAndre Jordan a run for his money.