Finally, for all of the basketball junkies out there, the greatest time of the year is upon us. The final regular season games are complete and the playoff seeding is set in stone. Starting Saturday, half the league will begin the journey to the NBA Finals, but in order to make it there, they will have to make it out of the first round.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls
Regular Season Matchup: 2-2 Both teams won at home
This series will not come easy to the Celtics because the Bulls are a highly experienced team that somewhat found their mojo late in the season. They finished the month of April with a record of 5-2 and were 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Bulls have also proven they are capable of beating the Celtics at home this year. With that being said, the Celtics will win this series. Isaiah Thomas and Boston have been too good this year to blow their first round match-up. This will finally be the year Brad Stevens wins a playoff series.
My Prediction: Boston in 6
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
Regular Season Matchup: 3-1 Advantage Cavaliers
Lance Stephenson vs. LeBron James round 2. Expect the unexpected from Lance who has been waiting for this moment since they last met in 2014. The Pacers have been playing great basketball recently in winning their last 5 games. In comparison, the Cavaliers lost their last 4 games of the season. However, James and company rested for some of those games. The last time these two teams met was one of the best games of the year. In a double overtime thriller the Cavs won the game 135-130 and LeBron posted 41 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists. Paul George had a great game as well, scoring 43 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, dishing 9 assists, and snagging 3 steals. This is one of the most interesting first round match-ups. Call me a homer, but LeBron has to miss the Eastern Conference Finals eventually right?
My Prediction: Pacers in 7 (I’m the definition of a homer)
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Regular Season Matchup: 3-1 Advantage Raptors
To the ignorant NBA fan, this may seem like an average first round match-up. But for someone who follows the league religiously this is will be a fascinating duel. The Greek Freak (maybe the most improved player in the league) has broken out this season, producing highlight plays almost nightly. If he keeps improving at this rate, he may be averaging a triple double in a couple years. The Raptors are the more experienced and talented team. The Bucks are a tough squad to beat, but with Kyle Lowry returning from injury they will be too strong for the young Milwaukee squad.
My Prediction: Raptors in 5
(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
Regular Season Matchup: 3-1 Advantage Wizards
John Wall is the best player in the series and more often than not, the team with the best player wins the match-up. Wall and Bradley Beal have started to show the old chemistry that guided them to the second round of the playoffs in 2014. In Atlanta, they have now made the playoffs for their tenth straight season. Honestly, I was surprised to see Atlanta finish this high in the standings. They traded Korver mid-season, which at the time seemed like the beginning of the end. At times they looked great playing behind Paul Millsap, but other times it looked like they were trying to tank. I see the Wizards taking this series because the Hawks will struggle to contain the star studded backcourt of Beal and Wall.
My Prediction: Wizards in 5
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trailblazers
Regular Season Matchup: 4-0 Warriors
Shout out Damian Lillard for saying the Blazers were going to win in 6. Unfortunately, there’s a higher chance I’m on NBA roster next season than the Blazers winning this series in 6 games. With Durant back, the Warriors are both healthy and playing at an elite level down the stretch. I would be shocked to see them lose a game in this series. Portland showed great improvement since trading Plumlee to the Nuggets for Nurkic, but Nurkic is not enough to win a series against the Warriors.
My Prediction: Warriors in 4
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Regular Season Matchup: 2-2 Both teams won at home
The Spurs and Grizzlies have met in the playoffs three times since 2011 and the Spurs won the last two match-ups. It’s surprising these two teams have only met three times in the last six years, it seems like it is an annual match-up. You can almost always expect a hard-nosed match-up with great all around defense being played. The Grizzlies were a tough team this year, but the Spurs have been unbelievable. Although overshadowed by the Warriors’ greatness, the Spurs still won 61 games this year. The Grizzlies will be overpowered in the series by Kawhi and his entourage of old ballers.
My Prediction: Spurs in 5
(3) Houston Rockets vs (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Regular Season matchup: 3-1 Rockets
Expect this game to have the most media coverage in the first round. With MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook going head-to-head, there will undoubtedly be unreal stat lines. I would not be surprised to see both of them average over 40 points in the series. Both will play unbelievable basketball but Harden has the better supporting cast. He has guided his team to the 3rd seed in the rigid Western Conference and it would be shocking to see that change in this series. Also, I could see Westbrook trying so hard in this series that he accidentally hurts himself. I would hate to see it but it could definitely happen.
My Prediction: Rockets in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Regular Season Matchup: 3-1 Clippers
The Utah Jazz have taken the league by storm this year winning 50 games for the first time since 2009. They didn’t make the playoff last year and this year they were 4th in the standings for most of the year. The Jazz are the most improved team of the year and it’s not even close. Everything seems to be going great for the Jazz, but as a 5th seed they could not have met a worse opponent. When the Clippers are healthy they are good enough to compete with anyone in the NBA…and it just so happens they are healthy. I want to see the Jazz succeed but they are David in this battle and the Clippers are Goliath…and I don’t see a repeat of the last time those two squared off.
My Prediction: Clippers in 5
Photo via Michael Tipton