Predicting every 1st round playoff series
The conference that feels a little bit more wide open this year, let's take a look at the first-round matchups in the West.
#1 Denver Nuggets vs. #8 OKC/Minnesota
While the #8 seed in the West is to be decided later tonight, I don't think it's going to matter who makes it through to face the Nuggets. With back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic and a solid supporting cast, I don't think the Wolves or Thunder have nearly enough to make this series interesting. Jokic will play well, and as long as one or two of their other starters play solid, this series will be over relatively quick.
Prediction: Nuggets in 5 against OKC or MIN
#2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers
In his 20th NBA season, this is the first time in LeBron James career that he is a first round underdog. After starting the season 2-10, it looked like the Lakers were likely to miss the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive year. But following the acquisitions of De'Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley at the trade deadline, the Lakers have looked like a different team. On the other side, Memphis is spearheaded by Ja Morant, the explosive 4th year point guard who does it all for the Grizz. This series is really interesting because I'm not sure if the Lakers have anyone to guard Ja, but without Steven Adams, Jaren Jackson Jr. will only be able to guard one of either LeBron or AD. With matchups being considered and the Lakers playing really well down the stretch, I think LA has just enough to pull off the upset in a great series.
Prediction: Lakers in 7
#3 Sacramento Kings vs. #6 Golden State Warriors
Making their first playoff appearance since 2006, the Kings have had a fantastic season. First year head coach Mike Brown has done an incredible job in his first season, and should receive the coach of the year award. Sacramento is led by their two all-stars, De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Fox has been clutch all year long for this team, leading the NBA in clutch points, while Sabonis is likely to make an All-NBA team. Looking at the Warriors, they've had a shaky season by their standards. This was a result of the huge difference between their home and away records, posting a 33-8 record at home while going just 11-30 on the road. Despite this, the Warriors are huge favorites in Round 1, given -300 odds to advance to the next round. Andrew Wiggins, who hasn't played since February 13th, was cleared to play in Sunday's game 1 after taking time away from the team to deal with some personal problems, which is a huge boost for Golden State. This series may come down to the huge gap in experience, with Golden State winning 4 titles in the last 8 seasons and most of Sacramento's roster having no playoff experience. This Sacramento team has been fun to watch all season, but I think they're still a year or two away from being a serious threat.
Prediction: Warriors in 6
#4 Phoenix Suns vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers
Two teams who made some serious moves during the trade deadline, this series has the potential to be really fun. Phoenix has the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, with Durant coming off of the most efficient regular season of his career. The Clippers have their own duo in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but George's status is still up in the air after going down with a knee injury about three weeks ago. If George was 100 percent, I think the Clippers would have the slight advantage, but with him unlikely to be anywhere near his full capabilities, Phoenix has too much firepower.
Prediction: Suns in 5
The conference that seems a little more predictable, the Eastern Conference has some interesting first-round matchups.
#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Miami/Chicago
Let's be real, we all want Miami to win the play-in tonight because of the threat they pose, but in reality, it's not going to matter. Milwaukee finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA and have arguably the best player in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the dominance of Giannis and the depth the Bucks have, the Bulls or Heat realistically have little to no chance.
Prediction: Bucks in 5 against MIA, Bucks in 4 against CHI
#2 Boston Celtics vs. #7 Atlanta Hawks
Since I already went in-depth about this series in another post, I'll keep this short and sweet. The Hawks are great offensively but really struggle on the defensive end because of a few weak individual defenders. Boston is the deepest team in the league and have arguably the best duo in basketball with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Finishing 2nd in both offensive and defensive rating this season, the Celtics are very good on both ends of the floor. Atlanta doesn't have nearly enough to contain Boston, while also trying to keep up on the offensive end.
Prediction: Celtics in 4
#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets
After trading away Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant at the deadline, the Nets barely managed to hold onto a top 6 seed, posting an 11-13 record since the all-star break. Mikal Bridges has flourished as a Net, averaging 26.1 points per game in his 27 games in Brooklyn. Despite this, Philadelphia has far more firepower than the new-look Nets. With likely MVP Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers probably have 3 of the 4 best players in the series. There shouldn't be many issues for the 76ers in this matchup.Prediction: 76ers in 5
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #5 New York KnicksThe most exciting matchup in the East on paper, this series could go either way. The Knicks have had a nice season following the pickup of Jalen Brunson in the offseason and Josh Hart at the deadline. Julius Randle has been steady all year long, providing a solid 1-2 punch along with Brunson. Cleveland is making their first playoff appearance in a long time without a guy named LeBron on their team. The new-look Cavs are led by all-star guard Donovan Mitchell, who should be first-team all-NBA this season. The Cavs front line is very solid, while Darius Garland provides a steady hand at point guard. This is a series that I have gone back and forth on a few times, but, in the end, I think Cleveland may have just enough to move on to the 2nd round.
Prediction: Cavs in 7