Was this the most exciting year in NBA history? I mean we are talking about the year that Kevin Durant came back from foot surgery, averaged 28 points per game and is an impending free agent and he was a side thought for the majority of the year. We had the Warriors set history, Kobe Bryant retire over the course of a season, the Spurs set a franchise record for wins, and the Bulls and the Kings front office was in the news every other week. We had Porzingis mania only to be overshadowed by the generational star of Karl Anthony-Towns, and who will forget the days of Lebron James’ life saga. There are probably twenty more great moments that were not mentioned, but all that said this should be one of the most entertaining playoffs in a while. The East is actually competitive 1-8 and the Western Conference top four could be the best top four teams in a conference ever. All that said let’s break down the first round and see what will lie ahead in the playoffs.
- Cleveland Cavaliers -2500 vs. 8. Detroit Pistons +900
Call me crazy but this can be an interesting series. The Cavaliers clearly have more talent here, but the Pistons should be hungry for this one. Reggie Jackson is the key and is playing with a chip on his shoulder, but you could expect the Cavs will throw Iman Shumpert on him to neutralize his matchup. Tobias Harris will get the most time on LeBron James, but James has the clear favor in that one, and it will take a group of Pistons to corral the King. All that said something is off for the Cavs, and they haven’t played consistent team basketball recently. They should get by, but expect it to go 5 or 6 games.
Cavaliers in 6
- Toronto Raptors -285 vs. 7. Indiana Pacers +245
The Raptors HAVE to get this playoff monkey off of their back right? The Raptors have not been out of round one since 2000, and has lost 5 straight playoff series in that time. However, this is a team that has been in the last two playoffs, and they have their stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan playing some of their best ball. The Pacers have history on their side but this is an unexperienced team minus Paul George. George and a guy like Monta Ellis can grab a game or two, but the Raptors should be advancing.
Raptors in 6
- Miami Heat -145 vs. Charlotte Hornets +125
The key here will be Hassan Whiteside. If he can defend Al Jefferson and keep him out of the paint the Heat may win this series in four. If Whiteside struggles in his first real playoff experience and with a big contract looming it will cost the Heat as much as it will cost him. The Hornets have depth in their size, and Kemba Walker will be able to put up on Goran Dragic. The Heat will need to be effective driving to the paint, and defending the paint. I tend to beleive that Miami can in fact do that, and with the more experienced club they should get through.
Heat in 5
- Atlanta Hawks -145 vs. 5. Boston Celtics +125
This is pretty clearly the most anticipated matchup of the first round. Both teams are deep, both are well coached, and both are playing under the perception that they are playing above their head. Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson are the X-factors here because one them will typically be guarding Paul Millsap, and if Millsap cannot be effective on both sides of the floor they will be in trouble. Still, the Celtics will not be able to consistently handle Al Horford on the inside, so who controls the pace of the game be in good position. The Celtics will want to run Horford off the court, and Horford will want to wear them out on the inside. In a toss up, give me the dogs in Boston to get a significant series win for a franchise back on the rise.
Celtics in 7
The Cavaliers will be rooting for the Hawks, because the Celtics pose the biggest threat to Cleveland. They have the wing defense, the guard play and the small ball lineups to go blow for blow with James and the Cavs. The Hawks will be able to compete with the Cavs, but really do not have the wing defense outside of Millsap to guard James. The Raptors postseason woes could come up against a team and coach that will have experience and confidence in Miami. James would hate having to go from a grind in Boston to his friend in Miami, and it actually gives Miami an outside shot to make a run to the NBA Finals. If you were to look at the East and take a bit of a long shot to make the finals it could be Miami or Boston.
- Golden State Warriors -9000 vs. 8. Houston Rockets +2000
As big as the payout would be, you are not getting a Rockets upset pick from me. They will have revenge on their mind from losing in the Western Conference Finals last year, but this is a different Warriors team, and unfortunately a different Rockets team. Dwight Howard had a big playoff performance last year, and if he can do that again this year they may be able to go to 6 games. If he isn’t playing well above his play this season the Warriors will sweep the Rockets. While you would like to think James Harden can grab one game on skill alone, the Warriors are on some crazy mission right now.
Warriors in 4
2. San Antonio Spurs -10000 vs. 7. Memphis Grizzlies +2500
For a professional sport set of seven games, the Spurs are by far the biggest favorite I have ever seen. The Grizzlies are skidding, and are in the playoffs because of the early season success with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Neither will be here, and it would be a major surprise if the Grizz take a game. There is never a sure thing in sports, but about 3 or 4 Spurs could miss this series and they will still win it.
Spurs in 4
3. Oklahoma City Thunder -2800 vs. 6. Dallas Mavericks +1300
If the Thunder lose this series book it Kevin Durant is leaving this year. That said, no chance they lose this series. Russ Westbrook and Durant combine for two of the top five players in the league, and the Mavericks are a team with a fading superstar in Dirk Nowitzki. If you have a theory as to how the Mavs can take more than a game I am interested to hear it, but give me OKC in an easy one.
Thunder in 4
- Los Angeles Clippers -320 vs. 5. Portland Trail Blazers +260
Of any series in the West, if someone is going to win in the underdog role it would be Portland. Damian Lillard is a monster, and CJ McCollum combines for an awesome back court. However, the Clips can throw Chris Paul and his aggressive defense on Lillard, and they can use JJ Reddick to wear down McCollum by chasing him all over the floor on defense. McCollum has not seen major minutes until this year, let alone major playoff minutes so you would have to expect that he will eventually wear down. The Clippers also have a major advantage on the inside. They have the experience advantage and should be able to take care of business, however, bold call alert, they do not sweep Portland like the rest of the West, and the Blazers put a legitimate scare into them.
Clippers in 7
Western Conference Landscape
The Final 4 of Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Warriors has seemingly been destined since Deandre Jordan resigned with LA this summer. It is finally here, and let’s just hope no one gets injured in this round on the way. The Spurs and Thunder in round two will be a knock down drag out fight, and what will be interesting to see is if the winner is so hot that the Warriors cannot compete, or if are so worn down, that the Warriors breeze through the playoffs in similar fashion to the regular season.