We made it! Wow! I’m really excited!
Unlike the NHL, I don’t have rules for the NBA playoffs. They’re not as insane, and are easier to pick (and bet on).
I’m not using a ton of stats in this column. Basketball is about chemistry. Yes, I love statistics, especially advanced ones, but I know these basketball teams well enough to not use a ton of stats.
The Western Conference is an absolute bloodbath. All of these teams are great and fought their way in. It’s unbelievable that an Oklahoma City team with a MVP candidate didn’t make the playoffs. Had the Thunder been in the Eastern Conference, they would had been the 5th seed.
The East is, well, not fun. It’s not anywhere near where the West is, and they’re are some pretty bad and highly disturbing matchups. We’ll start there:
So, Atlanta comes in to this series after rolling through the Eastern Conference, loaded with, well, not anyone who’s a superstar. That’s what makes them special. They have no one who’s a true superstar. Atlanta has five guys who all play well together. They all have chemistry, and that’s a huge element to a successful team.
The Nets, well, barely got in after Indiana lost to Memphis Wednesday night. And man, would I’ve much rather seen the Pacers here. Brooklyn is just another one of those sub-par, bad East teams. That’s really all I’ve got. I mean, this team really isn’t even good. They’re kinda like the Flames in hockey. Brooklyn is here because someone else choked. And they’re just soaking it in.
This series isn’t gonna hang around long. Atlanta loves to throw it down low to their big guys Paul Millsap and Al Horford. If they’re not open, Kyle Korver is sitting there at the wing waiting to take a three. However, I’m pretty sure Horford and Millsap will be open. Brooklyn doesn’t have the size and speed to keep up. Brook Lopez is aging and can’t keep himself out of a boot.
Brooklyn overall is old and aging. Though Atlanta’s backcourt isn’t loaded with talent, they will have the advantage against Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on both sides of the ball. Brooklyn’s guards is a display of horrible shot decisions and injuries. Atlanta is smart team who makes sure the ball is spread around. If the ball is in your hand, you’re either shooting or passing.
Dribbling isn’t allowed in Mike Budenholzer’s offense. And man, has he been one heck of a coach. He’s probably gonna get Coach Of The Year, since the Hawks were worse than Golden State last year.
Budenholzer is gonna make sure Atlanta spreads the ball around, and plays up tempo. Playing fast will tire out this old Brooklyn team. This series is more about if the Nets can put up points. If not, Atlanta gets to sit back and watch Brooklyn put on a horrific display of shot selection.
Prediction: Hawks in 4
This was the first matchup set in stone, and the only matchup in stone coming into the final night of the regular season. I walked into Advisory class Wednesday morning, and was talking about how this series was gonna happen. Everyone was asking who would win, and my response was: “Do you know who Jae Crowder is? Because that’s who’s covering Lebron James in this series.” The answer? “Nope”.
Thankfully, I know who Jae Crowder is. He’ll spend most of this series on Lebron, a matchup that will be pretty difficult for Crowder. He’s not special in any way. None of his numbers stand out. He’s if anything a liability on offense, as rebounds don’t come easy for him. On defense, he’s better, but he’s on Lebron. Good luck.
Perhaps the only reason the Celtics are here is their pickup of Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, and their amazing coach Brad Stevens. The setting in Boston has allowed Thomas to go into alpha dog mode every night. He fits well where he’s the guy. Phoenix didn’t work that way.
Brad Stevens is an excellent coach. He’s figured out to plug anyone into this offense, and Thomas has been a perfect example.
Cleveland’s had an interesting year, and everyone knows it. It’s not worth talking about. This team found themselves once the year hit 2015, and have been cruising since.
While Kevin Love hasn’t fit with the Cavaliers, he’ll still be important on defense in this series. He ain’t a rim protecter, but can lock a guy down near the paint. On offense, I’m not sure who’ll guard him. My best guess is Kelly Olynyk, since they both have the similar frame. Jared Sullinger will be on Timofey Mozgov, which will be a tough matchup for Mozgov. Sullinger has great footwork, and might be able to get around Mozgov on post ups.
Boy, I’m really praising the Celtics so far. I don’t really think they have a shot. They’re just happy to be here. It gives their younger core some experience, and brings them a lot of hope for next season. Cleveland should roll through this series, but I won’t 100% blown away if Boston snags a game.
Also, it’s pretty cool that Kevin Love will play against his future team in this series (hint hint).
Prediction: Cavaliers in 4
Bulls vs. Bucks
Finally, we’re getting to some good series.
Milwaukee’s been through a lot this season. They had a new coach. Then Larry Sanders, quit? I guess. The trade deadline rolls around, and they ship Brandon Knight to Phoenix, who was probably their best player all year. And guess what? They’re in the playoffs. Remember, this team was predicted to be one of the worst in the league. And yea, I know this sounds crazy, but Jason Kidd has done a great job with this team.
The Bucks get the Bulls, who have also been through a lot. It seems the injury bug hits the Bulls every year, like the Rangers in baseball and Red Wings in hockey. Derrick Rose went down again. Jimmy Butler sprained his elbow. This team was a mess for a month. And it’s amazing to think that the coach who guided them through it might be out after the end of the season (not getting into that yet).
This is a really fun matchup. Milwaukee has a ton of wings guys who can shoot. They’re also superior on defense. The Bucks do a good job of spreading the ball around, which is a skill that has improved since trading Knight. They aren’t a huge team, when it comes to size, but can over-power people by pace and their perimeter size. Giannis (The Greek Freak!!!) Antetokounmpo is a fantastic wing player who will space the floor and bring an element of speed hard to keep up. Khris Middleton is perhaps the biggest guy on this team, and is great power forward who can shoot on the outside.
The problem for the Bucks is that they have the Bulls covering them, one of the best defensive teams in the league. The three-headed monster of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Nikola Mirotic is a big problem. Not only can they play defense, but all can make outside shots. That’s where I get worried for Milwaukee. Guys like Giannis and Michael Carter Williams (especially) won’t be able to handle those guys. They did bring in Miles Plumlee, but he’s a rim protecter, and will have a tough time on Noah.
Chicago’s guards are kinda just there, and I’m not sure after his third surgery how much of an impact Derrick Rose is gonna be. I’d let him the big guys do the dirty work like usual, and use the guards when you need them. Rose will be plus rather than a minus on defense, but I can’t say he trusts the leg completely.
I want to pick the Bucks in this series. I really do! I just don’t think they’ll be able to guard Chicago’s big guys. The size difference is too large. However, with some good shooting and fast pace, the Bucks will test Chicago.
Prediction: Bulls in 6
Wizards vs. Raptors
This might be the hardest series to pick. Why? Because neither team is great. Neither team is bad though. It’s two good teams, but they aren’t anything special. However, the East ain’t great, and I won’t be shocked if the winner of this series ends up in the East Finals.
The Wizards came in with a lot of hope this year. After breaking out last season, they had high expectations. Bradley Beal battled injuries all year, leaving them without one of their key scorers. Beal is great jump shooter, and can come up in the clutch. With him finally back, the Wizards have more stability.
The Raptors were consistent throughout the year. They never got hot, but never fell off (like Washington). Toronto has a great fan base and an insane GM, who’s willing to do anything. However, at February’s trade deadline, he did nothing, something that confused me a bit. The Raptors could have used a wing guy, perhaps a Jeff Green, but they’ve proven that they can rely on their other players.
This is going to be a really fun series. John Wall will be on Kyle Lowry, providing an excellent matchup. Wall is a passing guard first, and a driver second. Lowry is kinda the same, though he has jumper ability. Wall should look to drive against Lowry when he has the ball, and if he can’t get by, that’s when Wall will make those sick passes.
DeMar DeRozan is a excellent player, and I’m not totally sure he has a position. He’s a two/three, kinda like a Klay Thompson. DeMar isn’t a heat check guy, but does have great outside shooting abilities. He’s the one matchup I’m concerned about for Washington. Letting him take over will lose the Wizards a game.
While he’s still developing, Jonas Valanciunas has really raised his game this year. I love the guy, and think he’s in a great matchup with Marcin Gortat. Valanciunas will have the defensive edge, as he’s bigger and stronger. Gortat will have to really carve his around him, and get open off screens.
I haven’t liked Washington’s bench all year. It’s basically made up of a bunch of old washed-up guys who were good when I was like five. They aren’t great. Maybe it’s just me liking to make fun of them. Also on Washington’s bench is their coach, Randy Wittman. He’s not great, and I think he’s out if they don’t win this series. He wasn’t able to figure out how use the guys when Beal was hurt, and it led to their after All-Star Break meltdown. It’s why they got stuck playing Toronto instead of the Bucks.
Toronto has the big man advantage in this series. And while I think it’ll be very competitive, the Wizards offense is too cluttered. The Raptors will find those holes and make them pay, perhaps in the huge game late in the series.
Predication: Raptors in 7
Warriors vs. Pelicans
Finally, we made it to the Western Conference. The bloodbath. This is gonna be fun.
The Warriors dominated the league all year long. Steve Kerr coming in changed this whole team, yet no one will admit it because Mark Jackson is a media member and no one wants to disrespect him. But I’m not a media member (yet), and I’ll say this. Jackson was the biggest problem with that team last year.
The Pelicans barely made the playoffs because San Antonio didn’t try Wednesday night. Had they lost, Oklahoma City would had been in after killing the Timberwolves (A game I was at). New Orleans has Anthony Davis, and that’s about it! Their coach sucks, and they don’t have that great of a roster around him.
The good thing for the Warriors in this series is that they can cover four of the five starting guys. Jrue Holiday is a tad dicey, but has no chance against Stephen Curry, who’s defensive game is not his strength. I really don’t know what Holiday is. He doesn’t have big numbers, anywhere. That’s where the concern comes in.
We’re gonna have Tyreke Evans on Klay Thompson, which is a matchup that is gonna get ugly pretty fast. Though Evans has had a good season for the Pelicans, Klay is so polished and ramped up his defensive game.
Where the Pelicans could cause the Warriors trouble is with their best player Anthony Davis. Davis is the best young player in the league, and is a MVP candidate now that his team is in the playoffs. The Warriors don’t have anyone to cover him. Draymond Green is too small, and David Lee or Andrew Bogut won’t be able to keep up with him. Davis is gonna go off in this series, even though it won’t last long.
If the Pelicans are gonna win a game, Anthony Davis is gonna win it for them, and he’ll be the only one who’ll win it for them. Golden State doesn’t have a matchup for him. Actually, Golden State doesn’t have defensive players to guard lots of guys in the league. The Pelicans happen to have one of those matchup nightmares. While they won’t win the series, they’ll at least get one postseason win, and the Brow will be that guy who gets it for them.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
Rockets vs. Mavericks
Oh man. This is gonna get hairy at multiple times.
The Rockets battled injuries all year. It’s amazing they have the two seed, and it’s my main reason why James Harden is my MVP. The Rockets were without Dwight Howard for a good chunk of the year, and are entering the playoffs without Patrick Beverly and Donatas Motijunas. Motijunas was their second true big guy on the team, even though he still shot threes. He’s a huge loss for the Rockets, and now have Howard as their only true big guy.
The Mavericks were very good early, but lost chemistry after acquiring Rajon Rondo. I thought it would work, but Rondo couldn’t fit, and probably won’t re-sign there this coming summer. They fell apart at one point, as the Rondo/Monta Ellis backcourt wasn’t working. It’s getting better, but the playoffs aren’t the time to figure things out.
This series is gonna be ridiculously chippy and fun at the same time. The Rockets rely on jump shots, and that’s it. They don’t throw the ball low much, because Dwight Howard isn’t that great any more. The live and die by that jump shot, and their offense works because they make them.
You have to assume that the shots will go in, and in that case, each of these games are going to be shootouts. The Mavericks are gonna have to keep up with Houston, because there will be no defense in this series.
I believe Dallas’ game plan for this series is simple. Get it to Dirk Notwitski, or shoot the three. With that, they can keep up, no matter how much Houston scores. The Mavericks won’t be able to the turn the ball over, or be silly with it. Houston can shift a game that quickly.
The chippiness comes from the Chandler Parsons move, and these two teams being in Texas, and Rajon Rondo talking trash. Dirk won’t be afraid to talk either. The technical fouls will be flying.
This series is gonna posses no defense. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a final score in 140s for each team in a game. However, the Mavericks will get sloppy in a couple games and fall behind.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
Clippers vs. Spurs
How did this become a first round matchup? This is ridiculous! Unbelievable! These are two title contenders and one will be out in the first round. This conference is just a bloodbath.
The Spurs started the year very slow, and some wondered whether they were breaking down. They weren’t playing bad, they just weren’t good enough to keep up with the rest of the conference. Then the new year hit, and the Spurs became the Spurs again, but only got the 6th seed. The second to last night of the season, they were in the 2nd seed. THIS CONFERENCE MAN.
The Clippers have been good all year, as expected. They have a great team with tons of talent, but I’m not sure they have the greatest chemistry. I mean, some guys are kinda just there, and others do stuff. It’s more, ‘these guys’ (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and less everyone else (J.J. Redick, Spencer Hawes). However, the problem that exists has to with the less-used guys. They aren’t that good, or at least, they don’t totally fit in this system. Hawes wasn’t a good signing, and Redick is just kinda there next to Paul.
The Spurs pose huge matchups issues for the Clippers. First, Tim Duncan is still amazing, and is having yet another good season. Duncan is also still unguardable, and the Clippers really don’t have anyone for him. Blake Griffin is too small to guard him well enough, and DeAndre has no defensive skills whatsoever besides rebounding. I expect Duncan, even with his age, to dominate this series. Oh yeah, that’s only one guy the Clippers can’t guard.
Kawhi Leonard has been unbelievable this year. After getting off to a slow start with his team, he’s dominated the second half of the season. He’s a defensive stud and has the ability to get to the rim. Oh yeah, he can takes threes too. He can do it all. And the Clippers don’t have anyone to guard. That’s a problem! A really big problem!! Chris Paul is going to be on Tony Parker (which will be easier than expected for him). That means J.J. Redick or Matt Barnes will be on Kawhi. Not great! Redick, as said above, is kinda just there, and does nothing unless he hits a three. Matt Barnes is okay on defense, but really does his part taking bad shots, helping his team none. Neither of these guys are gonna be able to contain Kawhi, who’ll have the lane wide open for himself.
And don’t forget, he’ll be shutting down anyone he’s guarding on the other side of the court. The Clippers have no option for him.
As you can see, it’s pretty clear who I’m taking. I just explained it. Los Angeles has no one to guard San Antonio’s two best players. That’s a big problem. The Clippers will get a win in this series (thanks to a dominate Chris Paul), but I’m not sure this is gonna be that fun. This was the worst possible matchup for the Clippers in the first round. They got it, and’ll pay for it.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies
I was so happy the Grizzlies didn’t get the 6th seed. Even though we still got a ridiculous matchup at 3/6, I’m still happy this Memphis team wasn’t there.
I’m not a Grizzlies fan, but man I love this team. I had them in the Finals for quite awhile, then they started getting hurt and fell off. At the same time, the Warriors were playing ridiculous basketball and it was too hard to go against them. Memphis is a great team who doesn’t shoot the three at all. They barely take them, because they don’t have to. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, outside shots are unnecessary.
Portland is a much more exciting team that the Grizzlies are. They’re very flashy and take lots of crazy shots. Portland cruised their way through the West, and had multiple good wins throughout the year. I really want to like this team, but…. they’re playing the Grizzlies, and that’s a bit of a problem.
Portland doesn’t have the matchup issues the Clippers do with San Antonio, but they do exist. They exist in the paint, where Memphis has Gasol and Randolph. Portland has Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge, who are both very good. However, Gasol has amazing footwork, and should be able to work around Lopez. While they both have the ability to put the ball in the hoop at an insane percentage, Lopez will struggle to get there due to Gasol’s defense.
Zach Randolph will be on LaMarcus Aldridge, in a matchup that is sure to impress. Aldridge has been battling a thumb injury (a thumb that’s broken). It hasn’t bothered him, but Z-Bo is a bruiser, and it has to be concerning for the Trail Blazers. Z-Bo will have a tougher time against Aldridge more than anyone, but you have wonder if he’ll (Aldridge) be cautious.
Portland has the guard advantage in this series. Damian Lillard is a postseason gem, and is prime to have a great series. Tony Allen is a good defensive guard, but he’ll have his hands full with Lillard, who’s a scorer and passer in one. He’s like Kyrie Irving (in the scoring sense), though Lillard is a true point guard, and has the ability to pass. Tony Allen isn’t a scorer, making him a prime target for Lillard to shut down.
This series is gonna come down to who’s out-bruises who, and who plays better in the paint. This is all about the low post. Memphis will have the advantage down there, but they’ll have to keep Damian under control. You have to expect Lillard to have a big game, and Memphis to have a sloppy night. This might be the most thrilling series in the first round.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6
That wraps up a huge, 3,600 word, NBA playoff preview column. Have a good weekend, and enjoy all the postseason games going on in sports.