Alas, the NBA playoffs are here. After doubting the contenders, watching the Knicks implode, the Timberwolves suck, Utah prove me right, Portland playing defense that replicates a turnstile, Boogie getting traded and the Colangelos getting their Colangelo on in Philadelphia, we’re here. But we’re also not here because we all know that Cleveland and Golden State are playing in June and that nothing really matters until then. Anyways, here’s my first round picks.
Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics
The fact that the Bulls made the playoffs show the lack of competency in the East. This team has been a disaster all season, equipped with no good point guards (Except National TV Rajon Rondo! Who might play a big role in this series if his playoff/national TV self shows up!), no three point shooting, and a now-terrible coach.
I expect Boston to coast, but they’ve had their own issues lately, getting blown out by Cleveland and not really playing like a No.1 seed. In any other season, they’re probably the 3rd or 4th seed, and in my opinion, they’re behind Cleveland, Toronto and Washington in terms of having the best chance at the title. I just think they don’t have enough firepower to get by those teams, who are all loaded with star-power. By Chicago? Definitely.
The defensive problem with Isaiah Thomas won’t take effect this series. The Celtics have enough guys to throw at Jimmy Butler, the one guy on Chicago who you have to worry about. Avery Bradley can lock him down; it’d also be a nice test for Jaylen Brown, who needs minutes against superstars if the Celtics are gonna take down Cleveland or Toronto.
Thomas’ weakness defensively won’t show against Rondo, unless he realizes that he may not get a contract next season and decides to show up for the audience.
Boston has the depth and shooting to win this series handily. There’s a chance Jimmy Butler wins a game for the Bulls, probably on a game-winner if the Celtics have one of their “We’re kinda not ready for this yet” games.
The Bulls are gonna have to rely heavily on Butler, who’s the single reason they’re in this. Nikola Mirotic might be able to contribute a little bit, given his hot streak and the fact that Boston has no good power forwards. Then again, Mirotic isn’t beating you in a series (He’s about to get paid like he can though… Good Lord this money is nuts).
The Celtics will cruise, but I think as much as Jimmy Butler wants this season to be over (And also wants to be out of Chicago), he won’t let it happen too easily.
Pick: Celtics in 5
Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Can we stop freaking out about the Cavaliers not getting the No.1 seed? Boston isn’t playing them in the Eastern Conference Finals (Though I picked them, it’s clear to see that I’m not high on Boston this postseason.), so they’ll have home-court over anyone.
Then again, they did allow the Celtics to get the No.1 seed. Boston obtaining the top spot wasn’t about Boston playing well, it was about Cleveland playing poorly. The Cavs have not looked great lately. They’re taking games off, which makes sense considering how many minutes their stars are playing. Their defense has been poor, which was not unexpected. Turns out you can’t rely on old wing shooters anymore! They have to be somewhat athletic!
Like Boston, Cleveland’s issues won’t haunt them yet. Indiana, like Chicago, doesn’t really deserve to be here. They’ve been average and inconsistent all season. The only reason they’re here is because of Paul George and the benching of Monta Ellis. Yeah, not great.
Cleveland should roll through Indiana. The Pacers have no one for Kyrie Irving, who’s capable of winning a series by himself if he has to. The Paul George-LeBron duels should be fun, but it’s hard to see George (Who’s really good, don’t get me wrong) keep up with the best player in the world for seven games (That’s what it would take).
Where Indiana could find success is in keeping up with possessions. They’re gonna out-rebound Cleveland like it’s nothing. Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young are no match for the small ball lineups of Cleveland. But, if the Cavaliers are hot from three, then it’s over. It’s a common trend now: If you make more threes than your opponent, you’re probably gonna win. Simple as that. It’s a math game now, and Indiana and other teams have to realize that.
Indiana could get two games: 1) The game where PG outduels LeBron and 2) The game where Cleveland goes cold and Myles Turner grabs every rebound in sight.
With Cleveland’s 2017 slump (It started when the new year hit), Indiana could very well give Cleveland a run. And whoever plays the Cavs next will give them a big middle finger, cause a pissed off Cavs team/LeBron is no fun.
Pick: Cleveland in 6
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors
I think this is the best series out East. It has the most potential for an upset.
Everyone is super high on Toronto, but I’m just not feeling it. First of all, everyone has turned on Drake, so there’s that.
Secondly, I just think they’re a little too slow and herky-jerky. But that does mean they are physical, and that’s something that is very lacking in today’s game. It makes them unique.
That size, plus their depth, allows them to be very unpredictable with their lineups. They have a lot of versatility with their looks; a nice thing to have these days.
I understand the case. They have two really good players in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, two guys who can score in many ways and form a backcourt that’s almost impossible to handle. Then again, Giannis Antentkoump might be able to guard both of them at the same time.
Giannis is the one reason why I think there’s upset potential here. He’s the one guy in the league who thinks he’s better than anyone (Including LeBron) and isn’t afraid to show it. That guy is a beast. Do you really think he’s scared of Lowry and DeRozan?
Toronto has a big problem to address in Giannis. They don’t have one guy who can lock him down. And when you’re pitted against a guy who can do whatever he wants on the court, that’s a big problem.
Elsewhere, the Raptors don’t match up very well with Toronto either. The likes of Thon Maker and Tony Snell can run very well. The speed and lack of quick athleticism is something I’ve worried about with Toronto for awhile now. Milwaukee won’t get massive offensive contributions from those guys, but those occasional points matter as the Raptors will struggle to score just as much.
Unfortunately for Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, he’s the one guy who might be sheltered in this series. DeRozan can handle him. If the Raptors lock him down, it takes away a big time scoring option for the Bucks. That could be the difference in the series.
I think Milwaukee is gonna give Toronto a run, but the Raptors’ star power will overwhelm.
Pick: Raptors in 7
Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards
I think the Hawks are the league’s biggest fraud this season. I don’t enjoy watching them. I’ve never been amazed by anyone on that team (Ok, maybe Tim Hardaway Jr.’s breakout year has been fun). I just don’t think they’re worth the 5th seed! Even in the East!
The Hawks have nice depth, but they work too hard for points as the ball is either getting posted up by Dwight Howard, iso-ed by Dennis Schroder, or danced around with by Kent Bazemore.
Paul Millsap, God bless him, has been the only real important guy on this team. I would throw in Hardaway Jr., but he’s about to get paid $8 million more per year than he should, so he doesn’t count.
Millsap is a problem for the Wizards, but as good as he is, he’s not winning a series for you, especially against the Wizards, who possess John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter.
Atlanta just won’t be able to counter the offensive output of the Washington. John Wall is going to carve up Schroder, presumably leaving Beal open somewhere. The Hawks have no one for Otto Porter, who needs much more respect and deserves a max contract this Summer. He’s sneakily becoming a guy, like Giannis, where he can do whatever he wants on the court. Not many dudes have that type of athleticism at his size. He’s finally taking advantage of it.
I expect this series to be over quickly. I have no idea how Atlanta will score enough to keep up with the Wiz, or how they will defend Porter/Wall.
Pick: Washington in 4
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors
For the Warriors, the West is their’s to lose.
For Portland, winning a game in this series would be considered a win.
In whats been an up and down season, the Trail Blazers are here, thanks to a post-All Star Break resurgence from Damian Lillard and the addition of Jursuf Nurkic, who may or may not be available for the start of this series.
Dame single-handily dragged them in here. Playing the Warriors is a nice reward.
Portland can’t guard anyone; Golden State might average 130 points a game this series.
This isn’t the Portland team of past year’s that can pull off upsets in the first round. They have two guards who both need their own teams and thats it. Nobody else is contributing in an impactful way. That’s a problem against Golden State.
Defensively they’re just as screwed. They have literally no one for Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, yeah, you catch my drift.
A Warriors sweep seems inevitable, but Dame has those games where he’s hot and nobody can stop him. If that game falls on a night where Golden State is cold, then Portland might be able to steal one.
Pick: Warriors in 5
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs
Before I started thinking critically about it, I might have picked the Spurs in 3. I thought this was a massacre in the making.
But, the Grizzlies, like always, are gonna put up a fight.
The series history is interesting here. Every time these teams meet each other in the playoffs, we seem to think it could be an epic, old-school style series. But in the previous two meeting, the Spurs have swept Memphis both times. The chances of that happening again are high.
The Tony Allen injury is devastating to Memphis and is also a perfect example of how ravaged this team has been by injuries since 2014. Every year, multiple guys are hurt. Yet they push through and still end up here.
Allen could have given Kawhi Leonard (AKA Sharkpotus, God, and so on) some fits defensively. A lockdown performance by Allen would have driven the Spurs to use Kawhi more off the ball, leading to LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green getting many more shots. While the Spurs would still cook the Grizzlies, Allen would have made things much more difficult for Popovich and Co.
Memphis still might be able to do some things to slow down the Spurs. Kawhi is gonna murder you offensively, but JaMychal Green, who I really like, can take LMA out of the game, and Marc Gasol is much better than Dwayne Dedmon or his brother Pau.
Memphis and San Antonio possess similar types of big men. The difference is that Memphis actually has the athletic edge here, with Gasol and Green able to spread the floor a little better than say, David Lee and Dedmon.
Memphis can sneak in a win if two thing happen: 1) They out-rebound Memphis. 2) Mike Conley dishes 20 assists or something crazy. Besides that happening, Kawhi will coast.
Pick: Spurs in 5
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets
No matter how few games, what a delight this will be.
I think they should name the MVP right before Game 1 of this series, so that whoever doesn’t get it unleashes all hell on the other for however many games. Even with how great this season has been, we deserve this.
Unfortunately for Russell Westbrook, this series might not last very long. The Rockets take an insane amount of threes (50, which I am in no way against) while the Thunder are the worst three point shooting team in the league.
Enough said? Numbers never lie!
There will be zero defense in this series, and even though OKC has some good perimeter defenders, the reduced amount of threes (compared to normal) that will Houston will make due to that defense will still outweigh the dancing around/missed shots of Russ at the end of the game.
Russ is the MVP, but you just can’t play like he does – dominating the ball and being inefficient. It’s gonna really show in this series.
I expect Houston to win easily, but there will be a game where Russ does something insane like 59-16-12 and makes literally every shot. If they would announce the MVP before the series and Harden wins, then Russ would probably average 65 points a game this series. Your loss, NBA.
Pick: Rockets in 5
Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers
At the season’s beginning, I warned of two things: 1) That Utah was gonna be really good and 2) That they’d finish ahead of the Clippers and grab the 3rd seed in the West. I was 75% correct. The 4-5 difference doesn’t matter, and the Jazz are really good. The 3rd seed prediction was ambitious, and it failed because I didn’t see the Rockets being this good.
The Clippers just don’t have it anymore. This team is due for major changes this offseason unless they make the Finals, which, I can guarantee you, will not happen. They’re always hurt, always mad at each other, and just don’t pass the eye test anymore. This series is where everything hits the fan.
The Jazz’s creativity and lineup flexibility is the difference here. Utah has so many lineups – big, small, crafty, shooting – that they can throw at you. That’s a nightmare for the Clippers, who usually play two big guys who don’t space the floor at once, and lack a super good bench (Though it’s better than it has been in the past).
I think Utah can outrun Los Angeles and put them in uncomfortable spots on the court. Rodney Hood is a terrible matchup for the Clips, and he’s a guy who can torch you. Gordon Hayward is gonna show the country that he’s pretty freaking good (There’s a large majority that think he’s just fine). George Hill and Chris Paul guarding each other will be fun.
The Clippers have the talent to win this series, but I think the matchups aren’t in their favor whatsoever. If the Jazz can’t contain Blake Griffin and the Clips get supplemental shooting, then maybe they have the advantage. But I see this being an ugly ending for a Clippers trio that could just never figure it out.
Pick: Jazz in 5