As great as the regular season is, the NBA playoffs takes it to a different level of intensity and excitement. It was an exciting finish to the end of the year, as there were a number of teams either fighting to make the field or battling for position.
In the Eastern Conference there’s a strong consensus that the team reaching the Finals will come down to the top three seeds in the Hawks, Cavaliers and Bulls. The picture isn’t quite as clear in the Western Conference, though I think most would agree that the team to beat is the top overall seed in the Warriors, though I would argue that there’s at least six teams with a legit shot.
First round action is set to start this weekend with four series starting on Saturday and the remaining four getting underway on Sunday. Below you will find a quick breakdown of each first round matchup, including my series predictions. You will also see a full list of each teams’ odds to win it all listed at the bottom.
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets
This figures to be one of the more lopsided first round matchups. Atlanta (60-22) finished a full 22-games ahead of Brooklyn (38-44) in the standings. These two teams met four times during the regular season and the Hawks swept the series 4-0. While each of the first three wins for Atlanta came by double-digits, the Nets were able to keep it close in the most recent matchup on April 9, losing by a final of just 111-114.
There could be some concern with the fact that the Hawks closed out the regular season on a 3-game losing streak, but that was more of a result of them resting key players than not playing well. I find it more troublesome the way Brooklyn played in their two previous games before beating the Magic 101-88 in the regular season finale. The Nets lost 73-96 at Milwaukee and 86-113 at home to the Bulls when their playoff hopes were in serious jeopardy. It was almost as if they didn’t want to make the postseason and I’m not expecting them to stick around long.
Series Odds: Hawks (-1300) Nets (+850)
Series Prediction: Atlanta Wins 4-0
Hawks Prediction: Eliminated in Conference Finals
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics
Cleveland (53-29) finished the regular season on a 33-9 tear after a slow start and have had the luxury of resting some of their key players down the stretch with the No. 2 seed locked up for quite some time.
While it comes as absolutely no surprise that the Cavaliers have one of the two best records in the east, not many thought the Celtics would be playing past the regular season. Boston (40-42) closed out the season winning 8 of their final 9 games and are one of the hottest teams heading into the postseason.
These two teams split their season series 2-2. While both of the Celtics victories have come in the last two meetings, one of those wins came with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all sidelined and the other with Irving out and James playing just 26 minutes. I just don’t see the Cavs slipping up against a team like Boston, though I do expect the Celtics to steal at least one game before it’s all said and done.
Series Odds: Cavaliers (-6000) Celtics (+2750)
Series Prediction: Cleveland Wins 4-1
Cavaliers Prediction: Eliminated in NBA Finals
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Chicago (50-32) had a chance to lose their regular season finale and fall back into the No. 4 seed, which would have allowed them to avoid James and company until at least the conference finals. Instead they played for the much easier first round matchup against the Bucks (41-41).
Milwaukee made a decision to trade Brandon Knight at the deadline for Michael Carter-Williams and I think it really hurt this team. The Bucks went just 10-17 over their final 27 games and it’s hard to imagine they figure it out in the playoffs. Chicago won the regular season meeting 3-1, though they did lose the most recent matchup 91-95 in Milwaukee.
There is some concern here with the health of Derrick Rose, who was forced to sit out the 2nd half of their last game because of knee soreness, but it’s not considered to be serious. Even if Rose weren’t to play, Chicago has enough depth to win this series without much problem.
Series Odds: Bulls (-980) Bucks (+640)
Series Prediction: Chicago Wins 4-1
Bulls Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards
This is without a doubt the most evenly matched first round series in the Eastern Conference. While the Raptors (49-33) swept the season series 3-0, each of the last two games were decided by 4-points or less. Both teams haven’t been nearly impressive in the second half as they were back in November and December, which makes this a tough one to call.
These two teams also play contrasting styles. Washington is a more defensive oriented team that can go stretches where they really struggle to score, while the Raptors feature an explosive offense, but struggle to lock down defensively. I think this one is going to go down to the wire, but I have to give the edge to Toronto. Everyone plays defense in the playoffs and I Washington just doesn’t have the weapons offensively to keep up. Big key here is Kyle Lowry has to stay healthy and play up to his potential.
Series Odds: Raptors (-185) Pelicans (+160)
Series Prediction: Toronto Wins 4-2
Raptors Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Warriors (67-15) had almost everything locked up down the stretch, yet they continued to keep winning, which I believe says a lot about the mentality this team has. They closed out the regular season on a 16-2, but one of those two losses did come at the hands of the Pelicans (45-37), who escaped with a 103-100 home win.
Golden State still won the series 3-1, including a couple blowout wins at home, where the Warriors finished up a ridiculous 39-2 on the season. As impressed as I was with New Orleans win over San Antonio (who was playing for the No. 2 seed) in their finale to clinch the No. 8 seed, this team has little to no chance of advancing past Golden State.
Series Odds: Warriors (-3600) Pelicans (+1800)
Series Prediction: Golden State Wins 4-1
Warriors Prediction: Win NBA Finals
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
This is one of the more interesting matchups in my opinion. The Rockets (56-26) overcame a number of injuries to finish with the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, while the Mavericks (50-32) quietly won 50 games and have been seemingly locked into the No. 7 seed for about a month now.
Houston won the season series 3-1, but all three wins came by a combined 15 points (all by 7 or less). For the Rockets it all comes down to James Harden and whether or not he continues to play at the same level that has made him a finalist for the MVP. For Dallas it’s really about how they use Rajon Rondo, as this team clearly was not the same once they acquired him from Boston. For me the deciding factor here is coaching. Rick Carlisle is as good as it gets when it comes to putting together a scheme for a playoff series. Keep in mind they arguably played the Spurs as well as anyone last year in the postseason and a lot of people thought they would be swept.
Series Odds: Rockets (-270) Mavericks (+230)
Series Prediction: Dallas Wins 4-3
Mavericks Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio (55-27) simply needed to win their finale at New Orleans to come out of nowhere to win take down the No. 2 seed. That wasn’t to be as the Spurs lost to the Pelicans 103-108. That defeat snapped an 11-game winning streak and it was an unfortunate resulto for the Clippers (56-26). As well as Los Angeles has been playing down the stretch, this is the last team they wanted to see in the first round.
The season series was dead even at 2-2 with both teams winning 1 on the road. Having the homecourt advantage is huge for the Clippers, as I believe it gives them a fighters chance against the Spurs, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them out of the first round. San Antonio is healthy and are peaking at the right time.
Series Odds: Spurs (-175) Clippers (+155)
Series Prediction: San Antonio Wins 4-2
Spurs Predictions: Eliminated in Conference Finals
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Both of these teams looked liked serious title contenders not that long ago, but injuries have really derailed those hopes for both of these teams. Portland (51-31) suffered a huge blow when they loss Wesley Matthews for the season and are going into this series with question marks surrounding the health of Aarron Afflalo, Nicolas Batum, Chris Kaman and C.J. McCollum. Memphis (55-27) is dealing with injuries to two huge pieces in Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
If both were healthy I think this would be a dogfight right down to Game 7, but I just don’t trust the current form of the Trail Blazers. Memphis swept the season series 4-0 and are hoping to have both Conley and Allen back for the start of the series. The other big key here is that while Memphis is the No. 5 seed, they have the homecourt edge.
Series Odds: Grizzlies (-220) Trail Blazers (+180)
Series Prediction: Memphis Wins 4-1
Grizzlies Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
Odds to Win NBA Finals
|Golden State Warriors||+220|
|San Antonio Spurs||+975|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+1400|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+5000|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+15000|
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