With the NBA regular season in the books, the seeding for the NBA Playoffs is set. It’s time to turn up the intensity and find out who will be take home the title in 2018.
Beating the books in the regular season is one thing. It’s a whole different animal handicapping the NBA in the postseason. Let our experts do the dirty work for you with their premium picks.
First round action is set to start this weekend. Four series will open up on Saturday and the other four start on Sunday. All games will be televised on TNT, ESPN, NBATV or ABC.
I’ve provided a detailed look at each first round matchup with my prediction on moves to the next round. I also give out my projections on how far the winning teams advances.
Eastern Conference NBA Playoffs Matchups & Predictions
#1 Toronto Raptors (59-23) vs. #8 Washington Wizards (43-39)
Season Series – Tied 2-2
- Wizards 107 @ Raptors 96
- Wizards 91 @ Raptors 100
- Raptors 119 @ Wizards 122
- Raptors 102 @ Wizards 95
It’s amazing how little respect Toronto is getting going into the playoffs. That’s because the Raptors have had regular-season success before and failed to live up to that hype in the postseason. Last year they won 51 games and tied the Cavs for the 2nd best record in the east. They got past the Bucks in the first round, but would get swept by Cleveland in the next round.
While not a lot was done to the core, Toronto is playing a different brand of basketball this year. They have adjusted to the new style of the league and are shooting more 3-pointers. They also have one of the deepest benches in the league. That’s great for regular-season success, but it’s all about the stars in the playoffs.
Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry put their previous postseason struggles behind them and take the Raptors to a new level? It’s possible, but I’m not betting on it. Toronto should be able to get past the Wizards, but I don’t see them getting past LeBron James and the Cavs in round two.
Prediction: Raptors Win 4-2
Raptors Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
#2 Boston Celtics (55-27) vs. #7 Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)
Season Series – Tied 2-2
- Bucks 108 @ Celtics 100
- Celtics 96 @ Bucks 89
- Bucks 100 @ Celtics 111
- Celtics 102 @ Bucks 106
It’s really a shame what Boston has endured this season. It also has to be a bit scary for the rest of the east. The Celtics won 55-games, despite losing Gordon Hayward for the year in the very first game. It certainly helped to have a talent like Kyrie Irving to shoulder the load, but he missed 22-games and is out for the postseason.
There was no question that the bottom teams in the east playoff race were fighting for the chance to play the Celtics and who could blame them. With that said, I’m not for a second discounting Boston’s chances of winning their first round series against the Bucks. Brad Stevens will have this team ready and with the way they can defend, I wouldn’t be shocked if they made a deep run.
I don’t think it will be easy against the “Greek Freak,” but I have the Celtics going the distance and winning Game 7 at home to advance to the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Celtics Win 4-3
Celtics Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
#3 Philadelphia 76ers (52-30) vs. #6 Miami Heat (44-38)
Season Series – Tied 2-2
- Heat 97 @ 76ers 103
- Heat 102 @ 76ers 104
- 76ers 101 @ Heat 102
- 76ers 99 @ Heat 108
It’s really remarkable how quickly the 76ers have went from being a complete afterthought to owning the third best record in the east at 52-30. I mean we are talking about a team that won 56-games over the previous three seasons combined. Ben Simmons was every bit as good as expected and is going to be a special player in this league.
The biggest concern with the process in Philadelphia is whether or not Joel Embiid can stay healthy. When he’s on the floor this team is capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the league. Embiid missed the final 8 games and is expected to be out Game 1, but isn’t expected to miss much more than that.
I think a lot of people aren’t giving the Heat much of a chance here, but I think this is a really difficult matchup for the 76ers. Unlike Philadelphia, Miami has some experience they can fall back on. I also don’t think Erik Spoelstra gets near the respect he deserves. I’m going to trust the process and take the 76ers in 7-games.
Prediction: 76ers win 4-3
76ers Prediction: Eliminated in Conference Finals
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32) vs. #5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Season Series – Pacers 3-1
- Pacers 124 @ Cavs 107
- Cavs 102 @ Pacers 106
- Cavs 95 @ Pacers 97
- Pacers 108 @ Cavs 115
Could this be the year that LeBron Jame’s ridiculous NBA Finals streak comes to an end? Sure. I’m not just not about to predict it. I don’t care what it looks like in the regular-season, Cleveland shows up in the playoffs. James simply takes his game to the next level and will do everything in his power to prove the doubters wrong.
I know they weren’t exactly dominating teams, but the Cavs did go on an 11-3 over their final 14 games. They are for the first time in a long time healthy and I don’t think we have seen the best version of this team. The big question is can they reach that potential and form that chemistry in the playoffs.
The Pacers were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this year. Most thought Indiana was lottery-bound and wouldn’t sniff the postseason after trading away Paul George. Little did we know that Victor Oladipo was going to take that next step and become a legit super-star.
I know Indiana won 3 of the 4 games in the regular-season series, but I’m not giving them much of a shot here. I have the Cavs winning in 5 and wouldn’t be shocked at all if it ended in a sweep.
Prediction: Cavs Win 4-1
Cavs Prediction: Eliminated in NBA Finals
Western Conference NBA Postseason Picks to Win Each Matchup
#1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. #8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
Season Series – Rockets 4-0
- Timberwolves 98 @ Rockets 116
- Rockets 126 @ Timberwolves 108
- Timberwolves 120 @ Rockets 126
- Rockets 129 @ Timberwolves 120
It’s crazy to think that people actually thought the Rockets made a dumb decision to add in Chris Paul with James Harden. Most couldn’t see these two players, who love to have the ball in their hands coexist. Needless to say Paul and Harden proved the doubters wrong. The duo meshed almost instantaneously and the Rockets ended up with the best record in the NBA.
We went from no chance anyone was taking out the Warriors, to a legit debate on whether or not the Rockets are actually the team to beat. I personally can’t wait for this matchup to unfold in the conference finals. I’m going with Golden State, assuming they will be healthy by then, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if they lost.
It was great to see the Timberwolves make the playoffs, but I don’t think their stay will last long. I just have a hard time seeing Houston lose a game. Rockets take this is in a sweep.
Prediction: Rockets Wins 4-0
Rockets Prediction: Eliminated in Conference Finals
#2 Golden State Warriors (58-24) vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs (47-35)
Season Series – Warriors 3-1
- Warriors 112 @ Spurs 92
- Spurs 105 @ Warriors 122
- Spurs 107 @ Warriors 110
- Warriors 75 @ Spurs 89
Going into the season this would have likely been the popular choice for the matchup we were most likely to see in the Western Conference Finals. While neither team lived up to the hype in 2018, the Spurs were really dealt a bad hand with how things unfolded with Kawhi Leonard. Golden State only won 58-games, in part because of injuries and in part because they really didn’t have anything to prove.
The injury to Steph Curry is certainly a cause for concern. It’s looking like he might not be back until the Western Conference Finals. I still think the trio of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is good enough to win it all, especially with their supporting cast. It’s a lot easier with Curry and without him, it’s far from a sure thing that they will make it back to the Finals.
It definitely makes things interesting, but not enough for me to pick against this team. I got them easily getting by San Antonio. The big scare without Curry will likely come in the next round against either OKC or Utah.
Prediction: Warriors Wins 4-1
Warriors Prediction: Win NBA Championship
#3 Portland Trail Blazers (49-33) vs. #6 New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)
Season Series – Tied 2-2
- Pelicans 93 @ Blazers 103
- pelicans 123 @ Blazers 116
- Blazers 113 @ Pelicans 119
- Blazers 107 @ Pelicans 103
This should be one of the more entertaining first-round matchups. Not only because of how evenly matched these two sides are, but the style in which they play should lead to a lot of high-scoring contests. Portland’s Damian Lillard and New Orlean’s Anthony Davis both figure to finish in the Top 5 in MVP voting, so there’s plenty of star-power as well.
Both teams really exceeded expectations. For the Pelicans, the big surprise is how well they continued to play after losing DeMarcus Cousins in late January to a season-ending injury. For the Blazers, they just didn’t look like they had enough fire-power when during a 22-21 start to the season. From that point on they went 27-12 and big reason for that is Lillard took his game to the next level.
I know a lot of people view this as a toss-up and are just picking Portland because of the home-court edge. I’m going to go against the grain here and take Davis and the Pelicans. I just think he’s the best player on the court and keep an eye out for Rajon Rondo. He seems to have a different gear he can go to in the playoffs.
Prediction: Pelicans Win 4-3
Blazers Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) vs. #5 Utah Jazz (48-34)
Season Series – Thunder 3-1
- Thunder 87 @ Jazz 96
- Jazz 94 @ Thunder 100
- Jazz 79 @ Thunder 107
- Thunder 103 @ Jazz 89
If the Blazers/Pelicans isn’t your favorite first round matchup, it has to the Thunder and the Jazz. Both has similar paths to this point, just one was a little more expect to than the other.
Oklahoma City was expected to be here. The early-season struggles might have been a little worse than anticipated, but it was simply a matter of time before they figured it out. The Thunder were 15-15 through their first 30 games and 33-19 over their final 52.
When Utah started out 19-28 it wasn’t a surprise at all. After losing Hayward in free-agency, 2018 was expected to a bit of a minor rebuild. What no one could have envisioned is the Jazz striking gold with rookie Donovan Mitchell. He showed flashes right out of the gate, but really turned the corner and propelled Utah on a 29-6 run to end the season.
I think this could go either way. I have it going the distance and will give the edge to OKC because of the home court edge (wouldn’t be shocked if the home team won all 7 games).
Prediction: Thunder Win 4-3
Thunder Prediction: Eliminated in Quarterfinals
Updated Betting Odds to Win the 2018 NBA Finals
|Golden State Warriors||+135|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+2500|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+3300|
|San Antonio Spurs||+6000|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+10000|