NBA First Round Preview
For the first time since the start of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, it isn't going to be a foregone conclusion that the Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. There are many headlines heading into these playoffs.
Can the Raptors and/or Rockets win the championship? Can Golden State avoid being upset in the first round before Steph Curry comes back? Will Lebron James make it to his eighth straight finals or will someone get in his way? Can the young Philadelphia 76ers make a run in the east?
Eastern Conference: (8) Washington Wizards vs (1) Toronto Raptors: These two teams met in the 2015 NBA playoffs. That was a 5 vs 4 matchup and the Wizards swept them that year. These two teams are totally different now. Washington is underachievers and Toronto is much better suited for a playoff run. The Wizards and the Raptors both have good starting 5's but the difference in this series will be Toronto's bench. The pick: Raptors in 6.
(5) Indiana Pacers vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pacers overachieved during the regular season after trading away Paul George. Victor Oladipo had a career year and Domantas Sabonis improved as well in his second season in the NBA. Indiana plays well as a unit. Nate McMillan did a tremendous job coaching Indiana during the regular season. The Pacers beat them 3-1 in the regular season, but the postseason will be a different animal for them especially since they are going up against Lebron James, Kevin Love, and company. The pick: Cavaliers in 5.
(7) Milwaukee Bucks vs (2) Boston Celtics: Without Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward, this could be a short series for the Celtics. They are going to have to rely on Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Terry Rozier, but they are going to have a difficult time stopping Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis might be able to average 30 PPG in this series and it wouldn't be shocking. Milwaukee has more talent on the court and they have a great chance to win a playoff series for the first time since 2000-2001, when they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. The pick: Bucks in 6.
(6) Miami Heat vs (3) Philadelphia 76ers: This is by far the most interesting first round matchup in the east. The Miami Heat have experience and the Philadelphia 76ers are young and will be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. Joel Embiid will be out for game one and will see when he first plays in this series. Philadelphia has more star power than Miami does, but the Heat's experience will take this series deep, but the 76ers have players who can make a big play or two when the game is on the line. The pick: 76ers in 7.
Western Conference: (8) Minnesota Timberwolves vs (1) Houston Rockets: The Timberwolves are playing with house money in this series and the Rockets have all the pressure in the world to advance. Clint Capela vs Karl-Anthony Towns will be a duel at the center position. I could see Towns getting Capela off his game. However, the Rockets are tough to stop when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are all playing together. Minnesota has some other good players like Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler, but the difference in this series will be the Rockets bench. The pick: Rockets in 6.
(5) Utah Jazz vs (4) Oklahoma City Thunder: The Oklahoma City Thunder drew a good matchup in the first round. The Jazz struggle to score at times and the Thunder have stars that could score in bunches. Utah will play hard in this series, but Oklahoma's City star power will be too much for them to handle. The pick: Thunder in 5.
(7) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Golden State Warriors: If the Spurs had Kawhi Leonard healthy, they would have had a great chance to beat the Golden State Warriors without Steph Curry. However, they don't and this could be a quick series. Even though this is Greg Popovich's best coaching job, they don't have enough to slow down Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The pick: Warriors in 6.
(6) New Orleans Pelicans vs (3) Portland Trail Blazers: The New Orleans Pelicans have the best player in this series in Anthony Davis, but the Portland Trail Blazers have a better team. Portland is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and they have arguably the best backcourt in the NBA in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. If the Pelicans had DeMarcus Cousins healthy, they would have a great chance to beat Portland, but the absence of Cousins will be felt in this series. The pick: Trail Blazers in 5.