Article by: Harrison Weaver
The Eastern Conference
#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs #8 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee comes into the playoffs with a league-best record of 60-22. Detroit on the other hand, dropped from being as high as a 6 seed to needing to win their final game just to secure a playoff spot. This will be a short-lived series, as Detroit simply does not match up well with the Bucks. Blake Griffin suffered a minor injury in their final regular season game against the Knicks, and they really need him to be 100%. Milwaukee has too many weapons for Detroit to handle; Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, and the list goes on from there.
The Pistons will need monster games from Andre Drummond, Griffin, and Reggie Jackson just to try to steal one game in this series. The Bucks will very likely be the favorite in any Eastern Conference Playoff series they advance to. I really think the Bucks are going to sweep this series. The Greek Freak and Co. are too much for the struggling Pistons to handle, even for one game. The next round, however, could get a little more interesting as they may face more difficulties in their opponents.
My pick: Milwaukee, 4-0
#2 Toronto Raptors vs #7 Orlando Magic
Toronto has been playing incredible basketball all season long and have improved leaps and bounds from last year’s team. Normally around this time of the year, the #WeTheNorth fanbase starts to get a little nervous. After spending years of being LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ little brother, this Raptors team is on a whole new level. Their roster includes superstar Kawhi Leonard along with Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, and the likely Most Improved Player winner Pascal Siakam. Boasting a top-10 offense and defense, this team can match-up against any style of play that any opponent have thrown at them this post-season and are a dangerous NBA Finals threat.
On the other hand, Orlando is certainly no slouch, not by any stretch of the imagination. This is a much improved team from last season, even from the beginning of this season. Finishing the season on an 11-2 run to secure their spot in the playoffs, this team is coming in young, confident, and hungry. The Magic could have the energy and motivation to be a nuisance for the Raptors. They will not be a fun matchup, but they simply do not have the experience to win a 7-game series against a team as talented and seasoned as Toronto. Orlando is quite possibly a team of the future, but their lack of experience will be a huge disadvantage and will lead to mistakes and frustrations against the Raptors.
My pick: Toronto, 4-1
#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs #6 Brooklyn Nets
This series has a little bit of intrigue to it, and there are some interesting story-lines. For Philadelphia, there have been question-marks all season about how well this team can gel. With Jimmy Butler being acquired early in the season, and Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, this team has been slapped together and is now expected to have the chemistry to get them through the playoffs. On top of that, Joel Embiid is questionable for game one, which makes Philly fans a little nervous.
Switching gears to Brooklyn, this has been a dream season for them. As a team that many expected to be in the NBA Draft Lottery hunt, they have put together a fantastic season, clinching the 6 seed led by terrific comeback story D’Angelo Russell, whom many analysts wrote off as a bust. Also featuring 6th Man of the Year candidate, Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets have a handful of young talent which can, similarly to Orlando, be very pesky and occasionally frustrating for Philly.
However, I give the nod to the Sixers and their incredibly talented starting five. The Sixers will find a way to tame the young Nets, Joel Embiid will be a tour-de-force, along with Ben Simmons. If Jimmy Butler plays hard, Tobias Harris makes the plays he is supposed to make, and JJ Redick hits his perimeter shots, this will be a short series. On the other hand, if those scenarios do not fall into place, the Sixers could be in for an upset alert. My faith though, is in that superstar starting five for Philly.
My pick: Philadelphia, 4-1
#4 Boston Celtics vs #5 Indiana Pacers
Now here is a series that could get a little dicey. Let me explain why I firmly believe in this output. Boston, on paper, has a very legitimate case at being the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. They can match up with anyone, and they have high caliber talent at every position. There is a reason though that they are sitting at the 4 seed. Kyrie Irving has been disinterested all year, feuding with players and coaches, and in many people’s opinions, already has one foot out the door in terms of leaving in free agency this summer. Gordon Hayward has had bright moments but has not been 100 percent all season due to his severe ankle injury from early last season. Even the young core of Boston has had chemistry issues, the same core that was one game away from the NBA Finals last season. The playoffs are all about chemistry and being able to play as a unit is where the Pacers hold a massive advantage.
This Pacers team took a huge hit when Victor Oladipo went down with a broken leg. Their record indicates that they have not been as good since the injury, but this is still a very dangerous team that can shoot, play defense, and always puts in the necessary work to win. Indiana has enough talent to be able to expose the cracks in Boston’s chemistry, but the Celtic’s talent will still be enough to win this series. Kyrie is elite at closing out games, they have guys who can switch all over the floor on defense, and because of this they will get the job done. Even without key player Marcus Smart for maybe the whole series, the talent gap is just too big.
My pick: Boston, 4-2
The Western Conference
#1 Golden State Warriors vs #8 Los Angeles Clippers
Everybody has been asking the same question: will it be Golden State, or the field? I am not going to get into that, although I do have a definite answer which I will explain after this round. On the other hand, saying that reveals my opinion on this series. The Warriors are going to win the first round against the Clippers. However, let us not let this take away from the excellent season the Clippers have had.
In a season where LeBron and the Lakers have stolen a lot of the spotlight in LA, the Clippers have spent this season playing great basketball. Lacking a superstar, losing Tobias Harris via trade, this team has played as a unit all year. Montrezl Harrell has been an absolute animal coming off the bench, Lou Williams became the all-time leader in points coming off the bench, and ex-Sixer Landry Shamet has been a sniper from behind the three-point line. They have over-achieved, and I like their chances to steal a game in this series. The Warriors are just simply too talented. I do not need to spell it out for anyone reading this. KD, Steph, Klay, Boogie Cousins, Draymond, and Iggy, this team is stacked. It's as simple as that, they are stacked and just as dangerous as they have been in the past. Golden State, we will see you in the second round, and we will reevaluate when that time comes.
My pick: Golden State, 4-1
#2 Denver Nuggets vs #7 San Antonio Spurs
This is a series that is very intriguing, and to me, there is one real reason why. Denver against San Antonio is all about the young, exciting chemistry. The Nuggets possess the skill of being able to make excellent passes and reads, against arguably the best NBA coach of all time, Greg Popovich. Nikola Jokic, or as many people call him, “The Joker”, leads the Nuggets in scoring and is a magician with how he can pass the ball from the center of the floor. No look-give and go’s, kick-outs to the three-point line from the paint, it is a lot of fun to watch. Paired with Paul Milsap, and perimeter weapons like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, with an arsenal of young guys off the bench, this team can make some noise in the playoffs if they keep their composure and play like they have all season.
On the flip side, it will be fun to see how Coach Pop can squeeze everything he can out of this Spurs squad. LaMarcus Aldridge has been great all year, and since earning a spot in the All-Star game, he has shown that he can excel in the post, as well as bang home threes whenever he gets open on the perimeter. They also have DeMar DeRozan, who is an absolute stud of a person on the court. The thing that I do not like is that his game has never translated well into playoff basketball. He is a below-average three-point shooter, he relies a lot on his midrange game and slashing to the rim.
In the playoffs, defenses will play more physical and those buckets do not come as easy, which really makes things difficult for DeRozan. After Aldridge and DeRozan, there is a visible talent gap with San Antonio, and I just do not think Pop has enough talent to get over the hump against Denver. The Nuggets have a very real chance to make a deep postseason run.
My pick: Denver, 4-2
#3 Portland Trailblazers vs #6 Oklahoma City Thunder
If you want to watch a wild west shootout, tune into this series. Let me make this loud and clear; this series is going to have the attack-mode switch on the entire time. Oklahoma City will be a whole lot of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and Portland will be bringing the heat with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Look forward to Paul George continuing his MVP caliber play, draining shots and playing excellent defense. I fully expect to see angry Westbrook on display in this series, which is synonymous with some jaw-dropping assists, lightning fast attacks on the rim, and some nice perimeter shots. This is unfortunately mixed in with some horrible shot selection, over-ambitious dribble moves, and bad passes that will leave you scratching your head or if you are a Thunder fan.
On the other side of the matchup, Portland has really had a great year. Earning the 3 seed in a loaded Western Conference is an incredible achievement, and they certainly deserve it. Damian Lillard is perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA, and the combination of him and CJ McCollum is lethal. After all, they are the sixth-ranked scoring offense in the NBA, and one of the most deadly from three. In my opinion, the loss of Jusuf Nurkic could be deadly for Portland. Nurkic was really an anchor down low before tearing his ACL late in the season against Boston. Unfortunately for them, they are matched up against a real bully in OKC’s Steven Adams, who is also a big presence in the paint.
OKC will have a definite advantage near the rim in a series that could ultimately come down to who can rebound better and get the most second-chance opportunities on offense. Either way, this is going to be a long, thrilling series which could feature a buzzer-beater or two.
My pick: Oklahoma City, 4-2
#4 Houston Rockets vs #5 Utah Jazz
If it is not Portland versus OKC, then this is the series I am most looking forward to in the first round. It does not take a rocket scientist (no pun intended) to sum this one up. It is going to be James Harden’s inhuman offense against the tough, chiseled defense and balanced attack of Utah. Harden averaged a record-setting 36.1 PPG this season, which is almost three points higher than the previous NBA record of 33.5 set by guess who? None other than the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. There is literally no weaknesses to Harden’s offensive game. He can drive, he can hit from mid-range, he can spot-up from three, and he has developed the most unstoppable shot in the league, his signature step-back three-pointer.
Shifting over to Utah, they know how to get in your face and come at you from a bunch of different angles. They have Donovan Mitchell, perhaps the NBA’s fastest rising star, who can create for himself by hitting threes, and slash. Rudy Gobert will use his huge frame to make space in the paint and score from inside. Ricky Rubio has really improved his shooting and is excellent in dishing out to their spot-up shooters like Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver. Their defense is also superior to that of Houston, especially thanks to their 2018 Defensive Player of the year Rudy Gobert.
The concern for Houston is the drop-off after James Harden in terms of scoring. After Harden at 36.1 PPG, their next highest scorer is Clint Capela at 16.6 PPG, which mostly comes from interior assists. Yes, they have Eric Gordon and Chris Paul who can both light it up from anywhere on the floor, since we cannot take either of them lightly. On the other hand, if Chris Paul suffers another injury problem in these playoffs as he has in the past few years, and Harden’s shot goes a little cold, this Rockets team could be in big trouble. Luckily Houston has home-court, which could play a key role in this neck and neck series and should be enough to keep Harden and the Rockets hot enough to slide by.
My pick: Houston, 4-3
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