The playoffs have arrived and there are several interesting storylines to follow over the next couple of months. Can Kevin Durant and the Warriors three-peat? How far can James Harden carry the Rockets? Will the Celtics figure it out after a disappointing regular season? Are Toronto and Milwaukee for real? Without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the first round.
#8 Detroit Pistons @ #1 Milwaukee Bucks (-5000)
MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a breakout season for the Bucks this year, averaging 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG while leading Milwaukee to the best record in the NBA. Coach Mike Budenholzer has also done a fantastic job this year by maximizing the talent on the roster. The Pistons won’t have much of a chance, but Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond may be able to slow Giannis down in the front court for a game or two. Bucks in 5.
#7 Orlando Magic @ #2 Toronto Raptors (-1200)
With a healthy Kawhi Leonard and no Lebron James in the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors may finally have their shot at winning the East. Meanwhile, the Magic have made the playoffs for the first time in seven years and are more than likely just happy to be there. Nikola Vucevic leads the way for Orlando and they have some nice young pieces such as Jonathan Isaac too. However, they will be overmatched by Toronto’s talent and playoff experience. Raptors sweep Magic.
#6 Brooklyn Nets @ #3 Philadelphia 76ers (-650)
Like the Magic, the Nets are also back in the playoffs for the first time in a long time. Young point guard D’Angelo Russell will look to prove the Lakers wrong after they traded him last season with a big postseason performance. Key players Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris help round out a Nets team that could be a tough out in the first round. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and company get their second shot at a postseason run after being disposed of in the second round by the Celtics last year. Embiid has had another monster season, and the additions of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have made the Sixers a dangerous team. I think this could be a close series, but Philly ultimately prevails. Sixers in 6.
#5 Indiana Pacers @ #4 Boston Celtics (-500)
The Celtics struggled during the regular season, but will have a chance to make their fans forget all about it if they can make a deep playoff run. Unlike last year, Boston will have the services of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward available for this year’s playoffs. However, they will be without Marcus Smart for the first couple of rounds. Indiana overachieved throughout the season, but the chances took a significant hit after losing star guard Victor Oladipo. The Pacers will have to rely on Myles Turner and Darren Collison to compete against Boston. I think this will be a very close and hardfought series, but the Celtics emerge in 7 games.
#8 Los Angeles Clippers @ #1 Golden State Warriors (-20000)
Golden State will begin it’s journey to a third straight championship by taking on intrastate rival Los Angeles in their first round matchup. The Warriors haven’t looked like automatic champs throughout this year, but they are a different team when the playoffs roll around. Curry and Durant have had phenomenal seasons once again, and not much can stand in their way. Lou Williams and the Clippers have overachieved this season despite the lack of talent on the roster and trading away their best player in Tobias Harris. Warriors sweep Clippers.
#7 San Antonio Spurs @ #2 Denver Nuggets (-245)
The new look Spurs enter the playoffs without Kawhi Leonard while DeMar Derozan makes his western conference playoff debut. With teammate Lamarcus Aldridge and coach Gregg Popovich, Derozan and the Spurs are still very much a threat to make a run in the West. They will have the experience advantage too over a young Nuggets team. Nikola Jokic has emerged as a star player in the league, and Jamal Murray has proven he can be a deadly scorer at times. I think this will be a close series due to the inexperience of Denver, but in the end Jokic has a monster series and the Nuggets pull off the victory. Denver in 7.
#6 Oklahoma City Thunder @ #3 Portland Trail Blazers (+113)
This series will be a matchup of star point guards with Mr. Triple Double Russell Westbrook facing off against Dame Dolla Damian Lillard. Lillard and McCollum lead one of the NBA’s best backcourts, and will have to step up after star big man Jusuf Nurkic went down with an injury and is out for the season. Westbrook averaged a triple double once again, but Paul George emerged as a true MVP candidate this year and has been outstanding for the Thunder. I think this will be one of the better first round series and go the distance. Blazers in 7.
#5 Utah Jazz @ #4 Houston Rockets (-370)
James Harden has had one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history this year, averaging over 36 points per game and over 8 points per game more than anyone else in the NBA. When Chris Paul and Eric Gordon were injured, Harden single handedly revived the Rockets from a losing record to nearly the 2 seed. The key for Houston will be if Chris Paul stays healthy. Houston likely could’ve knocked off Golden State last year with a healthy Chris Paul, and will need him to make a run this year. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have been great for the Jazz, but they drew a tough matchup in the first round this year. Harden will be too much to stop, and the Rockets will win in 6 games.
Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments down below.