NBA playoffs kick off first round

The annual Warriors crusade through the league

Another NBA regular season is finished, and another Golden State Warriors’ championship is likely to follow. This might be the last year that we see Kevin Durant playing for the Warriors, so the playoffs could be interesting next year. But for this year, I’m expecting the same old Warriors story. At least the East is getting better, right?

Any NBA fan could give you their rendition of the remaining teams after the first round of the playoffs, but most are going to be wrong. Even I will be wrong, but that’s not going to stop me from trying to guess. Without further ado, these are my predictions for the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The no-brainers

Per usual, I expect some teams to exit the playoffs without winning a single game. The first of these, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, is the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers (8) have the misfortune of playing the Warriors (1) in the first round in the West. I would be pleasantly surprised if the Clippers could push the series to five games.

The second team I expect to get swept is the Detroit Pistons (8). Blake Griffin has been having a career year, but he has been in and out of the trainer’s room toward the end of the season. Without him at 100%, I don’t think the Pistons can win a game against the leaders of the East, the Milwaukee Bucks (1).

On Saturday, the Magic (7) surprised everyone by winning on the road in Toronto (2). I’m here to reassure you that it won’t matter unless you’re an Orlando fan. This is the Magic’s first playoff appearance and playoff win since 2012. This also might be Orlando’s only playoff win this year. I expect Toronto to bounce back and win the series in five games to move on to the second round in the East.

The probable winners

This next group of matchups include series that I expect to go five or six games. In the West, the Denver Nuggets (2) are challenged by the San Antonio Spurs (7). The Nuggets, led by head coach Mike Malone, had a breakout year after missing the playoffs last year. A Spurs team led by head coach Gregg Popovich has only been swept three times in the last 20 years, and it’s never happened in the first round. I think San Antonio will win a game or two, but the Nuggets will ultimately move on.

The Portland Trail Blazers (3) have a better record than the Oklahoma City Thunder (6), but they’re expected to lose this series. During the regular season, the Blazers lost all four matchups against the Thunder. Furthermore, Portland is without starting center Jusuf Nurkic for the remainder of the season. I’ll take the Thunder in five games.

In the East, the Boston Celtics (4) face the Indiana Pacers (5). Since Indiana’s star guard Victor Oladipo went down for the year in January, they’ve won just seven of their 19 games. What might help their chances is that Celtics guard Marcus Smart is expected to be out for a few more weeks. Smart is a cornerstone of Boston’s defense. Ultimately, I still expect Boston to emerge victorious in five games.

The toss-ups

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets (6) shocked the Philadelphia 76ers (3) with a nine-point win on the road Saturday. The 76ers are still favored to win the series, but this loss is eye-opening to me. Both teams are healthy, but most of Philadelphia’s starters just didn’t show up.  

Jimmy Butler finished with 36 points, but the four remaining starters shot just 34% from the field. If they don’t bounce back, they’re going to be in trouble. I think they’ll come back, but the series is going to go six or seven games.

In the final matchup in the West, the Houston Rockets (4) are opposed by the Utah Jazz (5). The Jazz are anchored defensively by center Rudy Gobert. He’s an elite rim protector, but he doesn’t match up well against the Rockets, who are one of the league’s best 3-point shooting teams. The Jazz are a great all-around team, and I think they have a shot at beating Houston.

In years past, James Harden has struggled in the playoffs. Last year, he shot just 41% from the field and 30% from the 3-point line, compared to 45% and 37% during the regular season. I have the Rockets winning the series in six games, but they’re dependent on whether or not Harden shows up.

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