Its Playoff time! After 82 games of regular season basketball, the 2018 playoffs will tip-off Saturday at 3:00 P.M EST with the Spurs facing the Warriors in a rematch of last years Western Conference Finals. The Washington Wizards and Raptors will follow at 5:30 EST in a 1/8 matchup that looks more like a 3/6 or 4/5 matchup on paper. At 8:00 EST, the Heat and 76ers begin the only playoff series in which neither team made the playoffs last season. To end the Saturday slate New Orleans will try to get their first ever playoff win with the name ‘Pelicans’ against the Blazers.
Sunday’s match-ups start with the Irving-less Celtics hosting the Bucks at 1:00 EST. At 3:30 EST the Indiana Pacers will head to Cleveland in an attempt to stop King James from making his 8th straight finals. At 6:30 EST the Jazz and Thunder will showdown in an intriguing 4/5 matchup. Lastly, the best record Rockets will host the T’wolves.
There are a lot of great first round match-ups this year. Here are my picks for which eight teams will move onto the Conference Semi-Finals:
No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
A lot of people are going to go with the upset pick for this series. The Raptors have been mediocre coming in and the Wizards have just gotten John Wall back in a year where they’ve underperformed the entire way. Still, I can’t go with the upset here. There’s a reason why the Wizards have underperformed all year, it’s because they rarely go a game where they give 100% effort for 48 minutes. Lowry won’t need to hear about how unclutch he is (at least not this round) as DeMar Derozan will bail him out with a big moment to turn the series in their favor.
Prediction: Raptors win in 6 games
No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
After a great season the Celtics now have to go through the postseason without their star player, Kyrie Irving. The Bucks knew this and appeared to tank their final game to get into this matchup. It still won’t do them any good. The Bucks don’t have a ton of playoff experience, and the Celtics have more consistent guard play in a guards league. The biggest mismatch of the series is actually the coaching matchup. Brad Stevens is my pick for coach of the year, and he’s going against Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty. Stevens and the Celtics pulled out at least a half dozen wins in games they had no business being in. That kind of ability along with home-court advantage will give the Celtics an easier series than most would expect.
Prediction: Celtics win in 5 games
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers v. Miami Heat
The Sixers come in 16-0 in their 16 games. The Heat are 9-7 over their last 16. It would appear that this is a one-sided series, and it is in terms of talent, but the Heat are used to playing over their heads. Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade will put a scare in the “Trust the Process” crowd and steal a game in Philadelphia to end their winning streak. The series should be long enough, and close enough, to get Joel Embiid back on the court to shut the door on the pesky Heat.
Prediction: Sixers win in 7 games
No 4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers may have won the season series 3-1, but they’re facing LeBron James in a situation where he’s the most dominant- the first round. James is a career 10-0 in the first round without ever having even played a game 7. Yes, the Cavs are a lower seed than usual, but you have to understand how little the regular season means to him. LeBron could cruise in first gear and he’d still make the playoffs. He’ll kick it up a notch and take care of the Pacers who have greatly overachieved to this point.
Prediction: Cavaliers win in 5 games
No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves needed to win a playoff game in the 82nd game of the regular season to be here. With that they snapped the longest streak of years not making the postseason in the NBA, having not made it since the 2003-04 season. This year will start a streak of playoff appearances for the Wolves, but for now they’ll still have to look back to 2004 to remember their last playoff win. James Harden and Chris Paul both have something to prove. They’ll take out their past playoff demons on the Timberwolves and win four straight for the sweep.
Prediction: Rockets win in 4 games
No 2. Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
The Warriors hobble into the first round with everyone, and I mean virtually everyone, on their roster being hurt at some point over the last month. There is still not a person out there that thinks the Spurs have a chance at winning this series. Even if Kevin Durant went down and/or the Warriors were to feel in any actual danger of losing, I’m sure Steph Curry could find his way back on the court to save the day. That won’t be necessary, though.
Prediction: Warriors win in 5 games
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis don’t get much national exposure in their small markets, but the world will get to see two of the most talented players in the league square off in a 3/6 matchup. Davis will drop otherworldly numbers and keep his team in the series, but how can you pick against Damian Lillard when it’s winning time? When the lights are at their brightest Dame steps up, and most of these games should be close.
Prediction : Blazers win in 6 games
No 4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
Mid-way through the season, the Jazz were 19-28 and looking like a lottery team on the verge of selling assets and tanking. From that point on they would bully the league with their defense finishing the season 29-6 and sliding into the fifth seed to play Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. The Thunder may have more starpower, but over the 82 games, it never appeared that they quite worked out how to distribute the wealth properly or consistently. Westbrook will burn himself out trying to do everything, while the Jazz know they won’t have to lean on any one player too much.
Prediction: Jazz win in 6 games
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