First Round NBA Playoff Predictions
(1) Toronto Raptors vs (8) Washington Wizards
These two teams split the season series 2 a-piece and I think their playoff match-up will be just as close. It's going to be a really good battle in the back-court with Lowry and DeRozan going head to head with Wall and Beal and the series hinging on which pair can score and facilitate their offence most efficiently. The Raptors have gone almost 11 deep throughout the regular season so it will be interesting to see if Casey starts to cut their rotations down or backs his depth to get it done as they have all year. Washington has had quality play from some key reserves in Satoransky, Oubre and Scott but can’t match Toronto’s depth.
Prediction: Both back-courts to struggle to consistently execute on the offensive end with any form of efficiency, Raptors to have more contributors and win the series in 6.
(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Milwaukee Bucks
Another Eastern Conference regular season series split 2-2. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the scoring in each of the four games averaging 33.5 PPG. The Celtics will be without Kyrie who succumbed to knee surgery and that leaves them without a genuine go-to, crunch time scorer. They do however have Brad Stevens. The Bucks have promised so much but just can’t seem to string together any form of consistency. I’m not sure a 7-game series suits a team with that sort of short-coming.
Prediction: In a series that could very well go to seven games, I’m going to back the team coached by Brad Stevens.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Miami Heat
All four contests throughout the regular season were won by less than 10 points with the two teams splitting the wins 2-2. Brett Brown makes his head coaching playoff debut against Erik Spoelstra who has been to the playoffs 8 out of his 10 seasons as head coach of the Heat. I’d expect Philly to back in their style of play, not changing too much from what has worked for them throughout the regular season. We could see the opposite from Spoelstra who will continually change things up to try and find a way for the Heat to scrap and fight for wins.
Prediction: Spoelstra will do enough to snag a few wins but I think Philly’s talent will be just too much for the Heat and they’ll get through the series in 6 making it a pleasant return to the playoffs.
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Indiana Pacers
Indiana owned the regular season series against the Cavs 3-1. The fourth and fifth seeds battle it out in a first round match that I personally think has the least intrigue. Many believe that 'The King’ will take his game to another level after his enormous regular season and I find those hard to argue with.
Prediction: We need to get Lance Stephenson on the old ear-blower to spice this series up because without it I’m not sure we’re going to get anything other than a Cavs sweep.
(1) Houston Rockets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Rockets finished with the best regular season record and won all four games against the Wolves with an average winning margin of just under 16, doing it 3 times by 18 points. The game does tend to slow down during the playoffs but I’m far from convinced that Minnesota can do enough to consistently slow Harden, Paul and Co. On paper they certainly have the tools. Wiggins and Butler have the size and defensive capability to slow Harden while Jeff Teague does enough to at least force Paul to work at both ends of the floor. Karl-Anthony Towns certainly has the talent to take over a series at both ends so despite the regular season record the Rockets will not take this opposition lightly.
Prediction: I expect the guard play of Harden and Paul will be too good and the Rockets will waltz through the first round with a 4-1 series win.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs (7) San Antonio Spurs
This was never meant to be a first round match up. Kawhi Leonard was never meant to miss most of the year and the Spurs were never meant to have alleged locker room issues. But here we are. The Spurs aren’t alone when it comes to having a few issues heading into the playoffs. Andre Iguodala is expected to be back on court for game 1 but Steph Curry will miss the entire first round match up. Consistency has eluded the Warriors going 10-10 over the last 20 games of the season but the Spurs will be up against with a huge Leonard-sized hole in their line-up.
Prediction: The Warriors have hardly been convincing without Curry but expect the likes of Durant, Thompson and Green to step up and deliver the Warriors through to the second round with a 4-1 series win.
(3) Portland Trailblazers vs (6) New Orleans Pelicans
A 2-2 split over the regular season proves how close this series should be. Portland have been the surprise packet all year but the Pelican’s have been able to overcome the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending achilles injury and win their way to a playoff berth. Davis and Lillard aside this series might not have the big names that others do but there are some borderline stars like McCollum and Holiday that could help this series go the distance.
Prediction: I think the Blazers have enough firepower to get it done at home in game 7 to give the City of Portland a 4-3 first round series win.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are a team that most hoped to avoid in the first round. Quin Snyder has done a tremendous job overcoming the free agent loss of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, injuries to Rudy Gobert and the mid-season exits of Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson to lead the Jazz to a conference tying fourth most wins. Despite such success, the Thunder have had their measure winning three straight through the regular season after dropping the first encounter between the two teams in the second game of the season. OKC has serious offensive firepower but the Jazz will be relying on their structured offensive system to get them enough points to secure four victories.
Prediction: The Jazz will not be able to find a consistent answer to Westbrook and George and despite Donovan Mitchell wanting so badly to out-perform rookie nemesis Ben Simmons on the biggest stage, OKC will march on with a 4-2 series win.