The NBA playoffs are finally here. What an ending to the regular season. Kobe’s last game where he dropped 60 points on a Jazz team was eliminated from the playoffs minutes before tip-off. The Warriors completed their historic season, earning themselves the record for most wins in a regular season with 73. The Celtics made a great comeback, being down 26 and held the Heat to 5 points in the third quarter, a season low for the NBA but it didn’t matter as the Hawks lost. The playoff seeds are finalized and now it’s time to take a look at the match ups and provide my predictions.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) Houston Rockets
Regular Season Series: Warriors 3-0
Let’s start this playoff preview with the greatest regular season team in NBA history. This sounds like a knock on them but let’s be real, if the Warriors don’t win their second title in two years it will be a failure. They broke the previous record of 72 wins in a season and play a dismal Rockets team who limped into the playoffs (thanks Sacramento for folding a week ago!) with an interim head coach and an unmotivated roster. The Rockets lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last year in 5 games, a season in which they won 56 games. This year they played .500 basketball and I expect them to get swept. I don’t need to get too analytical here but Warriors in Four.
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (8) Detroit Pistons
Regular Season Series: Pistons 3-1
The follwing series is the first tough one on our list. The Pistons won the regular season battle but you have to throw out the last game of the season in which Lebron sat. The Pistons also provided the Cavs their first game back in January where Love, Lebron and Kyrie all scored 20 or more points. On the flip side, the Pistons were able to beat the Cavs with all three players healthy. This will come to a young, scrappy team and a veteran coach (Stan Van) against a veteran team and one of the best players of our generation. This will not be a sweep for the Cavaliers but they should be able to move on relatively easy. I am putting my money on the Cavaliers in Five.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Regular Season Series: Spurs 4-0
Sigh to this series. I feel bad for Memphis. They were a good team for a few years there but this season they’ve been riddled with injuries and plagued by a gross looking roster as they limped into the post season. When Jordan Farmer and Vince Carter are your starting guards in 2016, you are in trouble. Get your brooms out San Antonio and enjoy some extra revenue Memphis. Spurs in Four.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Indiana Pacers
Regular Season Series: Raptors 3-1
This series will be a huge sign for the Raptors. They won 56 games, most in franchise history but have the gloomy cloud of playoff failures lurking in the background. The Raptors badly need to win this series and advance far into the playoffs for this season, and team to be considered a successful season. The problem is they are matching up against the Pacers who finished 14-8 and have their superstar Paul George back to being himself. This will be George’s first playoffs since the seven game series against the Heat a few seasons ago. The Pacers only lost one game in April and ironically it was to the Raptors. Neither team really develops themselves in the paint. I believe that is where this series will be won. Will Casey work the ball inside to their big men to keep the Pacers honest and help create space or will he forget he even has forwards on his team? How will Frank Vogel defend DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry? This will be a more exciting match up than I feel the critics will give it. Toronto wants it more. They should want it more. And they have the 6 god. Raptors in Six, because 6 god.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (6) Dallas Mavericks
Regular Season Series: Thunder 4-0
The next statement I make is probably not fair to the other 15 teams in the post season (well 14 if you exclude Memphis). The Oklahoma City Thunder are the hungriest team in the postseason. Dallas has battled injuries and overcame a tough schedule to play their way into the sixth seed, however, I would be shocked if they took this series to six or seven games. Oklahoma City, or rather Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, are going to come out in full force. They finally have a solid bench and this might be their most talented squad, yes even when they had Harden as a 6th man. Westbrook and Durant are much better now than they were in the 2012 NBA Finals. Dallas has exhausted as much as they can with the injuries and make shift line ups thanks to the excellent coaching of Rick Carlisle. Thunder in Five.
(3) Miami Heat vs (6) Charlotte Hornets
Regular Season Series: Tied 2-2
Without a doubt the hardest series to predict belongs to the Miami Heat and Hornets. If Bosh comes back and returns to his typical all-star level, this will be a no brainer, however, as Brian Geltzeiler pointed out in his column, the Hornets are rocking a very good coach who has developed a defensive and a winning culture. This series will be tight and could go the distance (let’s hope so for the fans sake!). The last two match ups (February 5th and March 17th) the games were decided by 3 points with each team winning one. The series will be decided by who can have a better series, Kemba Walker or Dwyane Wade. You’re probably shaking your head at how simple I made this series seem but Kemba has been a lightning rod for the Hornets offense and if Wade can play up to an all-star level, the Heat should move on to the next round. Both teams have solid benches and it will come down to their stars. I usually bet against Wade and the Heat but he did play 70 games this season. Heat in Seven.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Portland Trail Blazers
Regular Season Series: Clippers 3-1
The NBA had an amazing year. So many stories and records being broken that no one (outside of Portland) will remember the season Terry Stotts, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had. Terry would have won the Coach of the Year award if the Warriors didn’t win 73 games. Damian Lillard should have been an all-star and CJ McCollum might win most improved player. Portland was predicted to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference and here we are, looking at them with the 5th seed. Unfortunately for them, this is where the fun stops, for now. The Clippers adjusted beautifully after the Blake Griffin hand (punching a friend in the face) injury and it may have provided coach Doc Rivers with the answer come playoffs. However, if the Clippers revert back to playing DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin together for long stretches, you could see an early exit (not first round exit but second round exit) for the Clippers. The Clippers have too much talent to not advance in the first round. Clippers in Five.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Boston Celtics
Regular Season Series: Hawks 3-1
This is one of the few series where you almost have to throw out the regular season match ups. One on hand you have the experience Hawks who have been battle tested versus a young team that got swept last year in the first round. The Hawks finished the season out 15-7 and the Celtics finished 12-9. Atlanta was the more impressive team down the stretch, solidifying their home court advantage in the first round. All while the Celtics were recovering from injuries to Jae Crowder. This series will come down to experience and pace. The Hawks average 84.4 field goal attempts per game while Boston averages 89.2. The Hawks will need to slow down the Celtics offense in order to win this series. Boston will want to speed it up and run the Hawks out of the gym. The Celtics finished third in the league in Pace while Atlanta has improved this season and finished eighth. This will be one of the more interesting first round series and I expect it to go the distance. If I had to put money on the series I would pick Hawks in Seven.