By: Sam Block
It’s that time of year again! The NBA Regular Season has come to a close and now it is time for some PLAYOFFS! Electric, exuberant, exciting, perfection. Those four words will almost certainly sum up what we are all about to witness. The absolute madness that we call the NBA Postseason will most definitely make your heart stop, send tears streaming down your face, and hopefully leave you jumping for joy when all is said and done. The weak squads are gone, the contenders have emerged, and now it is time for the best of the best to spread their wings and fly. Here is my preview for each and every round one series matchup. Let’s do this!
(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards
Man, oh man! Boy, oh boy! Girl, oh girl! Okay…you get the point. Wow! I really want to go with the upset here and take the Wizards to shock the world. I’ll tell you why…The Washington Wizards have been underachieving for quite some time. Now, the expectations are actually quite low. In the past, they were a higher seed and were expected to contend for an NBA Finals berth. Sitting in the 8 spot, they now have a ton of leverage. I believe this Wizards team is extremely dangerous and with a healthy John Wall, could 100% defeat the top-seeded Raptors. Beal and Wall are arguably better than Lowry and DeRozan. The supporting cast of Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre, and Otto Porter Jr., are also very dangerous. Most importantly, Tomas Satoransky has really turned into a solid backup point guard, and will be a key weapon in this series. However, with all of this talk, I’m still going to ride with Toronto. From start to finish, Toronto has been the most consistent and the healthiest team in the Eastern Conference. Them having home court advantage here will be huge, as they are 34-7 at home this season. Jonas Valanciunas is quietly having a spectacular year, Dwayne Casey is a top Coach of the Year candidate, and the bench trio of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl have all been impressive. We The North? We The North!
Prediction: Toronto Raptors (4-3)
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks
This series is sure to be a doozy. Why? Because the Celtics are absolutely ravaged by significant injuries. Not just injuries…SIGNIFICANT injuries. They are without their best player, Kyrie Irving, arguably their second best player, Gordon Hayward, their best defender, Marcus Smart, and a very solid backup big, Daniel Theis. Despite all of this, I’m going to roll with the Celtics. The TD Garden is arguably the toughest arena for an away team to go into in November. In May and June? That statement quadruples. Also the Milwaukee Bucks have a ton of talent, but have struggled to find a head coach all season long. The Celtics? They have Brad Stevens…A.K.A. The next President. All joking aside, the Bucks are a tough squad. With Brogdon back, Parker playing well, Khris Middleton excelling, Bledsoe doing his thing, and Giannis well, being Giannis, Milwaukee could definitely pull the upset. I believe Terry Rozier will have a huge series, the young stud duo of Tatum and Brown will have a coming out party, Marcus Morris will show up in the clutch, and big Al Horford will prove his worth. Give me the Celtics in a dog fight.
Prediction: Boston Celtics (4-2)
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat
The hottest team in the entire association is set to begin its quest to the promise land. The team I am referring to here is the “Trust the Process” Sixers. Good for them, I mean really. After all of the heartache, the city of Philadelphia is truly rolling in all its glory right now. The 76ers are literally on fire, and I wonder if they have peaked too early. Markelle Fultz just recorded a triple-double and is looking really solid, Dario Saric is playing great basketball, Robert Covington does everything really well, and Ersan Ilyasova has stepped up big time. The two biggest x-factors to me in this upcoming postseason will be J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli. Both are shooting absolutely off-the-charts right now and seemingly have not missed a three-point-shot since January. With such a young team, those two vets will have to step up in the playoffs if Philly wants to continue this magical ride. Of course, Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Ben Simmons, and All-Star, Joel Embiid, will have to perform as well. This is the playoffs, a whole new beast, let’s see if Cheesesteak Land can keep it rolling. Their opponent? A sleeper Miami Heat team that is hungry to end Philadelphia’s 16-game win streak. Honestly, I wouldn’t count the Heat out. Dwayne Wade will certainly be ready, Hassan Whiteside is very dangerous, Goran Dragic is a star, and the trio of Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, and James Johnson is very underrated. I’ll take the Sixers, but this series is going to be a lot closer than people think.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers (4-3)
(4)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers
The drama of the Cavs all season long has been extremely intriguing. The storybook season for the Pacers after massive scrutiny in the offseason has been lovely. This series however, won’t be as tight as some of the others. The Cavaliers and LeBron James will come to play against an over matched Pacers team. Obviously King James will go bananas, but I really think guys like J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver will step up in the limelight. If Cleveland comes to play and does not sleepwalk like they’ve been doing all season long, the Cavs could take this series in a hurry and get some extra rest moving forward. Let’s talk a little bit about the Indiana Pacers. Indiana came into the season expected by many (not me… “Praising Pritchard” …) to be terrible. They decided to shock the nation and contend for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. Victor Oladipo turned into an All-Star, Domantas Sabonis was excellent, and a nice crop of supporting players had solid overall seasons. If Myles Turner finds a way to step up in this series, Indiana could surprise some people. However, I’m rolling with The King.
Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers (4-1)
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
The reward the Houston Rockets get for going 65-17 and having the best record in the entire league? Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. Well, that’s rough. The Wolves were legitimately a top-3 seed contender for almost the entire season until Jimmy Butler got injured. It’s crazy to think that Minnesota was seconds away from missing out on the postseason entirely. Either way, they found a way to sneak in, and unfortunately for them, they’ll be gone in a hurry. The Rockets are outstanding and have been nearly as good on the road as they’ve been at home this season. James Harden will not collapse in this year’s postseason, Chris Paul will lead his troops, and despite losing a very solid defender and depth piece in Luc Mbah a Moute, Houston will find a way to win this series. Minnesota is just not ready yet as their bench is not deep enough and Wiggins has been sub-par of late. Houston, we DON’T have a problem. The Beard will advance.
Prediction: Houston Rockets (4-1)
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
What a tasty first-round matchup we have here! If only Kawhi Leonard decided to show up, then we’d really be talking. Assuming the Spurs continue to be without their best player, Kawhi Leonard, I’ll take the Warriors without thinking too much about this one. Golden State without Steph Curry is clearly a different beast, but I’m still not going to doubt the defending champs. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson…need I say more? Steve Kerr and Co. will put an unfortunate stamp on this Spurs era, as the Aldridge led San Antonio team will just simply not have enough to hang with the vicious Warriors. Goodnight, San Antonio.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors (4-1)
(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
Hmmm…a lot to analyze here. I’m a big believer in what Portland is doing as a franchise right now. Somewhat out of nowhere, they have really become a threat in the Western Conference. Entrenched as the 3-seed for much of the second half of the season, the Damian Lillard show has been phenomenal to watch. Oregon’s team is truly that, a TEAM. C.J. McCollum is an excellent second option, Al-Farouq Aminu is an underrated role player and a really good defender, Jusuf Nurkic has really turned into a skilled big-man, and Portland is extremely well-coached by Terry Stotts. Their opponent is fierce and ready to compete. The Pelicans are led by one of the best players in the entire universe, Anthony Davis. They are deeper than people think, with veterans Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, improved E’Twuan Moore, and sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic. I like this New Orleans team more than most people do, and Alvin Gentry has done a great job leading a team who lost their second best player midseason in DeMarcus Cousins. This series should be magnificent. I’ll take a game-winner from Damian Lillard at home in Game 7.
Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers (4-3)
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Woah. That’s all I have to say about this one. My mouth is currently salivating. No joke. Well, yes joke. But still, this series is going to be ridiculously entertaining. Give me a full dose of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams vs. Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors any day of the week. Throw in a little Joey Ingles? My life is made. In reality, this series is bound to go 7 games. The Thunder may have more star-power on paper, but let me tell you…this Jazz TEAM is absolutely for real. Defensively, with the addition of Jae Crowder, the Jazz are tough to compete with. The eventual problem the Jazz may fall into? Having to guard the dynamic triple-double machine, Russell Westbrook. It’s hard to bet against the flashy Thunder, so I won’t. OKC STAND UP!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3)
I seriously cannot wait for the NBA Playoffs to begin. Luckily, they will begin on Saturday, April 14th. Make sure to tune in because you do not want to miss out on all of this can’t miss television! I promise you, every series is going to be unbelievably electrifying. I’m going to go out on a whim here and say there will be ZERO sweeps. Keep the brooms inside this year, folks. Enjoy the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs! I’ll be back for Round Two in a couple of weeks!