It seems like just yesterday that the 2016-2017 NBA season was beginning with everyone bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to take on anything. After a great season filled with ups and downs, the playoffs are upon us, and things are just about to get interesting. This week, Warren and Ashley give their thoughts on each match-up in this first round, and make some predictions of the outcome.
(1) Boston Celtics vs (8) Chicago Bulls
Ashley: The Celtics just recently captured the first seed in the East, and they are red hot entering the first-round of the playoffs. Unlike my previous prediction, the Miami Heat missed the playoffs by one game allowing the Chicago Bulls to take their place. The Bulls have struggled this season even with the contribution of Dwyane Wade, and some have speculated that Wade’s recent return from an elbow injury has hurt the Bulls.
Prediction- Celtics in 4
Warren: Boston is probably the most vulnerable top seed in recent NBA history and the Bulls have proven veterans who have been through many playoff battles. Having won a playoff series before is not something many in this Boston group can boast. Plus Rajon Rondo‘s previous ties to the Celtics adds a bit of spice to the match-up. Look for Al Horford to show up big in this series and save the Celtics from embarrassment.
Prediction- Celtics in 6
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (7) Indiana Pacers
Ashley: Sometimes the pressure of holding and maintaining first place is a bad thing, but it looks like the Cavaliers won’t have to worry about that as they enter the post-season. I am concerned about the state of the Cavs at the moment because it seems as though there’s some pretty serious internal discord. James and his crew have dropped games they easily should’ve won, and while that happens sometimes, they’ve done this too often for it to be a fluke. Meanwhile, Indiana is confident as the 7th seed. Indiana is one of those teams that has all the talent to be something incredible, but they just don’t have any spark. However, with the way Cleveland has been playing this could be an interesting series.
Prediction- Cavs in 7, but it will be very close.
Warren: The Cavs decided to sleep walk through the regular season after the All-Star break and have looked anything but invincible. But are you really willing to bet against LeBron James in the playoffs when the lights shine brightest? Not I. Paul George and company will provide a stern test and it will be great to see he and James takeover for their respective teams throughout the series. It will be entertaining with Lance Stephenson also in the mix but it will still be quick.
Prediction- Cavs in 5
(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Ashley: This could be a really fun series. The Bucks have surprised me this year with the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo as their franchise star while the Raptors have left me confused. Toronto is another team that has all the key pieces in place, but their inconsistency makes me question their ability to be consistent and close out games. Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, has been a very consistent contributor for the Bucks this year, and his performances are nothing short of amazing. Given that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan aren’t really known for their defensive prowess the Raptors are going to have a tough time containing the Greek Freak.
Prediction- Raptors in 6.
Warren: The Raptors are playing their best basketball of the season and head into the playoffs healthy and hot as winners of 8 of their final 10 games. Lowry’s return has gone smoothly and DeRozan couldn’t be happier to have his running mate back. P.J. Tucker is going to have a huge role in this series trying to defend Antetokounmpo and at times Khris Middelton. I’m concerned about the Bucks lack of presence in the middle which could lead to Jonas Valanciunas having a field day on the boards. Malcolm Brogdon‘s play on both ends could make the series a little more dramatic but I expect the Raptors to advance.
Prediction- Raptors in 6
(4)Washington Wizards vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
Ashley: Washington has had some great success lately, and they’re another team that’s on fire heading into the post-season. The Hawks have had a tragic fall from grace this year after getting off to a great start early on, and they traded away one of their biggest contributors to the defending Champs less than two months ago resulting in a decline in their winning percentage directly thereafter. Atlanta averages only 98 points per game against Washington this year, but the games have been close as Washington averages only 102.5 points against Atlanta.
Prediction- Wizards in 7
Warren: The Wizards looked poised to challenge for the East’s top seed but their defense abandoned them down the stretch. Thus they’ve settled in as the fourth seed and draw a pesky Hawks team that is extremely well-coached. The starters of both teams are poised for heavy minutes. Will Denis Schroeder be able to keep pace with John Wall? Will Marcin Gortat be able to control Dwight Howard? Those two questions will make the headlines but I will be watching the battle of the bench to see who steps up to give the starters some relief.
Prediction- Wizards in 7
(1) Golden State Warriors vs, (8) Portland Trail Blazers
Ashley: Portland acquired center Jusuf Nurkic at the trade deadline and his contribution to their team has been invaluable in getting their team to the post-season. Nurkic is waiting for the green light to come off the injured list and Portland will need him ready if they want a chance against the Warriors. Kevin Durant has also recently returned from the injured list, and three games in, he hasn’t missed a beat. Durant and the Warriors have never experienced a playoff series on the same team so this first-round will be a good test to see how they’ll perform together.
Prediction- Warriors in 5, maybe 6, IF Nurkic is back. If not, the Warriors will sweep
Warren: The Blazers will provide a solid test for the Warriors. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are prideful dudes who will challenge Golden State’s backcourt to defend at an elite level. Unfortunately for Portland, there might not be enough fire power in the world to out gun (and defend) the Warriors. Without Nurkic the Blazers don’t have enough to attack the Warriors sole problem in defending the middle.
Prediction- Warriors in 5
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Ashley: Here’s the deal with San Antonio: Pop knows how to win games–especially in the playoffs. The Spurs took a hit this year after losing veteran and legend Tim Duncan to retirement, but in San Antonio fashion, they have someone else who’s been training in the wings for years so they really haven’t experienced a decline in performance. However, the Grizzlies are not to be overlooked here. They match-up very well against the Spurs holding them to an average of 90 points per game while only being able to score an average of 93 points per game in their season series. But, the regular season can’t really be a good predictor of playoff performance for San Antonio. They have an ability to get the job done in the post-season with Coach Popovich on their side so this will be another really fun series to watch.
Prediction- Spurs in 6
Warren: The Grizzlies aren’t in a position to upset the Spurs but of the top three seeds they might matchup with them the best. San Antonio has a tendency to over rely on Kawhi Leonard especially when LaMarcus Aldridge behaves like a hermit on offense. The pick and pop combination of Leonard and Aldridge could drive the Grizzlies insane should Coach Pop chooses to invoke that strategy. Mike Conley is poised to be the best point guard in this match-up for the the first time in the history of these two teams meeting in the playoffs. That is huge and should he post the numbers he did in March with 23.7 points 6.5 rebounds and 37% from three–the Grizzlies could be in business.
Prediction- Spurs in 6
(3) Houston Rockets vs (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Ashley: The battle of the MVP candidates! I can’t wait for this series to begin. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have been the topic of every single MVP conversation this year and both have had outstanding performances. I say this a lot, but I’m no particular fan of either–especially Harden. I don’t like his game because I feel that he is less of an athlete, and more of a chess player tricking his opponents into nit-picky penalties. .But nonetheless, he’s made an incredible contribution to his team this season. Westbrook, on the other hand, is now an NBA legend. I had the pleasure of being at the Pepsi Center when he broke Oscar Robertson‘s record for most triple-doubles with 42. It was amazing to see that level of excellence in person. Westbrook plays with such fire, and I think his recent success will give him unstoppable momentum in the post-season.
Prediction- Thunder in 7
Warren: While the Thunder have played the Rockets well in the regular season I’m not sure they’ll have much success in the playoffs. Westbrook gives OKC a chance in every game and that truly is the only reason this series may go into deep water. The Thunder need to find a way to slow the pace at times and muck the games up a bit, but that doesn’t play to Westbrook’s strength. Houston is on a mission to prove their regular season success isn’t a fluke. There will be threes, there will be MVP chants but there also can only be one winner.
Prediction- Rockets in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Utah Jazz
Ashley: The Clippers and the Jazz are neck and neck with the exact same record heading into round 1 of the playoffs. Utah has been quietly keeping on with their young roster & deep bench while making their way up the ranks of the Western Conference Standings. The Clippers are finally healthy after their top two players battled with injury, but those injuries could actually mean good things for them in the playoffs. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out, the bench had to step up and work to maintain their position in the West. That experience will prove very valuable from here on out as the Clippers’ bench will need to be ready to keep up with Utah’s depth that has proven hard to wear down.
Prediction- Clippers in 7
Warren: L.A. might be making their last run while the Jazz are hoping this is the first of many. Playoff experience for the Clippers and homecourt advantage could make all the difference. Utah isn’t just happy to be here and will look to suffocate the Clippers with defense. The problem there is L.A. has played some stellar defense this year when everybody has been healthy and have an elite offense with Chris Paul running the show. The Utah veterans George Hill and Joe Johnson will have a massive role to play especially if the games remain close.
Prediction- Clippers in 7