Finally, we’ve reached the playoffs. The culmination of months of grinding, battling for seeding, chasing triple doubles, feuding, and some of the most impressive individual performances we’ve ever seen, but no one cares about the regular season, right? Just think, it’ll only be another six months of basketball before the inevitable Cavs-Warriors re-rematch. Just kidding, the playoffs are only five months long. Seems like only yesterday I was handing out the awards for the season, but now I’ve got to bring you my take on each playoff series, just because I care (a little tidbit I forgot to add when telling you why Russell Westbrook should not be MVP: according to OddsShark, the Thunder’s projected over-under for wins before the season was 43.5. The Rockets were at 41.5. But keep telling me how Westbrook is playing with a bunch of bums). Let’s jump right in, starting with the series that might take a few years off my life. If you think this format looks similar to my NHL Playoff Preview, you’re right. It’s the exact same. If it ain’t broke…
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
On paper, this should be a mismatch. It’s the one seed vs. the eight seed. It’s a top 10 offense vs. a bottom 10 offense. It’s a team that can’t shoot 3’s against the second best team in the league defending the 3. It’s one of the three best coaches vs. a coach who garners no respect and has no control of the locker room. The only two things the Bulls have is the superior team defense and the best player in the series in Jimmy Butler. Every other rational advantage goes to the Celtics. But this series lives outside the rational. What happens if Playoff Rondo comes back? What if when he first steps onto that parquet floor in game 1 he gets a little of that juice back and starts dropping triple doubles left and right? What if he steals game 1 singlehandedly? What if he unnerves Isaiah just enough that Jimmy Butler is able to put him in his back pocket in crunch time? What if Dwyane Wade, arguably the worst 3 point shooter ever, randomly catches fire from 3, like he seemingly does every playoffs/every time he plays the Celtics? And, of course, there’s the inexplicable fact that the Bulls have won 20 straight games played on TNT. Three of the first four games are on TNT. I really don’t know how to feel about this Celtics postseason. I won’t care if they lose to the Cavs, but I’d be a little pissed if they lost to anyone else, especially the Raptors. They just have to get out of the first round. That’s the only thing I ask. Just please beat the Bulls. If you can.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers
I’m not sure we’ll even get the full Cavs playoff experience here, just because they won’t need it. The stats don’t really matter in this series. The Cavs have LeBron and the Pacers don’t. That’s all that matters in the first round. I’ll be interested to see how Paul George plays, though. He’ll either go balls to the wall and try and put the team on his back, leading to everyone saying “look at this guy he’s doing it all! Someone get him out of Indiana!” Or, he’s going to tank it so everyone goes “someone get this guy out of Indiana, he can’t compete with this roster!” Either way, I think he’s gone during the offseason.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Despite the fact that it involves the Raptors, I’m actually excited to watch this series, mostly because I think these might be the two teams in the East that, in a perfect world where the NBA resembles March Madness, might have a chance of beating Cleveland. Neither will, but both might win a game or two and get my hopes up. Anyway, this is actually a pretty even matchup. Both teams are in the bottom ten in offensive pace and 3 pointers attempted per game, so those of you who pull up old clips of 90s basketball and hard fouls during your alone time will be in for a treat. The Raptors, despite their plodding pace and mid-range heavy approach, actually had the second best offense in the East by offensive efficiency. And it’s an imperfect statistic, but the Bucks were fourth in the league in field goal percentage. So both teams have efficient offenses, but where the Raptors were a top 10 team in defensive efficiency, the Bucks tied for 17th. The Raptors have the more complete team, but a lot of things favor the Bucks. They have by far the best player in the series Giannis Antetokounmpo, at worst the fourth best player in the series Khris Middleton, and, debatably, the fifth best player in the series Malcolm Brogdon. Greg Monroe could eat the Raptors second unit alive down low. The Raptors beat the Bucks 2 of the 3 times they met in the regular season, but Jabari Parker was still playing and Khris Middleton was still out for both Raptors wins. The Bucks win in March is the only game you can realistically draw anything from. Plus, Toronto’s best players struggle (to put it kindly) against size. The Bucks built their team based solely on size and length. These teams are almost perfect reflections of each other, only the Bucks are a funhouse mirror.
Prediction: Bucks in 7
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
Please, someone save from having to watch this series. This series is going to stiiiiiiiiiiink. In an unforeseen development, the Hawks will extend their streak of playoff series played primarily on NBATV to 1,000,000 years in a row. I really hate Dwight Howard. Like, really really really hate. I can’t stand him. I hate his fake personality, I hate the way he completely destroyed the Magic, I hate his passive-agressive bullshit, I hate that, despite the fact that he is literally carved from granite and looks like he can rip a car in half with his bare hands, I feel like I could bully him, and I hate that he thinks he’s this refined post scorer who you have to keep feeding so he can pick defenses apart, when in reality his limited skills have only gone down and his refusal to embrace his role as a better DeAndre Jordan cost him at least four productive seasons. There’s a reason his teams always suck, and it’s him. I want him out of the league. I want him to have a career ending injury. I wouldn’t really mind if he died. I will always pick against Dwight. Especially when his team ranks 27th in offensive efficiency. 27th! Out of 30! All of Paul Millsap’s excellent defense is flushed down the drain when you build your offense around Denis Schroeder and Dwight Howard. John Wall might average 5 steals a game this series.
Prediction: Wizards in 5
Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trailblazers
This series kind of bums me out because I like the Blazers and wish they weren’t just first round fodder for the Warriors. I feel so bad for Damian Lillard. He was just born at the wrong time. After getting snubbed yet again for the All Star Team, he averaged 29.7 points with .467/.413/.884 shooting splits. I mean, in a normal season, averaging 27, 6, and 5 with good percentages will get you some MVP talk. Now? He’s not even going to make an All-NBA team. Just a brutal time to be a point guard if you want any recognition.
Prediction: Warriors in 4
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
It feels like these teams meet every year, and if this is anything like last year, this is going to be a mercifully short series. Despite Memphis finishing in the top half of the league in 3 pointers attempted per game, we pretty much know what we’re getting out of both these teams. It’s going to be slow, it’s going to be physical, the defense is going to be airtight, and the Spurs are going to sweep because they’re just flat out better. They may run into some trouble next round, but they can sleepwalk through this one. Not that Pop will let them.
Prediction: Spurs in 4
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Needless to say, this is a huge series for me, because I could very well end up with a giant egg on my face. Harden and Westbrook facing off for seven games on the hardwood, not just the internet streets. Now, it’d be easy to say this is going to boil down to an extended game of one-on-one, and it very well might, I think it’s going to be the other guys who make the biggest difference. The teams’ strengths and weaknesses match-up pretty well, with the Rocket’s second ranked offense against the Thunder’s top ten defense, and the Thunder’s 17th ranked offense against the Rockets’ 17th ranked defense. I would imagine the Thunder would control the glass considering they led the NBA in total rebounding, offensive rebounding, rebounding rate, and rebounding differential. Both have elite perimeter defenders (Patrick Beverly and Andre Roberson) who will undoubtedly spend the majority of the time guarding the other team’s MVP candidate. Beverly is as close as you can possibly get to being a Westbrook stopper, especially if he dives at his knees all game again, and Roberson’s length and positioning can disrupt even the best offensive players. It’s probably going to come down to the three point line. The Thunder defend the 3 point line decently, finishing in the top half of the league in opponents’ percentage, and the Rockets were only about league average shooting it. But they just shoot so many. They’re relentless. It’s their entire gameplan. On the other side, the Rockets were top five defending the 3. The Thunder? Dead last in shooting. No team in the league shot the 3 worse. Casting up all those bricks against a team that set the record (again) for most 3s made in a season is a death sentence in 2017.
Prediction: Rockets in 7
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz
I’m conflicted about this series. On one hand, I hate watching the Clippers and like watching the Jazz, so naturally I would like the Jazz to win. On the other hand, if the Jazz do too well in the playoffs, Gordon Hayward might be more inclined to stick around and not come to Boston. This is a bit of clash of opposites with the Clippers taking a top four offense against the Jazz’s third ranked defense, but both rank in the bottom half of the league in pace, so it’s not exactly going to be like the ’07 Warriors-Mavs first round. Jazz are pretty decent on offense, and the numbers say the Clippers are pretty decent on defense. And they have three good defensive players with CP3, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and DeAndre Jordan, but they’re the Clippers. It doesn’t matter who they face, they’ll break down at some point. The Jazz’s defense is almost perfectly built to stop the Clippers offense: length on the perimeter, strength in the post, and Rudy Gobert in the middle. Maybe I’m just sick of the Clippers and the whole “is this their year?” act, but I can’t see them winning. And if they beat the Jazz, they’re just going to get absolutely massacred by Golden State yet again. Do the players actually want that? Does Chris Paul really want to get put in a blender by Steph Curry for the millionth time? Actually, he probably does because it gives him four more games to yell at his teammates. The Jazz would at least be able to put up a fight against the Warriors. Maybe the Celtics don’t need Hayward. After all, Ainge would just trade him to get Rondo back, anyway.
Prediction: Jazz in 6
So, just how correct are these picks? I’m guessing very. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no upsets in the NBA, because I picked two lower seeded teams to win. That’s more than what usually happens. Honestly, there’s not a ton on the line in the first round this year, aside from complete humiliation if a top seed loses. Only the Celtics really need to win. Everything else is all individual. Who will win the battle of former teammates turned MVP combatants? How much will Paul George try? How will Gordon Hayward perform as lead dog on a playoff team? Who will CP3 bitch at first? Will Isaiah Thomas or Kyle Lowry have a worse playoff run? Will anyone, on either team, take a swing at Dwight Howard? So many questions, but will there be enough answers? Only time will tell.