By: Ross Weber
The NBA playoffs are finally here! For most NBA teams, this means either hoping for the lottery ping-pong balls to bounce their way for a chance at drafting a superstar, or an early playoff exit. For some teams however, it means a chance to play until June and lift the Larry O’Brien trophy. While there seems to be a select few that could do that this season, they still all have to start in the same place: round one.
So this week, we’ll just be diving into the first round matchups in each conference.
Let’s get to it.
- Golden State Warriors vs 8. Houston Rockets
Come on, how much do I really need to discuss on this one?
The Warriors are one of the best teams in NBA history, and officially have the best regular season record in the association’s history. They are the defending champions with the best player in the league (by a wide margin) in Wardell Stephen Curry II, and they play great on both sides of the ball. While Houston was in the Western Conference Finals last year, they have been a wreck this season, finishing with their worst record since trading for James Harden, and even made a coaching change in the middle of the season. The question about this series shouldn’t be whether or not Houston can upset Golden State, but can Houston even win a game?
The answer in both cases is no. Golden State in 4.
- San Antonio Spurs vs 7. Memphis Grizzlies
Oh yeah, everyone is talking about that team in northern California, but there is a team in Texas that has put together one heck of a season too. The Spurs won a mere 67 games this regular season, which is tied for the seventh best regular season record ever, and the best record of any team in NBA history who did not finish with the best record in the league that year.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies are banged up, struggling and seem completely over-matched. I don’t think this one will last very long either. San Antonio in 4.
- Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6. Dallas Mavericks
Now, it’s time to give credit where credit is due: Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the NBA and proved that this season. In a tough Western Conference, when losing a lot of talented players like Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks were not supposed to compete for the playoffs, and yet here they are. It’s quite an accomplishment to take aging players like Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, as well as Wesley Matthews (who was coming off of a major achilles injury last season).
However, Oklahoma City is as good of a 3-seed as the NBA has ever seen, so it will be a tough task for the Mavericks to get by the other-worldly Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combination. Oklahoma City in 5.
- Los Angeles Clippers vs 5. Portland Trail Blazers
The Los Angeles Clippers had a very up and down season, but really turned it on late by winning 10 of their last 12 to secure themselves a playoff spot for the fifth straight season, the longest streak in franchise history by three years. However, Portland has had a very strong second half behind somehow not an All-Star guard Damian Lillard, going 20-11 in their final 31 games to get all the way up to the five seed.
This seems to be the most even of the series in the first round, but there was still a 9 game difference between these two teams in the standings in the regular season, and I think that provides a lot of clarity to who will win. Los Angeles Clippers in 6.
- Cleveland Cavaliers vs 8. Detroit Pistons
The Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the playoffs with super-human basketball machine LeBron James at the helm. Fun Fact: LeBron has never lost a first round playoff series in his entire NBA career, and he hasn’t lost a first round playoff game in three straight years. While the Pistons on the other hand had missed the playoffs each of the last six seasons, and frankly, are just happy to be here, and I don’t blame them for that at all.
Gentlemen’s sweep by the favorites. Cleveland in 5.
- Toronto Raptors vs 7. Indiana Pacers
If you’re looking for a feel-good story in the playoffs this year, the return of Paul George and the Indiana Pacers, 20 months after George broke his leg while playing for Team USA in August of 2014, is as good as it gets. George returned to his All-Star form as well, and this young Pacers roster featuring rookie big man Myles Turner should be a fun team to watch in the future. However, the Toronto Raptors are the #2 seed in the conference for a reason.
Being from Indiana, I would love to see my Pacers make it to the second round of the playoffs, but Toronto has really had the Pacers’ number this season, and I don’t see the Raptors exiting in the first round again. Toronto in 4.
- Miami Heat vs 6. Charlotte Hornets
This is an interesting matchup between a team that has been inconsistent but has really gotten things going in the second half of the season, and a team that has been inconsistent but has really gotten things going in the second half of the season. The former, Miami, has a lot of talent that has really started to gel, and the latter, Charlotte, has been really good at home this season and found quality performances from unlikely sources throughout this season.
It will be a long series no matter what, and one of the most competitive of the first round for sure. Must-watch TV to start the NBA playoffs. Miami in 6.
- Atlanta Hawks vs 5. Boston Celtics
If you want to talk about a roller-coaster of a season, Atlanta is the place to be. In February there were talks of trading away starting point guard Jeff Teague and starting over, and then after a 12-4 March they found themselves in the conversation for the third seed in the East. They go up against a team that has one of the best coaches and a collection of the most underrated players in the entire league. Brad Stevens has led this Boston group of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder to a 5 seed in an improved Eastern Conference, and with the style of basketball they play, they have the ability to compete with anybody in the postseason.
Finally, I get to confidently pick an upset in these playoffs. Boston in 7.