The time has finally arrived. After almost 10 months since the regular season began we have finally reached playoff basketball. These playoffs have no shortage of intriguing storylines: Playoff Lebron is back, CP3 vs the Rockets, TJ Warren vs Jimmy Butler, Luka’s first taste of the playoffs and can Giannis finally make the NBA finals. Not to mention this will be the first year with no home court advantage so the best teams will win. So without further ado lets get right into the first round predictions
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Orlando Magic
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Bucks as last year they also ended with the best record in basketball. This year the 8th seed is different as the Orlando Magic are there compared to the 7th seed last year. Between these two teams not much has changed. The Bucks got a little more depth with Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez while the Magic added Markelle Fultz. The Bucks are better in every aspect this series shouldn’t be close. Giannis is having one of the greatest season is NBA history as he is the odds on favorite for MVP and DPOY. Another solid year of coaching from Steve Clifford they just don’t have enough talent to match up with Bucks team.
Prediction: Bucks in 4
(2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Brooklyn Nets
If this series would’ve started in the beginning of the 8 bubble games I would bet the housed on a Raptors sweep. No KD, Kyrie, Spencer Dinwiddie, Deandre Jordan, and having a new coach in Jacque Vaughn a lot of people including myself thought the Nets would slip to the 8th and play the Bucks in the 1st round. A 5-3 record later and beating the Bucks and the Clippers even after being double digit underdogs in both games (+18.5 vs MIL) the Nets have been playing some really inspiring basketball. Leading the charge is Caris Levert who recently dropped 37pts vs the Trail Blazers. How good the Nets have looked offensively, the Raptors are even better defensively. The defending NBA champs going 7-1 in the bubble in my opinion no team is deeper and plays better team basketball then Toronto. They have 5 players who average more then 15ppg, 2nd best in the league in steals per game (8.8) and top 5 in 3pt% (37.4) and number 1 in opponents points per game (106.5). Nick Nurse has done an exceptional job developing young talent and really has become the best coach in the NBA to me. Raptors will just defensively suffocate this Nets team.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
(3) Boston Celtics vs (6) Philadelphia 76ers
A lot has changed since the last time these two teams met in the playoffs back in 2018. Only Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid remain from that 2018 squad and only Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart remain from that Celtics team (Gordon Hayward was on the team but didn’t play in the series. Lets also not forget that Al Horford was on the Celtics back then and he is now with the 76ers. On paper the Celtics have a top to bottom better team and coach, but this actually their worse matchup in my opinion, with the regular season series being 3-1 in favor of the Sixers. While the Celtics like to go 5 wide and let there elite offensive player like Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum go iso and drive and kick for open 3’s. The Sixers on the other hand have very few 3pt shooters and wanna attack the paint with Joel Embiid and Al Horford. With no Ben Simmons for the series it is gonna be really hard for the Sixers to find offense when Embiid has to go to the bench. Tobias Harris is the key for the Sixers, if he can consistently knock down catch and shoot 3’s and give Embiid more space as he will be doubled every time he touched the ball then the Sixers can make this a series. Daniel Theis just doesn’t have enough size to stick with Embiid so he should dominate. This should one of the best series to watch in the first round.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
(4) Miami Heat vs (5) Indiana Pacers
This series to me has no appeal to it. That was until NBA twitter did its magic and hyped up the TJ Warren vs Jimmy Butler showdown to the max! Now we got an interesting storyline to get me excited to watch this series. Both these team are tough defensive minded teams both top 10 in the league in Opponents points per game (IND 3rd, MIA 10th) you can expect this series to get a bit chippy. Both teams have good coaches in Erik Spoelstra and Nate Mcmillan. The difference in the series is going to be the 3pt shooting. While the Heat 2nd in the league in 3pt% at 37.9% the Pacers are 14th at 36.3%. On the defensive side of the ball the Pacers are 3rd in the league in opponent 3pt% at 34.1% while the Heat are 6th at 34.7%. I know TJ Warren has basically been Michael Jordan since the Pacers have entering the bubble averaging 31ppg. The Heat are just a better version of the Pacers and without Sabonis it is going to hard to compete with the size of Heat.
Prediction: Heat in 5
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Portland Trail Blazers
Lebron James is back in the playoffs and it looks like he will be facing his toughest opponent ever in the 1st round. Damien Lillard has been in supernova mode ever since he stepped foot in Disney. Lillard averaged 37.3 points, 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from 3-point distance in eight games. Not to mention Lillard was named unanimous Bubble MVP. If Nurkic was healthy the entire year this team would not have had a below .500 record. Nevertheless their here now and facing the Lakers. Lebron most likely will finish the season either 1 or 2 in the MVP discussion while Anthony Davis will finish in the top 3 for DPOY. Offensively the Lakers struggled in the beginning of the bubble and while you could say that Blazers are a better offensive team then the Lakers. On the other side of the ball the Blazers ranked 27th in overall defense while the Lakers were 4th in the NBA. Listen, this run by the Lillard is historic but Lebron has never lost a 1st round series in 14 years in the postseason, thats not going to start now. Blazers are going to need almost 40 from Lillard every game to even be competitive in my mind.
Prediction: Lakers in 5
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
If you thought the Lakers had a difficult 1st round matchup, it does not get any easier for the Clippers. Facing Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. This is the first taste of the playoffs for the promising duo of Luka and Porzingis. These two teams were 3 and 4 in Points per game with the Mavericks slightly ahead of the Clippers at 117 ppg compared to 116.3. While the Clippers clearly have better defenders the numbers don’t prove there a much better defensive team then Rick Carlise’s team. Clippers are ranked 13th in defense while the Mavericks are 16th. Im not here to convince anyone that a team as deep as the Clippers is going to get bounced in the first round. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be shocked if this almost goes the distance. Experience is on the Clippers side and that will be the determining factor, but we all know this won’t be the last time we see Doncic in the playoffs.
Prediction: Clippers in 6
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Utah Jazz
Pre-Bubble I would have told you this would have been a much closer series. With no Bogdonavic and now Mike Conley has just left the bubble as he is seeing his wife who just gave birth to his son today Donovan Mitchell is going to have to play out of his mind to keep this series interesting. While the Jazz have one legit scoring threat the Nuggets too many to count. With Will Barton out Michael Porter Jr is proving why he was the top recruit in the country a couple years ago. Averaging 26.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 blocks per game in the bubble. This Nuggets team is so deep as they can go as deep as 10 and thats with missing Gary Harris and Will Barton. Gobert who once again is having a DPOY type season will do his best on Jokic but top to bottom Denver is simply just a better team.
Prediction: Nuggets in 5
(4) OKC Thunder vs (5) Houston Rockets
This to me is the most intriguing first round matchup. Going back to last season Chris Paul was on this Rockets team and was traded to OKC for Russell Westbrook and a couple first round picks. No one thought OKC would be this good, but with the 3 headed guard monster on Paul, SGA and Schroeder the Thunder ended up with a higher seed then the Rockets. The Thunder love to attack the paint with 3 guards I just mentioned and with a huge body in Steven Adams. Rockets on the other hand are notorious for going small after they traded Clint Capela to the Hawks and now PJ Tucker is there center. The Rockets go as Harden and Westbrook take them as they were the highest scoring duo in the league at 61ppg. The live and die by the 3 as they once again attempted and made the most in the league. With no Westbrook for the first couple games of the series and I fully the Thunder to take an early lead in this series and when Westbrook returns I expect this series to go the distance.
Prediction: Rockets in 7