#1 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Chicago Bulls – Chicago edged out the scorching hot Miami Heat by a tie break for the last spot in the Eastern Conference. It would have been interesting to see how Spoelstra would have attacked a small Celtics team, but we have to settle for the offensively inept Bulls. Jimmy Butler can take over any game he’s in, but Chicago just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with Boston. Celtics in 5.
#4 Washington Wizards vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks – The Wizards have come back down to Earth after a 25-6 stretch from January to early March. Their defense has floundered, opening up the door for a potential upset. Atlanta has clawed their way through the season, finding production from Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway Jr. to keep them afloat in the playoff picture. Dwight Howard and company will give the Wiz a nice run, but John Wall will be the best player on the floor at all times. Wizards in 6.
#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks – There are potential fireworks in this series between two talented squads. The Bucks have turned their season around after starting the season at 22-30. Jason Kidd’s team potentially has the winners of the Most Improved Player – Giannis – and the Rookie of the Year – Malcolm Brogdon. DeRozan and Lowry have struggled in recent playoff trips, and Milwaukee’s length and athleticism could pose as a problem for the Raptors star backcourt. Toronto has the edge in experience though, which is a big factor this time of year. Raptors in 7.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #7 Indiana Pacers – Cleveland’s recent woes are well-documented, having finished the season on a 23-23 stretch run. Though unlike the rest of the Eastern Conference, Cleveland can switch to playoff mode and breeze through lesser teams. The Paul George-LeBron James match-up will be fun, again, but the Cavs are well-rested and James has yet to drop an opening round series in his career. Cavs in 5.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Portland Trailblazers – The defending Western Conference champs will look to make a statement after Damian Lillard proclaimed his Blazers would take this series in six games. Durant had the end of the regular season to get back into shape, and the rest of the Dubs are clicking on all cylinders. Warriors in 4.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Utah Jazz – Clashing styles face off in this intriguing first-round match-up as the high-powered Clippers offense will try to unravel the stingy Utah Jazz defense. The Jazz have made the leap that many thought was probable this year, winning 11 more games than last season. They’re a tough out for any team in the field, but the Clippers finally seem to be clicking at the right time. The Clips have had more than a fair share of disappointments over the years, but their experience in the playoffs will pay dividends against a young team like the Jazz. Clippers in 7.
#3 Houston Rockets vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder – The lone upset penciled in for the first round, this series is sure to have plenty of exciting moments. The top two MVP candidates square off in a battle of superstars after both teams overachieved for much of the year. Harden seemed almost a lock for the MVP award a month ago, but Westbrook’s strong play over the last few weeks of the season has seemed to sway the perception in his direction. Russ uses that momentum to shock the Rockets, winning his first playoff series without Durant. Thunder in 6.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies – No top team in the league wants to deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. They defend at a high level, pestering ball handlers and contesting each and every shot. They don’t make a whole lot of mistakes, and Mike Conley is playing the best basketball of his career. The Spurs don’t have the ability to overwhelm Memphis athletically, but their methodical offensive approach should eventually wear down the Grizzlies. Spurs in 6.
#1 Boston Celtics vs. #4 Washington Wizards – A rivalry that stemmed through the course of the year, the Celtics and Wizards are responsible for some of the best games of the regular season. Boston creates a tough match-up across the board against a majority of the league because of their versatility. They can go big or small with ease, as Brad Stevens’ team is deep and talented. But the one constant in all of those lineups is Isaiah Thomas, and if there’s any team that can exploit his defensive deficiencies, it is the Washington Wizards. The Celtics can’t put him on Wall or Beal, meaning he would be guarding a 6’9” Otto Porter who has been shooting the lights out. The Wizards shake up the East by closing out the Celtics at home. Preferably in all black. Wizards in 6.
#2 Cleveland Cavliers vs. #3 Toronto Raptors – The Raptors did everything in their power before the trade deadline to make themselves more competitive against the cream of the East. Last year, Toronto pushed Cleveland to six games before being vanquished, but they might be doomed for the same fate yet again. Adding P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka will be huge on the defensive end. If Toronto’s defenders can keep LeBron and Kyrie from getting to the basket and dishing to teammates, it makes this match-up interesting. But it still remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can step their game up in the postseason. Cavs in 6.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers – Postseason series are all about match-ups, and if the Jazz can upset the Clips in the first round, the Warriors could be in for a tougher set of games. But the Warriors know what they’re going to get from LA, and the bitterness between these two clubs means the superior Golden State team is unlikely to take any games off. The Clippers have dropped ten straight to the Warriors, and weren’t close to beating them in any of their four meetings this year. If Blake and Paul can be the two best players on the court for a few nights it could make for an interesting series, but the Dubs are on a mission this year. Warriors in 5.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder – The Spurs are set up quite nicely in their second round forecast. A calling card of Popovich coached teams is how well they defend opponents that rely heavily on a singular player. It’ll be difficult for Westbrook (or Harden for that matter) to beat the machine-like Spurs four times in a matter of two weeks while shouldering enormous offensive responsibilities. Kawhi will be hounding Russ all night long, and if he needs a break Danny Green can hold his own as well. Taj Gibson’s defensive grit is certainly a welcomed upgrade over Domantas Sabonis at the four spot, but LaMarcus Aldridge typically steps up his game during the postseason and should feast against either of them. San Antonio returns to the Western Conference finals for the first time since they won the title in 2014. Spurs in 5.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #4 Washington Wizards – Cleveland could have a serious problem on their hands if this scenario plays out. Washington is fast and athletic, adjectives you would never use to describe this current Cavaliers team. Much like the Celtics, the Cavs would have to figure out a way to hide Kyrie on defense to avoid the Wall match-up. Cleveland’s best lineups have LeBron as their top rim protector, but Washington can play extremely small and space the floor with shooters all around Wall. The outside shooters on both teams would be key in this series. If Beal, Porter, and Bogdanovic can out shoot Smith, Korver, Frye and Jefferson, the Wizards have a legitimate chance at an upset. It’ll be tightly contested, but Kevin Love should have a big series and they lack the rim protection to even come close to slowing down LeBron. Cavs in 7.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 San Antonio Spurs – After three years, we finally get the Spurs-Warriors series we’ve been craving. Although it will be Duncan-less, we will get the coveted Pop-Kerr chess match book-ended by some of the greatest stars in the league today. Unfortunately, Kawhi can’t guard everybody (or maybe he could), and the Warriors just create too many match-up problems across the board for the Spurs to keep up with for 48 minutes. Ginobili, Parker and Gasol are first-ballot Hall of Famers that more than likely will never be able to share the floor together for defensive purposes. Golden State tightened up their defense in recent months, and getting back Durant adds another rim protector. San Antonio is a great road team, giving them a chance to steal one in Oracle, but the Dubs have too many weapons for the Spurs to keep up with. Warriors in 6.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers – As many have predicted all year long, the trilogy is set to commence. Cleveland has constructed their roster solely to defeat the Warriors. They now have 10 (!) guys that can hit a three-pointer. Couple the outside shooting with the greatness of LeBron James – and Kyrie – and the Cavs are a threat to topple this juggernaut Warriors squad. Cleveland’s weaknesses however will be on full display against Golden State. Kyrie, Love and LeBron will likely be playing 40-plus minutes every night, with a slew of wings, Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye making up the rest of the minutes in the lineup. That means the Cavs could be coming out with lineups consistimg of Kyrie, J.R., and Korver/D-Will/RJ, which isn’t exactly a trio of defensive stoppers.
And considering those three will be the ones guarding Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, it doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. LeBron has historically done very well against Durant, having beaten his Thunder in 2012 for his first championship ring. But what the Warriors did by bringing Durant in is take pressure off the rest of the lineup. Curry and Klay won’t have to worry about LeBron blocking a shot on the weak side, knowing that he has to stay at home in fear of an open look for KD.
The 2017 Warriors are the ultimate idea of “pick your poison” and they’re looking to rebound in a big way after their historic loss last year. Warriors in 5.
Although you can never count out the King…