The NBA season was fantastic. I think everyone underestimated the league this season, assuming the end result was already determined to be a three-peat between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Why watch if we already know who’s going to the finals?
An NBA record 10 players scored 50 or more points this season. The MVP race is better than ever. Russell Westbrook broke Oscar Robinson’s 55-year record of triple doubles in one season (41), and averaged a triple double for the season in his first year without Kevin Durant. LeBron was quietly incredible. There is a ton of young, elite talent in the league, a lot of which was displayed all season long.
So, why watch the playoffs? Aren’t the Warriors and Cavs going to steamroll through? Maybe. But there a ton of interesting match-ups in the first round and presumably beyond, and I want to take a look at them and offer my predictions before the playoffs officially tip off today.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls
- This has potential to be a fun series. The Celtics won the East for the first time since 2007-2008, when the C’s won the championship. The Bulls snuck in the playoffs, and Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler won’t go down quietly. I like the Celtics — they are a complete team, but lack the star power for me to confidently say they have a legitimate shot of winning the East — Isiah Thomas had a ridiculous year, and his play in January was nothing short of mesmerizing. But he is a liability on defense. Ultimately, I think Celtics move on in six games.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
- The Cavs went 11-14 over their final 25 games, but it means nothing to me. The more meaningful stat? LeBron James has won 17 consecutive first-round playoff games. It will be shocking to no one when that number improves to 21.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
- Nobody really likes talking about the Raptors, but they’ve been a solid team for a few years now. They are a fun watch in the playoffs at home. This matchup will be even more fun because of the emergence of The Greek Freak, 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks’ star is flat-out electric to watch, and if the Bucks make some noise, he will be the main reason why. I think the Raptors escape, but it wouldn’t shock me to see an upset.
(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
- I love the Wizards’ backcourt, featuring John Wall and Bradley Beal. I don’t have much interest in this series beyond them, and I’m just hoping for a second-round matchup between the Wizards and Celtics because it would be the best the East has to offer besides the Celtics and Cavs in the ECF.
(1) Celtics vs. (4) Wizards
- I think this series has seven games written all over it, and I actually like the Wiz Kids to advance.
(2) Cavs vs. (3) Raptors
- The Raptors won’t go down easy, but is anyone betting against LeBron advancing to another Eastern Conference Finals? I’m not.
(2) Cavs vs. (4) Wizards
- LeBron will advance to his seventh straight NBA Finals… Incredible.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
- Damian Lillard predicted the Blazers in six. I respect the confidence, but we all know that’s just not happening. Still, this series will be fun. The Blazers have a legitimate backcourt and can score. There should be a ton of highlights in this series with some big scoring performances. I’m interested to see the Warriors take it up a notch, and I want to see them dominate. The Warriors won the in-season matchup 4-0. I think they’ll duplicate that record against the Blazers in the playoffs.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
- The Spurs should advance easily, but I wonder how easily. I think this series will actually be telling. We haven’t really talked about the Spurs all season long, besides giving Kawhi Leonard his appropriate MVP consideration. They won 61 games this year! Is it so out of the question that they can make a deep run this postseason? If they sweep the Grizz, it will make me think twice…
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
- This series is going to be amazing for one simple reason. The MVP showdown, Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden. I think Harden and the Rockets will win the series, but there will be multiple triple-double efforts from Westbrook, and the Thunder will not go down quietly.
(4) Los Angelos Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz
- The Jazz are a legit team, especially at home. But I think the Clips are tired of hearing about how poorly they perform in the postseason, and I really think they try to make one miraculous run before everything blows up in the postseason. I have the Clips, even if it takes seven games.
(1) Warriors vs. (4) Clippers
- The Clippers have to get through the Warriors to have a successful season. They can’t afford another second-round exit. Is it likely? Absolutely not. Possible? I guess. They have a legit mental barrier against the Dubs (and physical, obviously). They have had such little success against the Warriors in recent years, as Stephen Curry has got the best of Chris Paul. These teams truly hate each other, and for that, this series has the potential to be great no matter what.
(2) Spurs vs. (3) Rockets
- This is tough for me. I think the Rockets are better than just James Harden. If they’re hitting from three, they are tough to slow down. But the real draw here is Kawhi Leonard’s defense vs. James Harden’s offense. I think people will be talking about Leonard’s MVP case after he shuts down the Rockets and the Spurs advance to the WCF.
(1) Warriors vs. (2) Spurs
- Barring injuries, I just don’t think the Warriors are stoppable with Kevin Durant. I won’t be shocked if Warriors win in four, but I refuse to sleep on Pop and the Spurs. I’m hoping for a classic series.
The Three-Peat. Cavs vs. Warriors. Last year’s finals was amazing between these two, and there was a ton of drama involved. These teams don’t like each other. LeBron does not like Steph Curry or Draymond Green. The big story for me, though, is Kevin Durant trying to capture his first NBA title. I think Durant’s defense is going to come up huge, and the Warriors retain the Title from the Cavs.