The 2018 playoffs are here! I’ve been an NBA fan since the day I could walk. My grandpa had me a Bulls fan early on, watching Jordan and Pippen (even though I can’t remember it) and it snowballed from there. Growing up watching Allen Iverson knock off the hometown Bucks and Ray Allen in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, to Kobe winning his 5th ring in 2009, to my best friends Celtics knocking off my beloved LeBron and the Cavs in 2010… I’ve seen a lot of good NBA playoff games. NBA Playoff time to me is one of my favorite times of the year. In my opinion, the NBA has the 2nd best playoff atmosphere in all of sports. I’m here to give you my picks and preview for every first round matchup in the East and the West!
Key dates: 2018 NBA playoffs
April 14: First round begins
April 30-May 1: Conference semis begin (possible move-up to April 28-29)
May 15-16: Conference finals begin (possible move-up to May 13-14)
May 31: NBA Finals begin
#1 Toronto Raptors vs. #8 Washington Wizards
This series has me feeling indifferent. While I feel like the Wizards are a pretty good basketball team with a great backcourt, part of me feels like they don’t have a chance in this series. On the other hand, with a healthy backcourt of Wall and Beal, catch these Wizards on the wrong night and they’ll shoot you right out of the gym.
Overall, I don’t think they have enough to knock out Toronto. The Raptors have one of the best coaches in the league, probably the top contender for Coach of the Year in Dwayne Casey. Not watching a lot of Raptors basketball over the year, they quietly finished atop the Eastern Conference winning 59 games and averages 112 points per game. I like the Raptors advancing in this series in 5, with Washington stealing 1 game from them. Game 1 is Saturday at 5:30 on ESPN.
Raptors 4, Wizards 1
#2 Boston Celtics vs. #7 Milwaukee Bucks
As a Bucks fan, I love this first round matchup. Boston is without Kyrie and Gordon Hayword, who was supposed to be the key piece to making a championship run. Milwaukee has some offensive fire power with Giannis, Jabari Parker, and Kris Middleton. On the flip side, the Bucks don’t, and haven’t played a lick of defense all year along with their super inconsistent play could give them some trouble in this series. Boston has the best young coach in all of basketball which will make up for having an injury plagued roster. Boston finished 2nd in the East, while the Bucks were fighting for their playoff lives all the way up until playoff time.
I’m going to take off my Bucks fan hat now…While I HOPE the Bucks get a playoff series win, I just don’t see it happening this year. The Celtics have a young roster who are coached and taught how to defend. Brad Stevens will have them playing good basketball without their stars. The Bucks can’t defend and when they go though their scoring droughts, they will see games start to get away from them. While I don’t have my Bucks winning this series, I’m going to give them 3 wins in this series and losing in 7.
Celtics 4, Bucks 3
#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #6 Miami Heat
Okay, I get it…all the city of Philadelphia does is win and the ‘Sixers right now are that new girl that moved into town that no one knows much about but is the hot topic around town. Let me tell you, I’ve fallen for this trick one too many times, and it always seems to backfire on me. I’m going to be in the minority here, but I am not jumping on this “Process” bandwagon..(yet)
Call me crazy, but I actually respect the heck out of Erik Spoelstra as a coach. Yes, I know…he won 2 NBA titles with LeBron and Dwayne Wade, so of course he’s not a good coach and you get the guy in the bar on a Tuesday night saying “I could win an NBA title with LeBron and DWade, now grab me another PBR.” While there is some truth to that, Spoe gets the most out of his guys and the most out of a lackluster roster. With DWade coming back to Miami, there was suddenly a little buzz and more energy in the air. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are a great 1-2-punch, and in my opinon, have one of the better young benches in the league with Justice Winslow and Wayne Ellington giving the Heat good minutes. While I want nothing more than for the Heat to knock off Philly in this series, being realistic I don’t think it’s going to happen as the 76ers are the hottest team in basketball and I’m going to give the “new girl” one more go around. I’m going to give the Heat two wins, but fall in 6. Game 1 is Saturday at 8:00 on ESPN.
76ers 4, Heat 2
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #5 Indiana Pacers
I’d have to be an idiot to pick against the greatest player/coach/GM of all time in LeBron James. I’ve been a LeBron fan my entire life, as I feel he gets a lot of unnecessary criticism and hate. But I wish people would respect and understand that they’re watching on of the greatest players ever to play the game. And then when he’s gone and retired people are going to wish they had watched him more. LeBron is in his 15th season…and it might be his BEST season of his career! I don’t think this series is even close, as I couldn’t name a single player on that Pacer roster other than future Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo. Like, is Reggie Miller still going at Spike Lee? Anyway, this series will be a sweep, as LeBron is in playoff mode and hunting for another ring….before he leaves Cleveland again.
Cavaliers 4, Pacers 0
# Houston Rockets vs. #8 Minnesota Timberwolves
This series might be the 2nd most intriguing series in the first round of the West to me. While Houston won a league best 65-games and probably have the league MVP in James Harden (which I don’t agree with), I think the Rockets will have their hands full in this series. Thibs always has always been known for his defense, and I firmly believe he’ll have something to throw at James Harden and this All-Star Rockets backcourt. Minnesota won 47-games, which would put them at 5th if they were in the East. Minnesota has a dangerous starting 5, highlighted by Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, and obviously KAT. Personally, I think this T’Wolves team matches up fairly well with this Rockets team. However, I don’t think it will be enough to win (unless they get 2009 DRose) but they will give Houston a run for their money. Rockets win in 6. Game 1 Sunday at 9:00 on TNT
Rockets 4, Timberwolves 2
#2 Golden State Warriors vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs
Okay…I’m not even sure where to start with this one. This is BY FAR the best first round series in the 2018 playoffs. While I want to hate on Golden State for always being good and winning titles, I have to somewhat respect them, as they have built a powerhouse franchise starting with drafting Curry, Thompson, and Green. Building a team in the draft in the NBA might be harder than any other sport, and the players coming in are so hit and miss. Now obviously they’ve acquired some damn good talent in Durant and a well rounded bench with Iguodala and Nick Young. But the bigger story of this Warriors team has been the injury of Steph and the rise of Quinn Cook, who might have made himself some money this season. Quinn Cook has been playing great in the absence of Steph Curry, and the Warriors didn’t seem to take too many steps back winning 58 games.
While Golden State is still a top-5 NBA team without their point guard, I have to admit I’m quietly cheering for Pop and the Spurs. The Spurs will have to play flawless basketball for what I would think be a 7-game series. San Antonio managed to sneak into the playoffs for the 21st straight year. To put that into perspective for you, the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs I was 3 years old. Like I had mentioned earlier, I think in order for the Spurs to pull this off, they have to play their best basketball for 7 games. Obviously without Kawhi, (and who knows if he’s even going to be a Spur next year) the Spurs still manage to play great defense under Pop. Their opponents average just under 100 points a game at 99.8 with a +2.9 point differential. I like the Dejounte Murray/Quinn Cook matchup along with Patty Mills harassing the heck out of Klay Thomson with the idea being to run him off the 3-point line as much as possible. The wildcard in this series: LaMarcus Aldridge. If Aldridge can keep playing the way he’s been playing, scoring 23+ points per game and snagging just under 10 boards, I like the Spurs chances.
Typing through this entire preview, I still really don’t know who I’m rolling with. Golden State and San Antonio are perennial NBA finals representatives out of the West. Usually meeting each other in the Western Conference Finals. This series is a toss up. I think a lot is going to have to do with how the benches play, and overall, I like San Antonio’s depth a little more. **Deep breath**…..with all that being said, I’m taking a San Antonio Spurs upset and a classic Pop post game interview to follow after a hard fought, instant classic 7-games.
Spurs 4, Warriors 3
#3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. #6 New Orleans Pelicans
Portland is one of the more “sneaky” teams in all of basketball right now. I think they have some of the best guards in basketball in Lillard, McCollum, and Crabbe. Damian Lillard doesn’t get NEAR the credit he deserves, as he is easily one of the best guards in the game when the ball is in his hand and the game is on the line. Lillard leads Portland in PPG and APG at 26.69 and 6.6.
On the flip side, Anthony Davis has been a legitimate candidate for MVP. Davis is averaging 28 PPG in just over 35 MPG. He’s a double-double machine and a matchup nightmare. New Orleans leads the league in pace of play, as they love to get out in transition and force teams to turn the ball over.
Overall, another tough series that I think has the potential to come down to the wire. In all, game-6, last second shot, Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard? I’m taking Lillard.
Trail Blazers 4, Pelicans 2
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Utah Jazz
While I want this series to be good, I’m not real sure if Utah has a chance. Don’t get me wrong, they have WHAT SHOULD BE the Rookie of the Year in Donovan Mitchell who is an absolute STUD! And Quin Snyder is hell of a coach. But that OKC team is for real and they might be playing their best basketball at the right time. Oh, and by the way, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the 2nd straight season….THE DUDE IS A MAN AMONG BOYS AT TIMES! Overall, OKC will have too much fire power for Utah to keep up with. I’ll give Utah 1-game and Donovan Mitchell the ROY for actually being a Rookie and not a 2nd year player… (yes, I went there)
Thunder 4, Jazz 1
Overall, nothing in the East really intrigues me other than my Bucks series. But almost every series in the West looks great on paper. Let’s hope for some great games and another great NBA postseason.