The NBA Playoffs are here, finally. The match-ups are locked in and there are some very intriguing first round series’ (yes, even in the East). The first game will tip off at 12:30 ET on Saturday (Wizards @ Raptors). I’m going to preview and predict every first round series here. This will be a long one, so I’ll get right into it.
Let’s start in the East since if I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East.
#1 Atlanta Hawks (60-22) vs #8 Brooklyn Nets (38-44)
Offensive Rating: Hawks (108.9, 6th in NBA) > Nets (104.4, 20th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Hawks (103.1, 6th in NBA) > Nets (107.4, 23rd in NBA)
Pace: Hawks (93.9, 15th in NBA) > Nets (92.7, 24th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Hawks (52.7%, 3rd in NBA) > Nets (49.1%, 18th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Hawks (49.2%, 13th in NBA) > Nets (50.6%, 24th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Hawks (24.3 per game) > Nets (21.7 per game)
It truly is a shame that the Nets managed to squeak into the playoffs on the last day ahead of the Pacers. Not that the Pacers would beat the Hawks but with Paul George surprisingly being effective right away and the entire teams defensive ability, they would at least pose somewhat of a challenge. The Nets are one of those teams that doesn’t do anything particularly well. They’re average to slightly below average in every area. Whereas the Hawks are the most balanced team in the East, essentially above average to very good at nearly everything.
The Nets have played quite well over the last month of the season (they’re 13-7 in their last 20) but outside of a win over the Cavs, none of their wins were all that impressive. The Hawks only statistical flaw this year was their poor rebounding (27th in the league), but seeing as the Heat and Celtics have recently won titles while ranking dead last on the glass, I’m not sure that’s even a real flaw. Besides, the Nets are also a horrible rebounding team, and have gotten even worse since trading Kevin Garnett (though, on the whole, Thaddeus Young has been a plus for this team).
The Hawks move the ball around so fast offensively, how they hell is a Nets team that doesn’t know how or want to rotate going to keep up?
The Hawks are one of the NBA’s best 3pt-shooting teams while the Nets are amongst the worst at defending it. The Nets also rank just 26th in 3pt shooting themselves. When you look at statistical advantages that historically lead to upsets (3pt shooting, fast breaks, offensive rebounding, one-on-one mismatches) the Nets lack ALL OF THEM. Okay, so Joe Johnson should be able to find shots against his former team, especially with Thabo Sefolosha out. Well…Johnson is shooting just 43.5% FG with a 14.11 PER this year, so I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
KEEP GETTIN’ DEM CHECKZ, JOE
There really isn’t anything to watch in this series. Some have said the Hawks are vulnerable because they lack a true superstar, but that’s a load of bullshit. Every single member of their starting five (including silent assassin DeMarre Carroll) is more valuable on the court right now than anybody on the Nets roster. Actually, I’m glad the Nets made the playoffs. They deserve to lose in epic fashion after the moronic moves they continue to make.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Hawks win in a SWEEP
- Kyle Korver secures more rebounds than Brook Lopez.
- Late in game 4, with the Hawks up big, 2 Chainz checks in a nails a 3. As he jogs back on defense, Deron Williams mutters “I should’ve never left Utah”, 2 Chainz looks at him and goes, “Truuuuuu”.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29) vs #7 Boston Brad Stevenses (40-42)
Offensive Rating: Cavs (111.1, 3rd in NBA) > Celtics (104.7, 18th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Celtics (104.5, 12th in NBA) > Cavs (106.3, 18th in NBA)
Pace: Celtics (95.8, 5th in NBA) > Cavs (92.3, 25th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Cavs (52.0%, 4th in NBA) > Celtics (48.9%, 20th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Celtics (49.4%, 15th in NBA) > Cavs (50.2%, 20th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Celtics (27.9) > Cavs (24.0 per game)
I’m a completely biased Celtics fan but Brad Stevens should be our countries next president, if I’m keeping it 100 emoji. What he’s done with this team is remarkable. A playoff appearance, even in the horrible East, is a major accomplishment given this weak roster that saw its two most notable players (Rajon Rondo & Jeff Green) traded midseason. He’s hidden the fact that is a horrible perimeter shooting team by spreading the floor with “guys who aren’t really great shooters but you can’t leave them wide open”. He’s well aware his team isn’t the most efficient offensively, so he has them pushing the tempo and getting a ton of cheap baskets (this advantage shrinks come playoff time). He has no rim protector, so he’s given big minutes to players like Jae Crowder or Jonas Jerebko who can essentially switch onto anybody off a screen, preventing opponents from actually getting in the paint. I refuse to believe that a Brad Stevens-coached team is going to be swept by anybody.
On paper, this Cavs-Celtics mismatch isn’t nearly as lopsided as that of Hawks-Nets or Warriors-Pelicans. The Celtics are straight up a BETTER defensive team than the lethargic Cavs. The duo of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart could make life tough on Cleveland guards. Evan Turner is playing the best basketball of his career and has developed into a solid all-around player. The Celtics play faster than the Cavs, and they play tougher than the Cavs. Yes, it’s a huge mismatch, but crazier upsets have happened.
With that being said, I’d be crazy to pick anything else than an easy win for the Cavs in this series. They’ve surrounded LeBron James with one of the best-shooting teams in the league. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Timofey Mozgov make them elite on the glass. Their defense should be a lot better given playoff intensity (though, both J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving always will be minus-players defensively). Cleveland has FOUR players who can win you a game by themselves with their firepower (Smith, James, Irving, Love). Boston has, maybe, one with Isaiah Thomas.
Personally, I still think Kevin Love is spending far too much time outside the paint (though, I suppose when you have both Thompson & Mozgov that’s going to happen), but he’s playing much better now than he was early in the year. I expect this Cavs team to fast-break more. LeBron & Kyrie can be two of the deadliest transition players around when they want to be. Oh yeah, that LeBron guy. King James took the year off defensively and stayed below the rim for the most part, preserving himself for the playoffs. LeBron at 75% tenacity was still the 3rd or 4th best player in the league this year. He’s not falling off. He’s being smart.
The Celtics have a lot going for them; most notably, Brad Stevens. Nobody expected them to make the playoffs this year, ESPECIALLY after the trading Rondo & Green. If the Celtics were playing Washington or Toronto or Milwaukee in a series, I’d be tempted to go with the green. But they’re not. They’re playing perhaps the most talented team in the NBA. Over the course of a season, a great coach like Stevens can make up for a dramatic lack of talent to an extent. In one series against a motivated Cavs team playing with remarkable efficiency right now, he cannot.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Cavs win in FIVE (I’ll take the Celtics in game 3 at a turnt up TD Garden)
- America finally notes the genius that is Brad Stevens after a timeout
- Marcus Smart and J.R. Smith get double techs in game 2
#3 Chicago Bulls (50-32) vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
Offensive Rating: Bulls (107.5, 11th in NBA) > Bucks (102.7, 26th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Bucks (102.2, 3rd in NBA) > Bulls (104.3, 11th in NBA)
Pace: Bucks (94.1, 13th in NBA) > Bulls (92.8, 21st in NBA)
Effective FG%: Bucks (49.9%, 13th in NBA) > Bulls (48.9%, 21st in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Bulls (47.3%, 2nd in NBA) > Bucks (48.7%, 9th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Bucks (27.1 per game) > Bulls (24.9 per game)
Despite their struggles down the stretch, I like the Bucks more than most. The length all across their roster causes so many problems, and they function both within a slow-paced game and shootout. I’m a firm believer that Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the toughest players to gameplan for in the league. But man, against the Bulls and their ability to shut down perimeter scoring, I really wish this Bucks team still had Brandon Knight instead of Michael Carter-Williams.
We all want to watch Derrick Rose. We all agree that, for the most part, this Bulls offense is a lot better when he’s on the court. I’m not going to say otherwise, but this is a VERY different Bulls offense than in years past, one much less reliant on Rose’s dribble penetration (thanks to the abilities of Pau Gasol & Jimmy Butler). The Bucks may have the bodies to throw at the Bulls, but I’m just not sure over 7 games that they’re going to be able to defend this team consistently. Yes, that’s right, I’m going with the Bulls because of their OFFENSE.
Nikola Mirotic is the obvious x-factor, assuming Thibs uses him correctly as a stretch-4 against a versatile defensive team, and I like Mike Dunleavy to have a big series. He’s the best shooter in this series and you figure that when he’s in, the Bucks are going to have their best defenders on Rose, Butler, or sliding down to help with Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and Gasol. I don’t think it’s out of the question for Dunleavy to have a couple 20 pt games.
The Bulls defend the paint well and the Bucks are simply going to have to shoot well from deep to win this series. Kris Middleton, Jared Dudley, and Ersyan Illyasova all shoot at good clips, but the Bulls (holding opponents to just 33.5% from deep) do such a good job of rotating that I just don’t think there are going to be a ton of catch-n-shoot opportunities. And none of those three can create their own shot. A heavy burden will fall on MCW to create points for other players while scoring himself, and I’m not sure he’s capable of it.
The Bucks do a lot of things right. Hell, they might even do more things right than the Bulls. But it’s not that simple. It was big for Chicago to get the 3-seed because this is a good matchup for them. I’d probably take Chicago even if I thought Rose would be out; the fact that he might be at a level where he can steal a game by himself makes me more confident.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Bulls win in FIVE
- Mike Dunleavy scores more points than anyone on Milwaukee
- Derrick Rose DOESN’T tear a ligament in his knee
#4 Toronto Raptors (49-33) vs #5 Washington Wizards (46-36)
Offensive Rating: Raptors (111.0, 4th in NBA) > Wizards (103.7, 22nd in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Wizards (103.0, 5th in NBA) > Raptors (107.7, 25th in NBA)
Pace: Wizards (93.7, 18th in NBA) > Raptors (92.8, 23rd in NBA)
Effective FG%: Raptors (50.8%, 9th in NBA) > Wizards (49.9%, 14th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Wizards (48.1%, 5th in NBA) > Raptors (50.6%, 25th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Wizards (27.5 per game) > Raptors (26.0 per game)
Even though I don’t think either of these teams have a chance at going to the Eastern Conference Finals, this is a very interesting clash of styles. The Raptors, an efficient offensive group built around solid scoring distribution vs. The Wizards, a defensive juggernaut often overly-reliant on John Wall to create their offense for them. One thing I worry about, Kyle Lowry. The first-time All-Star has really struggled offensively since the break.
- Lowry pre-break: 18.6 ppg, 7.2 apg, 53.4% true shooting
- Lowry post-break: 15.1 ppg, 5.4 apg, 50.3% true shooting
Unless DeMar DeRozan is going to all-of-a-sudden became a shining beacon of shooting efficiency, the Raptors are going to need Lowry to step it up against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Either that, or Lou Williams gon’ have to Lou Will.
I’m less worried about the Wizards, despite the fact that they can become stagnant at times and get caught waiting for John Wall to do something (this is why the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t in the playoffs). When healthy, Bradley Beal has had a great season shooting from deep. If Paul Pierce (38.9%) and Rasual Butler (38.7%) can chip in, I’m not sure the Raptors have the perimeter bodies to guard the shooters without letting Wall destroy them on the drive.
Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario can be very tough inside, though Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas aren’t exactly slouches for Toronto. I think the best chance the Raptors have is to slow the game down even more so than they usually do and play inside out, rather than attempting to have Lowry/DeRozan create everything. If this becomes a sloppy up-and-down game, the Wizards talent is going to win out. Toronto needs to play clean, but that’s much easier said than done against the Wizards.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Wizards win in SIX
- DeMar DeRozan shoots around just 35% FG for the series
- John Wall (4.6 rpg) gets a triple-double in the clinching game 6
Now for the West, just because I love the East don’t mean I can’t rest in the West, smoke some nice ses in the West.
#1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs #8 New Orleans Anthony Davis’ Pelicans (45-37)
Offensive Rating: Warriors (111.6, 2nd in NBA) > Pelicans (108.2, 9th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Warriors (101.4, 1st in NBA) > Pelicans (107.3, 22nd in NBA)
Pace: Warriors (98.3, 1st in NBA) > Pelicans (91.4, 27th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Warriors (54.0%, 1st in NBA) > Pelicans (50.1%, 11th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Warriors (47.0%, 1st in NBA) > Pelicans (49.6%, 16th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Warriors (33.4 per game) > Pelicans (24.3 per game)
I truly hope you’re not going into the playoffs under the assumption that the Warriors are some gimmicky 3pt-happy team. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, they shoot the long ball at a high rate with incredible accuracy. But to focus solely on is to ignore just how good this team really was is. They’re deadly on the break and they can D up. For some reason, the masses don’t realize how good Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut are on that end. Not to mention the should-be DPOY, Draymond Green.
The Dubs can win big even if they have off nights from deep, which the hardly ever do. Just how good are the “Splash Bros”?
GM Bob Myers has built a dynamic roster. The athleticism/strength/skill combo Iguodala, Barnes, and Green all possess plays off the backcourt perfectly. Andrew Bogut dominates inside. They can beat you many different ways, but more importantly, control the tempo forcing you to play their game. Remember when everyone (myself included) was criticizing Myers for not moving Thompson for Kevin Love?
The Pelicans don’t stand a chance. Anthony Davis is one of the four best players in the world and a walking mismatch, but unless he averages something outrageous like 35-15-8-8 (I mean, not impossible for him, right?) this will be a cakewalk for the Dubs. New Orleans has a few good guys on their bench –Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday– but coach Monty Williams hasn’t turned them into a reliable second unit. There will be a championship-caliber team built around Anthony Davis soon. This just isn’t it. And going against the Warriors, it may not matter anyways.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Warriors win in FIVE
- Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry ALL have 40-point games in this series
- Monty Williams is fired by halftime of game 2.
#2 Houston Rockets (56-26) vs #7 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
Offensive Rating: Mavericks (109.5, 5th in NBA) > Rockets (107.0, 12th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Rockets (103.4, 8th in NBA) > Mavericks (106.4, 20th in NBA)
Pace: Rockets (96.5, 2nd in NBA) > Mavericks (95.2, 9th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Mavericks (51.5%, 5th in NBA) > Rockets (51.2%, 6th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Rockets (48.6%, 7th in NBA) > Mavericks (50.3%, 21st in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Rockets (32.3 per game) > Mavericks (29.1 per game)
Rockets fans should be ECSTATIC that they somehow winded up with the 2-seed and a date with Dallas in the first round. Not that Dallas is a pushover -hell, I think they have a very good shot- but they’re clearly a tier below Los Angeles, Memphis, Portland, and San Antonio.
This series could get out of hand fast if Dwight Howard is Dwight Howard. He was quietly effective for Houston this season, though, as of late, has struggled to work his way back from an injury. Having Josh Smith for extra rim protection helps, but there’s no overstating how much better the Rockets are when Howard is healthy and active down low. They’ll need him on both ends against Tyson Chandler.
The Rajon Rondo experiment hasn’t worked out as well as many thought it would, but the Mavs have remained very potent offensively even if Rondo has disrupted the flow (which probably isn’t even true). Rondo is also one of those guys who takes it down a notch during the regular season. Regardless, he’s the best playmaker in this series and is a huge mismatch going against Pablo Prigioni or Jason Terry. Maybe I’m living in the past, still thinking about the beat-up Rondo who almost single-handedly beat the 2012 Heat in the Eastern Finals. Actually, I’m definitely living in the past. Fuck it though. Rondo’s goin’ off.
We’ve seen countless series’ won by a superstar drilling 3’s or getting to the line repeatedly. Possible-MVP James Harden does both as well as anybody. Nobody on the Mavs can contain him, much less stop him. The game slows down in the playoffs so harden may not get the transition points he’s used to, but I think he’s going to average 15 FTA’s in this series. We’ll see if Kevin McHale has Harden following the uber-quick Monta Ellis on defense. I wouldn’t go that route, personally.
The Rockets are the hungrier and better team (they’ve improved sooooo much defensively), but I expect this series to be very close every game. Plenty of reason to watch this one, and I didn’t even mention Dirk Nowitzki.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Rockets win in SEVEN
- James Harden averages 35+ ppg
- Rajon Rondo has more than one triple double
#3 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs #6 San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
Offensive Rating: Clippers (112.4, 1st in NBA) > Spurs (108.5, 7th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Spurs (102.0, 2nd in NBA) > Clippers (105.5, 16th in NBA)
Pace: Clippers (94.7, 18th in NBA) > Spurs (93.8, 16th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Clippers (53.3%, 2nd in NBA) > Spurs (51.7%, 5th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Spurs (48.4%, 6th in NBA) > Clippers (49.3%, 14th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Clippers (27.7 per game) > Spurs (23.1 per game)
Brah, I’m both pissed and excited that these two teams are playing each other in the first round. Pissed because they’re two of the five best teams in the league. Excited because we get CLIPPERS VS SPURS for (likely) six or seven games in the FIRST ROUND.
The Clippers are load to handle on the glass and in the paint due to Blake Griffin and DeAndre “I’m about to get waaaay overpaid” Jordan. They use sheer size, strength, and athleticism to grab boards and make plays above the rim no matter how hard you play them. But I must say, the Spurs present an interesting post matchup. Tim Duncan is still one of the best bigs in the league, and maybe THE best defensive one. Tiago Splitter is a very large man who doesn’t get pushed around. I’m not sure anybody can handle DeAndre’s power inside, but if anyone can, Splitter can!!!
The Clippers thrive off setting PnR’s for Chris Paul and letting him work his magic in the midrange; throwing lobs, finding the plethora of shooters they have, or hitting crafty shots. He’s so poised, physically strong, and tight with his handle. He’s playing as well right now as he ever has, and the only reason he hasn’t gotten more attention is because of the flashier seasons Curry and Westbrook have had. Tony Parker has been up and down this year, but seems to be finding himself when it matters. Much like the Clips with CP3, the Spurs rely heavily on Parkers ability to get in tight spaces and make plays for others or himself. Should be a hell of a PG battle.
While the Clippers have gotten strong play out of Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, and Matt Barnes…they simply cannot match the Spurs wing duo of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Somehow, Green still remains underrated. He’s one of the best 3pt shooters in the league (41.8%) and has become an elite defender. We know about Kawhi, perhaps the leagues most disruptive defensive force and a player with a ton of offensive value despite his streaky shooting. Statistics don’t show it, but there aren’t twenty players in the league better than Leonard.
We also have two great coaches. This is going to be such a fun series. I don’t even want to pick it because both these teams play beautiful basketball and are so enjoyable to watch. But…
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Spurs win in SEVEN
- Tim Duncan dominates Blake Griffin
- Doc Rivers loses his voice roughly two minutes into game 1
#4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
Offensive Rating: Blazers (108.2, 8th in NBA) > Grizzlies (105.7, 14th in NBA)
Defensive Rating: Grizzlies (102.2, 4th in NBA) > Blazers (103.7, 10th in NBA)
Pace: Blazers (94.2, 12th in NBA) > Grizzlies (92.0, 26th in NBA)
Effective FG%: Blazers (50.8%, 8th in NBA) > Grizzlies (49.9%, 14th in NBA)
Opponent Effective FG%: Blazers (47.6%, 3rd in NBA) > Grizzlies (49.2%, 12th in NBA)
“Hustle” Points (Fast Break + 2nd Chance): Grizzlies (24.6 pet game) > Blazers (23.5 per game)
While the Blazers are the #4, that’s only because they won their division. Memphis had the better record and gets home-court advantage, which could be huge in a series that projects to be so close.
This should be an interesting battle in the paint; predominantly with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol going against LeMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Chris Kaman. All of these guys rebound and defend at a high level. Gasol and Randolph are both supremely talented offensive players, as is Aldridge. It’s really a wash for me here.
Getting Jeff Green ended up being big for Memphis, as he and Courtney Lee of all people have carried their offense at times due to the second-half struggles of Mike Conley. Both Green & Lee will need to shoot well to help free up space for Z-Bo. Even with the loss of Wesley Matthews, shooting isn’t a problem for the Blazers. The more total shots attempted in any given game, the better chance the Blazers have. They’ll look to push the pace and could try going small when Gasol is off the floor.
Conley’s main duty will be to contain Damian Lillard. Folks have gotten on Dame about his shooting struggles this year but he’s still hit a ton of big jumpers, gotten better as a distributor, and actually developed a driving game. He can be inconsistent, but he can also be as dominant as any guard in the league for stretches. With all else equal, this could very easily come down to how good of a series Lillard has.
Memphis’ ability to throw Conley, Lee, and possibly even a little Tony Allen at Dame gives me cause for concern. Portland might be more explosive, but Memphis is the deeper and more versatile team.
3 BOLD Predictions:
- Grizzlies win in SIX
- Lillard shoot 40% FG or worse for the series
- Marc Gasol only eats three people.
PEACE AND HAPPY PLAYOFFS