NBA Playoff Predictions: Round 1
The NBA regular season has come to an end. The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have raised their game and won an NBA record 73 games. The Portland Trail Blazers surprised everyone and put together a great season after losing all but one starter. The Cleveland Cavaliers survived more drama than a soap opera and managed to stay atop the Eastern Conference. And although they were no where close to sniffing the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers finished one of their worst seasons ever and said goodbye to the legend Kobe Bryant. But now it is time for the playoffs to start and B4D has all of the matchups and predictions for you right here.
#1 Golden State Warriors (73-9)
#8 Houston Rockets (41-41)
The Warriors set a new NBA record with 73 wins, eclipsing the win total of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. The Warriors are led by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. This trio led the Warriors through and amazing season, but they still have work to finish.
The Houston Rockets are the only playoff team this season without a winning record and have the toughest challenge in the first round of the playoffs. The dysfunctional Rockets split with their coach during the season and the duo of Harden and Howard are a complete mess. Howard never seems to be happy where he is and I do not expect him to be in H-Town much longer. And James Harden, after finishing last season in the MVP race, has regressed and has found himself on the bad end of too many videos showing his complete lack of defensive prowess.
#5 Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)
If it was not for Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour and the Lakers looking inept, the Clippers would have been the laughing stock of Los Angeles. Blake Griffin was injured early on in the season and then decided to punch a member of the team’s staff and add insult to injury (pun intended). And, well, add more injury as well. But in his absence, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan helped to lead the Clippers through a good season that is pretty amazing. And speaking of Jordan, let’s not forget how this season began with his signing!
More amazing than the Clippers though is the Portland Trail Blazers season. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge and others, Damian Lillard joined forces with C.J. McCollum and together they led Portland to 44 wins when no one expected it. But depth and experience may hurt the Blazers in the postseason. The Clippers have been here several times before and it should show in this matchup.
Winners: Los Angeles Clippers
#2 San Antonio Spurs (67-15)
#7 Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)
In any other season, the Spurs would have been the biggest story of the year. But their 67-win season was overshadowed by the Warriors record-setting year. But San Antonio was still highly impressive nonetheless and the Spurs are hoping for another run at another title. This year, the trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili all held their own but it may have been the younger Kawhi Leonard and first-year Spur LaMarcus Aldridge that helped the Spurs have such a fantastic season.
The Grizzlies are a constant in the Western Conference playoff picture but they haven’t managed to put together a memorable run. Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph helped put the team just over .500 in the regular season and additions like Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson have followed in their tradition with having a rough and tough team. And who knew Vince Carter was still producing in the NBA! But no amount of production from anyone will lift the Grizzlies over the Spurs.
Winners: San Antonio Spurs
#3 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
#6 Dallas Mavericks (42-40)
The OKC Thunder had a tail of two seasons this year. At times they lost games that seemed impossible for them to lose. Everyone remembers the game against the Warriors that the Thunder handed them. But that was not the only game the Thunder gave away. But then there was the Thunder team that dominated games and looked like serious threats in the Western Conference. And that is the team they should be with Westbrook and Durant, two of the top ten players in the league, and good pieces surrounding them.
The Mavericks are much like the Grizzlies. They are both playoff mainstays. They both finished with the same record. And they are both led by a group of trusted veterans. Dirk Nowitzki, JJ Barea, Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, and Chandler Parsons have helped the Mavericks claw their way into the postseason. But, just like the Grizzlies, I don’t see their postseason lasting past the first round.
Winners: Oklahoma City Thunder
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
#8 Detriot Pistons (44-38)
The Cleveland Cavaliers season has a subtitle: “As LeBron’s World Turns”. LBJ and the Cavs had a tumoltuous season that included Kevin Love trade talks, a coach with a winning record being fired, Kyrie Irving and LBJ seemingly butting heads, and “The King” unfollowing the Cavs and other Twitter craziness. But Cleveland has somehow managed to hold it all together and first at the top in the Eastern Conference. Now they just have to get through the postseason together.
The Pistons, led by Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, finished the season by making the postseason for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. This also their first winning season since 2007-2008. Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons improving but there is still plenty of work needed in Motown for the Pistons to be legit contenders.
Winners: Cleveland Cavaliers
#4 Atlanta Hawks (48-34)
#5 Boston Celtics (48-34)
The Hawks fell down a little from last year when they were the first seed in the East with a 60-22 record. But Atlanta remains a top team in the conference and that is in large part to Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Teague. The loss of DeMarre Carroll in the offseason surely hurt Hawks, but I think the biggest factor in Atlanta’s drop-off is other teams improving in the conference.
One of those improving teams is the Boston Celtics. Coach Brad Stevens led the Celtics to the postseason last year with a 40-42 record and improved on that this season by increasing their win total and playoff seeding. The Celtics are led by Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and a team of young and hungry players looking to make a mark in the East. And this first round matchup may be their first chance to make a statement.
Winners: Boston Celtics
#2 Toronto Raptors (56-26)
#7 Indiana Pacers (45-37)
Toronto has been second to Cleveland most of the season despite slipping a little toward the end of the season. Led by Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunasthe Raptors helped to make Toronto excited about basketball again. Not sense the Vince Carter and Tracy McGardy days has Toronto had a reason to be excited about their basketball team. And if coach Dwane Casey can get his team rolling, they are a real threat to the top-seeded Cavaliers.
The Indiana Pacers are back in the playoffs after missing the postseason last season. The return of a healthy Paul George and good play from George Hill and Monta Ellis helped Indiana finish the season with a 45-37 record. It is crazy to think that just a few years ago, the Pacers were at the top of the conference and battling the Miami Heat for the chance at going to the NBA Finals. And while it is good for them to be back in the postseason, the Pacers are far from the team they once were.
Winners: Toronto Raptors
#3 Miami Heat (48-34)
#6 Charlotte Hornets (48-34)
Just like Indiana, the Miami Heat are just a few years removed from being in the NBA Finals when the trio of James, Wade, and Bosh we’re bringing titles to South Beach. Now, the Heat are a middle of the road team with an aging Wade leading a younger team. Chris Bosh is still there but struggling with health issues once again. Instead of the “Big 3”, Wade is helping to lead Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Justice Winslow. The late-season addition of Joe Johnson has also helped the Heat to make another postseason push.
The Charlotte Hornets return to the postseason after a year absence and are heading into the playoffs with momentum. Coach Steve Clifford has his team heading in the right direction at the right time. Maybe more impressive is witnessing Michael Jordan succeed as an owner after many years of putting together a below average team. The Hornets enter the playoffs and will be looking for more solid play from Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, and rookie Frank Kaminsky. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could stay healthy, they could be an even bigger threat. But, as an upset pick, I still like Charlotte’s chances in this matchup.
Winners: Charlotte Hornets
Daryl Karpinski, Jr.