With the NBA regular season in the rearview, the NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, April 13th as the 16 remaining teams all hold out hope for an NBA Championship. The final matchups weren’t decided until the last day of the regular season and there should be plenty of exciting games throughout. The postseason will feel a bit different as LeBron James will not be participating in it after reaching the NBA Finals in 8 straight years, an amazing streak from 2011-2018.
But, coming out West, to the Lakers proved too tough a task and LeBron James and the Lakers were humbled by the game. Each season is different and this season proved to be Giannis Antetokounmpo’s year as he lead the Bucks to an NBA best record, at 60-22. Giannis is the likely choice for MVP and can further his legacy by getting it done in the playoffs.
Western Conference Playoff Preview
1st seed Golden State Warriors (57-25) vs. 8th seed Los Angeles Clippers (48-34)
Series odds: Warriors -20000 Clippers +5000
The Warriors have slightly underachieved this season winning under 60 games. The possible departure of Kevin Durant (26.0 ppg 6.4 rpg 5.9 apg) to the Knicks has somewhat clouded the Warriors season and their worst enemy might be themselves if they can’t come together for another championship run. The Clippers have over achieved this season as they were not even favored to make the post-season. The coaching job of Doc Rivers has this team playing together and for each other.
Lou Williams (20.0 ppg 3.0 rpg 5.4 apg) will need to put up big numbers and Danilo Gallinari (19.8 ppg 6.1 rpg 2.6 apg) will need to play consistently on the offensive end to keep up with the high powered offense of the Warriors. Stephen Curry (27.3 ppg 5.3 rpg 5.2 apg) recently sprained his ankle, so his health could once again be the main factor in how successful the Warriors are in the playoffs. The Warriors simply have too much fire power and the Clippers fine season will end with a first round exit.
Pick: Warriors in 5 games
2nd seed Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs. 7th seed San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Series odds: Nuggets -245 Spurs +205
This will likely be one of the more competitive first round series. The Nuggets have had a great season after barely missing out on the playoffs in the previous season they assured themselves a spot, locking up the 2nd seed. But, the Spurs are a feisty group and coach Gregg Popovich will have his team ready to compete as his vast playoff experience will serve the team well. The Nuggets are lead by the best passing big man in the game, with Nikola Jokic (20.1 ppg 10.8 rpg 7.3 apg) leading the charge. The matchup between Jokic and Spurs big man, LaMarcus Aldridge (21.3 ppg 9.2 rpg 2.4 apg) will likely decide the series. Jokic will need to play well on both ends to help slow down the post game of Aldridge. Jokic has struggled at times defensively, but with Paul Millsap (12.6 ppg 7.2 rpg 2.0 apg) also playing interior defense he should help to stifle Aldridge and play good help defense.
The guard play will also be important, as Jamal Murray (18.2 ppg 4.2 rpg 4.8 apg) has proven to be a reliable second option for the Nuggets with the ability to get hot and put up big scoring numbers and hit clutch shots. DeMar DeRozan (21.2 ppg 6.0 rpg 6.2 apg) has struggled in past years during the playoffs with the Raptors. DeRozan will need to play well for the Spurs to remain competitive against a well balanced Nuggets team and put those playoff demons behind him.
Pick: Nuggets in 7 games
3rd seed Portland Trailblazers (53-29) vs. 6th seed Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33)
Series odds: Thunder -133 Blazers +113
This should be a competitive series and could hinge on the health of Paul George (28.0 ppg 8.2 rpg 4.1 apg). George missed their previous game because of shoulder soreness and OKC will need him against a tough Trail Blazers team with home court advantage. The loss of Jusuf Nurkic (15.6 ppg 10.4 rpg 3.2 apg) to a devastating leg injury might be too much for the Blazers to overcome.
Their replacement big man, Enes Kanter (13.7 ppg 9.8 rpg 1.7 apg) really has no idea how to defend the pick and roll and Russell Westbrook (22.9 ppg 11.1 rpg 10.7 apg) is one of the best point guards at manipulating the pick and roll and should take full advantage of this. Damian Lillard (25.8 ppg 4.6 rpg 6.9 apg) will need to match Westbrook’s production to mitigate the loss of Nurkic in what will be a great point guard match up. CJ McCollum (21.0 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.0 apg) will need to continue utilizing his pull up game to keep the Thunder’s defense off balance.
Pick: Thunder in 6 games
4th seed Houston Rockets (53-29) vs. 5th seed Utah Jazz (50-32)
Series odds: Rockets -370 Jazz +310
This should be a relatively easy series for the Rockets to win. The Rockets have the best offensive force in the game in James Harden (36.1 ppg 6.6 rpg 7.5 apg) who seemingly plays the game at a different speed than anyone else. Everyone knows the step back three is coming but it can’t be stopped, making it one of the most unguardable shots in all of basketball. Clint Capela (16.6 ppg 12.7 rpg 1.4 apg) has proven to be a great running mate with Harden as he is great at finishing alley oops and protecting the rim.
Capela will have a tough challenge going up against defensive stalwart, Rudy Gobert (15.9 ppg 12.9 rpg 2.3 bpg) who could once again win Defensive Player of the Year. Gobert will have the challenge of defending Harden’s penetration and the rolling ability of Capela, something that defenses have been struggling with throughout the season. Chris Paul (15.6 ppg 4.6 rpg 8.2 apg) is the best secondary ball handler in the league and does a fine job of running the team when Harden is on the bench. Donovan Mitchell (23.8 ppg 4.1 rpg 4.2 apg) will need to play efficiently to match the Rockets varied offensive attack. The fire power and the ridiculous level that Harden can score at will likely prove too much for the Jazz.
Pick: Rockets in 5 games
Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
1st seed Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) vs. 8th seed Detroit Pistons (41-41)
Series odds: Bucks -5000 Pistons +1500
The Detroit Pistons will have a tough time winning a game against the efficient Bucks that have found the right players to put around Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.7 ppg 12.5 rpg 5.9 apg). With a bevy of shooters the floor is often spread for Giannis to attack the rim at the top of the key one on one against a helpless defender. Giannis has the most unassisted dunks this season at 116, partly due to his long strides that allow him to get from the three point line to the rim with just one dribble. Giannis has finally realized the full capability of his physical attributes and there is no player on the Pistons capable of slowing down Giannis.
Khris Middleton (18.3 ppg 6.0 rpg 4.3 apg) has proven to be a solid outside option and the Pistons will need to defend the three point line well to stay competitive during this series. Their leading scorer, Blake Griffin (24.5 ppg 7.5 rpg 5.4 apg) is listed as questionable for Game 1 because of a knee issue. If Griffin is unable to play, it severely diminishes the Pistons’ chances at being able to make this a competitive series. Andre Drummond (17.3 ppg 15.6 rpg 1.4 apg) will need to clean the glass to avoid giving the Bucks second chance points.
Pick: Bucks in 4 games
2nd seed Toronto Raptors (58-24) vs. 7th seed Orlando Magic (42-40)
Series odds: Raptors -1200 Magic +825
The surprising Magic have reached the postseason after overachieving and ending their playoff drought, having last made the playoffs in 2012. The Magic don’t have much of a chance at upsetting the Raptors as the talent gap is just too large. The Magic are lead by big man, Nikola Vucevic (20.8 ppg 12.0 rpg 3.8 apg) who has put together a great season in a contract year. Aaron Gordon (16.0 ppg 7.4 rpg 3.7 apg) has proven to be a solid, athletic power forward who is also capable of hitting the three ball.
The Raptors are lead by Kawhi Leonard (26.6 ppg 7.3 rpg 3.3 apg) who will decide the Raptors’ fate if he leaves them in free agency. Leonard is one of the best two way players in basketball and has the ability to change the game on both ends. Leonard’s pull up game has also improved and has become their go to guy in crunch time. Pascal Siakam (16.9 ppg 6.9 rpg 3.1 apg) will likely win Most Improved Player and has seen his role increase as his versatile offensive game has blossomed, capable of hitting threes and get to the rim with his long limbs. The in season addition of Marc Gasol (13.6 ppg 7.9 rpg 4.4 apg) gives the Raptors added backbone and a solid interior presence on both ends.
Pick: Raptors in 5 games
3rd seed Philadelphia 76ers (51-31) vs. 6th seed Brooklyn Nets (42-40)
Series odds: Sixers -650 Nets +500
This should be a series that the 76ers win as they have more talent. But, Joel Embiid (27.5 ppg 13.6 rpg 3.7 apg) is listed as questionable for Game 1 with a sore knee. If Embiid is unable to play, the Nets will need to take advantage as they have struggled during the season at guarding dominant big men. The surprising Nets are lead by D’Angelo Russell (21.1 ppg 3.9 rpg 7.0 apg) who put together an All-Star season. Russell is capable of scoring at all three levels and has proven to be a talented facilitator with great court vision and a knack for scoring. The game will suit Russell’s strengths better if it’s played at a higher pace as this allows him to keep the defense on its heels. Expect a high scoring series between these teams.
Even without Embiid the 76ers would still likely win the series because of players like Tobias Harris, (20.0 ppg 7.9 rpg 2.8 apg) Jimmy Butler (18.7 ppg 5.3 rpg 4.0 apg) and Ben Simmons (16.9 ppg 8.8 rpg 7.7 apg). With so much talent and the impending free agency of the Sixers’ top players in Harris and Butler this will be a key postseason that could decide the future of the team going into next season.
Pick: 76ers in 6 games
4th seed Boston Celtics (49-33) vs. 5th seed Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Series odds: Celtics -500 Pacers +405
The Celtics should win this series as they have more talent and higher expectations than a Pacers team without their best player, Victor Oladipo (18.8 ppg 5.6 rpg 5.2 apg) who’s season ended prematurely due to a torn quadricep. The Celtics have an important postseason as it could decide if their best player, Kyrie Irving (23.8 ppg 5.0 rpg 6.9 apg) re-signs with the Celtics or bolts for free agency. There has been a lot of internal strife with the Celtics over the course of the season which is partly why they won under 50 games. The Celtics have a talented roster, but haven’t been able to consistently put it together and string long stretches of good play together.
A feisty Pacer team will want to take full advantage of this as they have continued to be on the winning track, even without Oladipo. Bojan Bogdanovic (18.0 ppg 4.1 rpg 2.0 apg) is a solid three point shooter and will need to continue his hot shooting to keep the games competitive. Myles Turner (13.3 ppg 7.2 rpg 2.7 bpg) is one of the best defensive big men in the league and will need to play well on both ends to stifle Al Horford (13.6 ppg 6.7 rpg 4.2 apg). This series could be more competitive than most may predict. The loss of Marcus Smart (8.9 ppg 2.9 rpg 4.0 apg) to an oblique injury could hurt the Celtics in the long run as he is one of their main glue guys and a great defensive guard. Jayson Tatum (15.7 ppg 6.0 rpg 2.1 apg) may also not be 100% as he is returning from a shin injury, but is expected to play in Game 1.
Pick: Celtics in 6 games