#1 Bucks vs #8 Pistons
The First Round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs doesn’t have very much exciting to look at and this series is right along those lines.
It’s good for Pistons fans to see their team back in the postseason after not being in for the past two seasons, but Blake Griffin is banged up going into this series, so much so that he didn’t even play in a game the Pistons had to win on the last day of the season and Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be by far the best player on the floor in this series.
Andre Drummond could give some problems to the Bucks, but Milwaukee can shoot the three ball at an alright rate, ranking 15th in the league and they have the ultimate matchup nightmare that can get in the paint whenever he wants in Antetokounmpo, who can also dish the ball out to his shooters as he averaged 5.9 assists per game this season.
This series should go pretty quickly and if the Bucks want to take the next step and make it to a Conference Finals or an NBA Finals, they need to take care of the eight-seed in quick fashion.
Prediction: Bucks in four
#4 Celtics vs #5 Pacers
You’ve got to feel for the Pacers. They lost their star Victor Oladipo for the season back in January, and most people, including myself, felt that they would completely fall to irrelevancy for the rest of the season and maybe not even make the playoffs, but to their credit they have dealt with adversity really well and have still found a way to finish as the five seed and win 48 games.
Indiana did seem to run out of gas towards the end of the season and the Celtics have been playing better than they were in the middle of the season when there was a lot of drama surrounding them.
Brad Stevens has also been very good in the playoffs during his NBA coaching career so far and I’m fully expecting them to perform well again, especially in this first round series.
It will be interesting to see how they play with Kyrie Irving in the lineup this season because he was of course out last season. Boston will also be without Marcus Smart as he is recovering from a torn oblique.
Pick: Celtics in five
#3 76ers vs #6 Nets
This is the first round series in the East that I’m most excited about. Philadelphia is definitely the better team, but Brooklyn can shoot the ball, they play really hard and they have a go-to scorer in D’Angelo Russell. Plus, Joel Embiid is banged up
Brooklyn can also come out and play with a care-free attitude in my opinion because not much was expected from them this season and now they are the six seed in the East. They also play pretty well on both ends of the floor.
While I can see Brooklyn pushing Philadelphia, I do think the 76ers have too much with that starting lineup and they’ll be able to generate enough offense that the Nets won’t be able to keep up over the course of a seven-game series.
It will be fun however to see D’Angelo Russell play in this series after the season that he’s had.
Pick: 76ers in six
#2 Raptors vs #7 Magic
Who would’ve thought that the Magic would be in the playoffs when this season started? Well, here they are and now they will have the opportunity to try and push one of the better teams in the NBA that also has maybe the best two-way player in all of basketball.
Toronto is pretty loaded going for this championship run and even without OG Anunoby, who underwent an emergency appendectomy earlier today, they will just have way too much for the Magic to be able to handle.
With Kawhi Leonard now in Toronto and ready to make a run at a second title with a second NBA franchise, I anticipate the Raptors taking care of business easily.
Pick: Raptors in four
#1 Warriors vs #8 Clippers
After the Clippers traded Tobias Harris it looked like they were going to tank the rest of the season but they found a way to make the playoffs and they deserve a ton of credit for that, but this is likely where the rubber meets the road in a big way.
Lou Williams has been incredible for the Clippers this season and Montrezl Harrell has had a very nice year and of course Patrick Beverley can be an absolute pest to Steph Curry, but the Warriors have too much firepower for the Clippers to be able to keep up, and with the Warriors attempting to go for a three-peat it’s hard to imagine them really being pushed by this Clippers team, who overachieved based on expectations especially after the Harris trade.
Pick: Warriors in four
#4 Rockets vs #5 Jazz
This is probably the second-most intriguing first round matchup in my opinion. Houston is going to win this series as long as they play the way that they are capable of when they’ve been healthy, but Utah is as stingy as they come in the NBA and if you think this Utah team is going to roll over and just be happy to be here, you’re crazy.
Donovan Mitchell is a baller and is so capable of going and stealing a game in this series on his own if he just gets hot. On top of Mitchell, they have Joe Ingles who is an absolute pest and can get in opposing players heads and Rudy Gobert is the best paint defender in the league.
As we all know, Houston is all-or-nothing on offense. They pretty much only go for threes or lay-ups and with Gobert at the rim it’s not inconceivable to see him give Houston problems at the rim and to help slow down this Houston attack.
What will help Houston keep Gobert away from their guys driving to the hoop is the ability of Clint Capela to catch lobs when the defense breaks down.
The Utah defense against the Houston offense will be very fun to watch and don’t be surprised if a lot of these games come down to the wire.
Pick: Rockets in six
#3 Blazers vs #6 Thunder
This is the series in the first round that I’m most excited about. The Blazers are in the exact same spot they were in last season as the three seed going into the playoffs and if you don’t remember, last season the Pelicans swept the Blazers as the six seed.
This season is a little different though in the fact that Portland will be without Jusuf Nurkic after his gruesome leg injury last month and they are coming into this series as the underdog despite being the higher-seed and having home-court.
The two main reasons for that are the talent of Oklahoma City and a lot of people thinking they underachieved this season to finish with the six seed, and the other reason is because the Thunder swept all four games from Portland this season.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had the clamps put on them by New Orleans in the first round last season and now they are dealing with one of the top defensive teams in the NBA and a team that is very exceptional at defending on the perimeter. With that being the situation, I expect to see a lot of attention paid to Lillard and McCollum by the top defenders on the Thunder and for the role players on the Blazers to have to knock down open shots when they get them, which they didn’t do last season
This series feels like an Oklahoma City series, but one HUGE factor is the shoulders of Paul George. He is banged up in both shoulders and if he takes contact the wrong way once or falls down the wrong way once, he could be out of the series and if he is out, that swings the series into Portland’s favor in my opinion.
Assuming though that Paul George stays healthy, I think Oklahoma City will give a lot of problems to Portland on offense and the Thunder will be able to score enough to win. However, I don’t expect it to be the debacle from the Blazers that it was last season.
Pick: Thunder in five
#2 Nuggets vs #7 Spurs
This series is also very intriguing to me. Denver has been very consistent this year and that’s because they play really well on both ends of the floor, but I have to believe going up against Gregg Popovich and an experienced team in the first round when you haven’t been there before with a group is not the most comforting feeling.
LaMarcus Aldridge is capable of giving the Nuggets a lot of problems because when he gets hot he can pretty much score at will, but it will be on him to decide to be aggressive because they will really need him to be. San Antonio will also need DeMar DeRozan to be better than he has been in playoffs past if they are going to want to have a chance to win this series.
I am glad that Denver is in this position though because now the whole country will get to watch Nikola Jokic play on the national stage. Sometimes Jokic doesn’t play as aggressively as he needs to because he can almost take over a game whenever he wants to with his ability to shoot, pass and score from so many different spots on the floor.
As a big NBA fan I really hope that Jokic decides to take on the role of being a superstar-level player and tries to take over this series by doing everything on the floor that he is capable of doing, because when he’s at his best, he’s a walking triple-double.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see San Antonio take this game six or seven games because of their experience and offensive efficiency, but if Jokic plays like he’s capable of playing, Denver can dominate this series because they have a lot of guys on their roster that can get hot on the offensive end of the floor.
Top Photo: Mark Smith/USA TODAY Sports