The 2018-19 NBA regular season will end next week and all eight playoff participants in the Western Conference have been determined. Detroit, Brooklyn, Orlando, Miami, and Charlotte are all still alive for the final two postseason spots in the East. The final few games of the season will determine the final seeding. As it plays out, there are a few teams looking to avoid a surprise in the first round. Here are some first-round matchups that teams would like to avoid.
Toronto: the Detroit Pistons Currently, the Raptors own the East’s second seed and will take on No. 7 in the first round. Right now, the seventh seed is Brooklyn (39-40), but Detroit (39-39) is just a half-game ahead of the Nets. If the season series is any indication, the Raptors do not want to get into a first-round battle with the Pistons.
Detroit beat Toronto in all three of their meetings this season. That includes one Pistons victory in Toronto. All three games were close – the March 3 contest went to overtime – but the Raptors would like to avoid a top-10 Pistons defense. Detroit limits the number of open looks that opponents receive (second-fewest in the NBA). Couple that with Toronto’s long-range shooting accuracy since Dec. 1 – 25th in the league – and playing the Pistons in Round 1 would be no cakewalk. It’s a series Toronto would gladly forego in favor of Brooklyn.
Oklahoma City: James Harden & Houston The Thunder will take on Harden and the Rockets one last time on Tuesday, April 9, before their season ends on Wednesday, April 10, at Milwaukee. Currently, the Thunder are the seventh seed in the West. Eighth-place San Antonio trails Oklahoma City by just a half-game and the sixth-place Clippers are a game-and-a-half ahead.
The Thunder have taken two of the three games against Houston this season, but OKC would like to avoid the sharpshooting Harden and the Rockets in Round 1. Remember 2017? Houston and Oklahoma City matched up in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Rockets won the series four games to one.
Milwaukee: Orlando or Brooklyn? As it stands, the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks would take on No. 8 Orlando (39-40). The Magic and the Nets (39-40) have identical records with three games to play and Brooklyn holds the tiebreaker. In all likelihood, Milwaukee will end up playing one of the two teams. Which one would the Bucks prefer to avoid?
That is a great question as the Bucks have beaten the Nets all three times the two teams have played. Brooklyn can match up with Milwaukee and they do shoot a fair share of 3-pointers, but it’s the Magic that might scare the Bucks a little bit more. Orlando does have a win against Milwaukee this season, though it came against a Bucks team playing without their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks’ net rating against Brooklyn is an even 14.0. Milwaukee’s net rating against Orlando is just 4.3, meaning the Magic have played the Bucks a bit tougher than the Nets have. In either case, it is highly unlikely that the Nets or the Magic defeat Milwaukee in a seven-game series.
Golden State: San Antonio The Warriors likely first-round opponent is San Antonio. The Spurs won the season series against the Warriors two games to one. The most recent Spurs win over the Warriors came on March 18 when DeMar DeRozan had 26 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 in a 111-105 victory. At full strength, the Spurs can give Golden State all they can handle in a seven-game series.