The NBA’s postseason begins on Saturday and for the first time since 2010, a team without LeBron James will win the Eastern Conference. If you are expecting a March Madness-type of atmosphere from the NBA playoffs, you will be disappointed. Two seasons ago, 13 of the 15 series were won by the higher seed. Last season, 10 of the 15 postseason series were won by the higher seed and the so-called upsets were pulled off by either James or the Golden State Warriors. Here’s how the first round might play out.
Bucks-Pistons Milwaukee finished the regular season with the most wins in the NBA (60). Giannis and 116 unassisted dunks. That’s really all that needs to be said. Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. The Bucks led the league in scoring (118.1 ppg) and were also very good defensively. Only two teams were top five in both offensive and defensive net rating. Milwaukee was one.
The Pistons will be lucky if Blake Griffin is healthy. Detroit’s leading scorer with 24.5 points per game, Griffin has a sore left knee. The Bucks beat the Pistons all four times the two teams played this season. Milwaukee hasn’t made it out of a first-round series since 2001, but this time they will.
Raptors-Magic Toronto had the second-best record in the NBA behind Milwaukee earning the second seed in the East. They will take on Orlando, which got an outstanding season form Nikola Vucevic (20.8 ppg, 12.0 rpg) but just doesn’t have much else. The Magic won 10 of their last 13 games in the regular season. Of the three losses, one was a 12-pointer to Toronto. Don’t be surprised if the Raptors win in four games.
76ers-Nets Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (21.1 ppg, 7.0 apg) is legit. The rest of the Nets? Not so much. The Nets simply don’t have the firepower that Philadelphia does even without Joel Embiid, who may miss the first game of the series. When Embiid comes back, remember that he averaged 30.0 points and 14.3 rebounds against the Nets in four games this season. With Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, J.J. Redick, and more; the 76ers are just too deep.
Celtics-Pacers Weren’t the Celtics supposed to take over supremacy in the East this year with all of their talent? Gordon Hayward finally emerged averaging nearly 15 points a game on 60 percent shooting over his final 14 games of the season. The Pacers felt the loss of All-Star Victor Oladipo to injury. Indiana went 10-14 after the All-Star break.
Boston is extremely inconsistent and that inconsistency could be even worse now that Marcus Smart is out for four to six weeks. If there is to be an upset in Round 1 in the East, it’s the Pacers over the Celtics.
Warriors-Clippers Can anyone beat the Warriors? Yeah, sure they lost 25 games and even suffered a bunch of 20-point defeats. Still, they are the team to beat as two-time defending NBA champions. Can anyone name a single Clippers player without using Google? Once again, sixth-man Lou Williams led the Clips in scoring with 20.0 points per game. How can they match up with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green? They can’t.
Nuggets-Spurs Like death and taxes, the San Antonio Spurs just make the postseason every year. The Spurs are very good defensively and have DeMar DeRozan (21.2 ppg) and LaMarcus Aldridge (21.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg) to lead the offense. The Spurs will have trouble getting out of the first round though because of Nikola Jokic, Denver’s own version of Russell Westbrook. Jokic averages 20.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. Denver beat the Spurs in Denver twice this season. It pays to have home-court advantage.
Trail Blazers-Thunder If you’re looking for the upset in the West, here it is. The Trail Blazers did a wonderful job of not regressing from last season, but the brutal injury to Jusuf Nurkic will be too much to overcome. The backcourt of Damian Lillard (25.8 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (21.0 ppg) just won’t be enough to carry Portland in a series against the Thunder. That would be the same Thunder team that beat the Trail Blazers four times this season. Paul George and Westbrook will be too much for Portland to handle.
Rockets-Jazz The Jazz was a top-5 defensive unit this year and as a reward, they will face the NBA’s back-to-back scoring champ James Harden in Round 1. Rudy Gobert (15.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg) appears on his way to another NBA defensive player of the year award. The problem for Gobert and the rest of the Jazz is Harden.
The Jazz beat the Rockets the first two times the teams played this season. That was early on though. Houston beat Utah in the second two games. Harden scored 47 in one game and 43 in the other. Look out Jazz.