Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers: Heading into the final day of the regular season, the Cavaliers and Pacers are the second and seventh seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively. If the playoffs started today, they would face each other in the first round. The Cavaliers could get the top seed if they win their regular season finale against the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics lose their regular season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks. But the Cavaliers haven’t seemed to care about getting the top seed, and will likely rest their starters. The Bucks have already clinched the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, so they will likely rest their starters too. It seems highly unlikely that the Cavaliers won’t be the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers will be the seventh seed if they win their season finale against an Atlanta Hawks team that may be resting their starters. The Pacers could fall to the eighth seed or even out of the playoffs if they lose to Atlanta. The Cavaliers and Pacers would be an ideal matchup because we’d get to see LeBron James versus Paul George in the playoffs one more time. LeBron has gotten the best of George in all of their playoff matchups, but it still would be exciting to see. Paul George has recently started to look like the pre-injury Paul George. He’d need a herculean effort to pull off the upset against the defending NBA champions. The Pacers aren’t as good as they’ve been in years past when trying to knock LeBron out of the playoffs, so this series might not be close. But it would still be fun to watch two of the NBA’s best players go head-to-head in the playoffs again.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies: The San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies will meet in the first round of the playoffs. Heading into the final day of the regular season, the Spurs and Grizzlies have the second and seventh seeds clinched. The Spurs had another historic season under coach Gregg Popovich. The Grizzlies’ Grit-‘N’Grind mentality has gotten them back into the playoffs, but they don’t seem to be as dangerous as they’ve been in years past. They still have the same cast of characters leading the team, but their play has diminished over the last few seasons. Their style of play is different than most teams and should present some challenges for the Spurs. San Antonio also has a unique style of play. Coach Pop does an amazing job of maximizing his team’s talent each season. Kawhi Leonard has been one of the best players in the league this year, and should lead them deep into the playoffs. Both teams have a lot of postseason experience, so it should be fun to watch them go head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs.
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Heading into the regular season’s final day, the Rockets and Thunder have clinched the third and sixth seeds, respectively. This matchup will feature the top two players in the NBA’s MVP race. What James Harden and Russell Westbrook have done this year will never be forgotten. It’s amazing to think that they used to be teammates, and neither of them was the best player on that team. Although Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season, he might not even win the MVP. Harden has taken his talents to new heights under the tutelage of coach Mike D’Antoni. Harden has been more successful in helping his team win, which is why the Rockets should win this series. Watching Westbrook and Harden go head-to-head will be a treat for all NBA fans.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks: As a Giannis Antetokounmpo fan, I’d love to see him thrown into the spotlight against the Cavaliers and LeBron James. The sixth seeded Bucks would have to pull off the upset against the third seeded Toronto Raptors, which isn’t out of the question due to Toronto’s past postseason struggles. The Cavaliers would have to be the second seed in the Eastern Conference if this matchup is going to take place in the second round. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one of the most impressive players in the NBA this season. He’ll likely win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, which will be an impressive feat for the 22 year old. Giannis was one of the biggest stories during the first few months of the NBA season, but he hasn’t been getting much notoriety recently. His play hasn’t cooled off at all, but the media doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to him anymore. I’d love to see him thrust back into the spotlight against the defending champion Cavaliers. Although I don’t expect the Bucks to pull off the first round upset against the Raptors, this matchup would be ideal for all NBA fans. The Cavaliers would likely win this series, but this would allow casual fans to get a glimpse of a potential future NBA MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards: The Celtics and Wizards are one of the more interesting rivalries this season. These two teams do not like each other, which was on full display when the Wizards arrived in all black when facing the Celtics in a game that was dubbed “the funeral game.” Both teams have exceeded expectations this year, and have enough talent to win the championship. The Celtics and Wizards are led by their point guards, Isaiah Thomas and John Wall. Thomas has been getting a lot of well-deserved credit from the media this season. He’s putting up nearly 30 points per game on the best team in the Eastern Conference. John Wall is arguably the most underrated point guard in the NBA. He’s second in the NBA in assists per game behind potential MVP James Harden. Wall is the classic pass-first point guard and has helped many of his teammates have career years. Both the Wizards and Celtics have multiple wings that can have a major impact on this potential playoff series. The Celtics’ Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are defensive stoppers that would match up well against the Wizards’ wings. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal are both having career years, but would be challenged by the Celtics’ daunting defense. This potential second round series would likely get chippy and should be competitive.
Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz: Before the season started, I said that the Utah Jazz are the only team in the Western Conference that could knock off the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. Although the Jazz haven’t had as good of a season as I expected, they’ve had injuries that haven’t allowed them to reach their full potential. If they can get healthy during the playoffs, they have as much talent as any team in the league. They have an extremely deep bench, but that strength could be minimized in the playoffs. Teams don’t typically play as many players in the postseason as they do in the regular season, but the Jazz may break that trend. They’ll be able to keep their players fresh and still compete at a high level. Although the Jazz may not beat the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, I’d bet on them due to Los Angeles’ inconsistency this season. The Warriors would likely win this playoff matchup against the Jazz, but they better not take them lightly.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics: The top two teams in the Eastern Conference would be the ideal matchup for the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers have essentially handed the Celtics home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference by resting LeBron James in the last few games of the season. This may backfire if these two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics in Boston during the last matchup between these two teams, which is likely why the Cavaliers aren’t worried about getting the home-court advantage. They would rather rest their starters and be fresh heading into the playoffs. The Cavaliers have struggled recently, but they have playoff experience that should give them the advantage in this series. LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals, and he seems to coast during the regular season. Now that the playoffs are beginning, we should expect to see maximum effort out of King James. The Celtics look like a team that will be competing for championships for the next decade, so this matchup will be a good test to see where they are at right now. They’ll likely get the top pick in the NBA draft, so this might be a rivalry that we’ll see in the Eastern Conference playoffs for years to come. Even though Boston will likely have the home-court advantage, the defending champion Cavaliers should be favorites to head back to the NBA finals.
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets: Although these aren’t the top two teams in the Western Conference, this would be the best potential matchup in the Western Conference Finals. The Houston Rockets are arguably the most exciting team to watch in the NBA. I became a Phoenix Suns fans during the Mike D’Antoni years due to their exciting style of basketball. Coach D’Antoni has brought this fast-paced “seven seconds or less” style of basketball to Houston. The Rockets shoot more threes than any team in the NBA, which leads to high scoring games. James Harden has taken his game to new heights and would be the runaway MVP if it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook’s historic season. Harden has transformed his game from an off-ball shooting guard to become one of the league’s best point guards. The Warriors didn’t have as good of a regular season as last year, but they are much more talented because of the addition of superstar Kevin Durant. This Warriors team coasted into the playoffs, and should be heavy favorites to win the NBA championship. The Rockets play a unique style of basketball that could give the Warriors problems. No matter who wins the series, this should make for an exciting Western Conference Finals matchup.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors: Warriors versus Cavaliers round three? The same two teams have never met in three straight NBA Finals. After last year’s disappointing loss in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors added superstar Kevin Durant to their roster. This move made the Warriors heavy favorites to win the NBA title. This Warriors team has a “championship or bust” mentality, but they sacrificed some of their depth for Durant. In the end, this was a move they had to make. Their depth isn’t nearly as impactful as a superstar of Kevin Durant’s caliber, but Durant has yet to prove that he can win a championship. The Cavaliers have struggled over the last few weeks, but they have a championship pedigree. Although the Warriors should be heavy favorites in this matchup, I can’t bet against LeBron James. He’s the best player in the world and single-handedly won them the championship last season. Although I like seeing different teams competing for championships year-to-year, this is a matchup that everyone wants to see one more time. I’m picking the Warriors to win the title, but I picked them last year and watched in awe as LeBron proved me wrong. With each team winning once, this could be the NBA Finals matchup that breaks the tie. This has been one of the best NBA seasons in recent memory, and having another Cavaliers and Warriors matchup for the NBA Finals would be the perfect ending.