(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers: Warriors in 6
Since Damian Lillard predicted that the Trail Blazers would win the series in six games, I think it would only be fair if they lost in six games. People would give him a lot of heat for his prediction, especially if he got the number of games right in the series. I can only imagine how funny the memes would be, and he’d deserve to be ridiculed if his prediction backfires. Lillard is an amazing player and I’d rather him be confident in winning than expecting to lose, but he’s going to regret making this prediction.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies: Grizzlies in 6
Although Tony Allen is injured and may miss the whole series against the Spurs, I’d like to see Memphis advance to the second round. The Grizzlies and Spurs are both older teams that play a unique style of basketball. The Spurs were the second best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, but I think they have the fifth best chance of making it to the NBA Finals behind the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, and Clippers. The Spurs are a better regular season team than playoff team, and aren’t exciting to watch. The Grizzlies play a slow-paced “Grit and Grind” style of basketball, but I think their style would be more interesting to watch against the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams. Although it’s a longshot, I hope the Grizzlies advance to the next round.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder: Rockets in 7
This series has to go the distance. Everyone wants to see as many games of Russell Westbrook and James Harden battling as humanly possible. The top two candidates for MVP were once teammates, and they weren’t even the best player on that team. It’s incredible to think about how successful they’ve been this season as leaders of their teams. Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season, and he may not even win the MVP award because of how well James Harden has played. Harden has led his team to a better season, which is why some people (including myself) think he should win MVP. The Rockets are the more exciting and dangerous team, which is why I want them advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz: Jazz in 7
This is the best series in the first round of the playoffs. In my opinion, these two teams are the third and fourth best teams in the Western Conference behind the Warriors and Rockets. Although both teams have struggled at times during the regular season, they are finally getting healthy at the right time. Both teams are extremely talented, and have enough firepower to make an NBA Finals run. The winner of this series will likely face the Golden State Warriors, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they pulled off the upset over the heavily favored Warriors. I want the Jazz to win the series because I made a preseason prediction that they had the best chance of upsetting the Warriors in the Western Conference playoffs. I hope this series goes seven games, because it should be the most competitive series of the first round.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (5) Utah Jazz: Jazz in 7
Before the season started, I said the Jazz had the best chance of any Western Conference team to knock off the Warriors before the NBA Finals. I would look like a genius if the Jazz were able to pull off this monumental upset. The reason I liked the Jazz is because they are two-deep at every position. Depth is a less important factor during the playoffs, but it still should give the Jazz a boost. They’ve had to play a ton of lineups throughout the season because of injuries, so their bench players should be experienced enough to make a difference against a stacked Warriors team. An upset of this magnitude would entice Gordon Hayward to re-sign long-term, and should help the Jazz stay as one of the best teams in the NBA for years to come.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies: Rockets in 7
The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are two of my favorite teams to watch for opposite reasons. When I first started watching the NBA in 2005, I became a Phoenix Suns fan because of the style of play coach Mike D’Antoni brought to his team. D’Antoni has brought this fast-paced style of basketball to Houston, and has helped make James Harden an MVP candidate. The Grizzlies are one of the slower teams in the NBA. They play hard-nosed defense led by Tony “first team all defense” Allen. Tony Allen is currently injured and may miss the whole postseason, but hopefully he’d be able to return for this second round matchup. It would be interesting to see which team can impose their will on the other. Sign me up for seven games of these teams doing battle, but in the end I want to see the Rockets advance to the conference finals.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz: Rockets in 7
The Rockets and Jazz aren’t the Western Conference Finals matchup that most people expect, but I think this would be a dream matchup to watch. I think the Rockets are the most exciting team to watch in the NBA, and I hope to see them play as many games as possible. If the Utah Jazz are able to pull off a miracle and eliminate the Warriors, I think Gordon Hayward will want to re-sign instead of leaving in free agency (probably to Boston). The Jazz are two-deep at every position, and have a great mix of youth and veteran leadership that could make them a contender for years to come. I would rather see the Rockets advance to the NBA Finals because of coach Mike D’Antoni. He was never able to get past the conference finals with my Phoenix Suns, so I’m hoping he’s able to get the monkey off his back with his Houston Rockets team.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls: Celtics in 5
The Boston Celtics have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but I don’t expect them to advance to the NBA Finals. I think they are more of a regular season team than playoff team, but that shouldn’t matter in this first round playoff matchup against the Bulls. Although Isaiah Thomas had a remarkable regular season, there’s no denying that Jimmy Butler is the best player in this series. Both Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade have championship experience, but I don’t expect it to be enough to make this series competitive. I’m not a big fan of either team, but there’s no denying that the Celtics play a more exciting style of basketball. I hope Boston is able to advance to the second round in five games.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers: Cavaliers in 7
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t try to get the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and as an NBA fan I’m extremely grateful for their stupidity. Although it probably won’t make a difference, it was still a dumb move allowing Boston to take the number one seed. But I’m happy things worked out like they did because of their first round opponent. The Indiana Pacers aren’t as talented as they’ve been in years past, but they have a lot of history facing LeBron James in the playoffs. I’m a big Paul George fan and I’m glad he’s starting to look like the pre-injury Paul George again, and I hope he’s able to keep playing at a high level against the defending champion Cavaliers. Paul George and LeBron James will be a great matchup to watch, but I’m hoping the defending NBA champions will advance after a hard-fought seven game series.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: Bucks in 7
Although the Toronto Raptors are the favorites in this series, I hope the Bucks are able to advance in seven games. Toronto is a much more dangerous team after the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline, but they are complementary pieces and won’t be able to win the series without DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry playing at a high level. If the “trash bros” struggle like they have in past postseasons, the Bucks might be able to pull off the upset. Giannis Antetokounmpo is my favorite player to watch in the league, so I hope he’ll be able to lead his team to a first round upset. I’d love to see Giannis do battle with LeBron James, so the Bucks will need to win this series in order for that to happen.
(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks: Wizards in 5
In all honesty, this is not a series that I’m looking forward to. Most 4-5 matchups are competitive, but I’m not a big believer in the Hawks. The Wizards weren’t playing their best ball towards the end of the regular season, but I think they’ll win this series easily. I’m a big fan of John Wall and his ability to make his teammates better (Bradley Beal and Otto Porter), so I hope he’s able to lead his team past the Hawks in 5 games.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Washington Wizards: Celtics in 6
I’m not a big fan of this matchup, so I don’t really care who wins. I think the Celtics would be the more exciting team to watch in the Eastern Conference Finals, so I’ll root for them to win the series. The Wizards have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA, but they’ve been overplayed because of their underachieving bench. Depth isn’t as important in the playoffs as it is during the regular season, but the Wizards’ starters may be a bit worn out. The Celtics have great wing defenders in Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart that can give Bradley Beal and Otto Porter issues. This series could be interesting because these teams do not like each other (funeral game). I’m hoping the Celtics advance to the conference finals by winning the series in six games.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: Bucks in 7
This is the matchup that I want to see more than any other. I want to see Giannis Antetokounmpo face the best player in the NBA, LeBron James. Giannis will likely win the NBA Most Improved Player award after becoming the first player in NBA history to finish in the top twenty in total points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks. He was the first player since LeBron James to lead his team in all five of these categories in a season. Giannis was one of the biggest storylines during the first few months of the season, but the media has cooled on him recently. Giannis’ play hasn’t cooled off though, and I hope he’s able to lead his Bucks past the defending champion Cavaliers in a competitive seven game series.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: Bucks in 6
Although the Boston Celtics had the best regular season in the Eastern Conference, I’m not expecting them to make it to the NBA Finals. I think the Cavaliers, Raptors, and Bucks are talented enough to knock them out of the playoffs. The Celtics would be the favorites in this matchup, but the Bucks have the most talented player in the series in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although the Bucks lost Jabari Parker for the season with his second torn ACL, they were able to finish strong after Khris Middleton returned from injury (in the same game Jabari Parker got hurt). Middleton is arguably the most underrated player in the NBA. He’s a classic two-way wing that can score in bunches and defend an opposing team’s best player. The Celtics have a number of elite wing defenders, but none of them are talented enough to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo. I hope the Bucks are able to clinch a trip to the NBA Finals in Milwaukee after winning the series in six games.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: Bucks in 6
This matchup would feature my favorite team to watch and favorite player to watch. Although this is an extremely unlikely NBA Finals matchup, nobody would be more thrilled than me if this were to happen. I love watching the fast-paced “seven seconds or less” style that the Rockets play. They run up-and-down the court all game and shoot as many threes as possible. This leads to high scoring games and lots of exciting plays. The Bucks feature superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and borderline All-Star Khris Middleton. Neither player gets the attention that they deserve because they play in Milwaukee. Bucks fans know how great these players are, and it’s time for the rest of the world to find out too. This could give Giannis the spotlight that he deserves. There isn’t anyone on the Rockets that can defend Giannis. I hope the Bucks are able to win the series in six games and celebrate a championship that nobody saw coming.