(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.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (3) Houston Rockets: Rockets in 7
Although the Spurs were the better team in the regular season, I think the Rockets are the better postseason team. The Spurs are a regular season team, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them dominated in this series. I’m hoping that this series is more competitive than I think it will be, because I want to see seven games of James Harden battling Kawhi Leonard. These are two of the best players in the NBA, and their games couldn’t be more different. Harden is an offensive guru with the ability to score and pass to his open teammates. He’s not the defensive liability that he used to be, but he’s still not a great player on that end of the floor. Kawhi Leonard has elevated his offensive game to become one of the best scorers in the NBA. He’s arguably the best defensive player in the NBA, which should culminate with him winning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award for the third straight season. The Spurs have the coaching advantage with Gregg Popovich, but Mike D’Antoni knows Popovich well. It will be interesting to see how these coaches decide to attack each other, and what adjustments they decide to make throughout the series. The Spurs are full of veterans with playoff experience, but they don’t have the athleticism to matchup with the Run-n-Gun Rockets. The Spurs will need to slow down the pace if they want to win this series. I think the Rockets are the more entertaining team to watch, so I hope they advance to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Spurs in seven games.
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Washington Wizards: Celtics in 7
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), which is why I’m hoping the series goes the distance. In the end, I hope the Celtics win because they are the better team and would make the Eastern Conference Finals more exciting.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Toronto Raptors: Cavaliers in 7
Although I like the Raptors more than the Cavaliers, I’m rooting for Cleveland to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. I’d typically root for the underdog or team that I like more, but I don’t want the Warriors to easily win the NBA championship. If Cleveland is eliminated, there isn’t a team in the NBA that can defeat the Warriors. The Cavaliers would be heavy underdogs in this finals rematch, but they’d at least have a puncher’s chance. They have past experience defeating the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Raptors traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline because of this potential playoff matchup. They need someone that can protect the rim on defense and space the floor on offense, so they traded Terrance Ross (who wasn’t a great fit in Toronto) and a first round pick to obtain Ibaka’s rights for the remainder of the season. Ibaka isn’t the force that he was in his prime, but he has playoff experience and can be the rim protector that they desperately need. The Raptors traded for P.J. Tucker because they need someone to limit LeBron James’ impact. There isn’t anyone in the league that can stop James one-on-one, but Tucker is one of the few in the league that can single-handedly limit his impact. He won’t be successful very often, but he’ll be more successful than 99 percent of the league. I think this could be an intriguing matchup if the “trash bros” backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan play up to their potential (instead of struggling like they typically do in the playoffs), so I’m hoping this series goes the distance. In the end, I hope the Cavaliers win because they are the better team and would make the Eastern Conference Finals more exciting.