(Photo Courtesy of CelticsBlog.com) “Jaylen Brown tries to take ball from John Collins.”
Buckle up, as the NBA playoffs have begun. With the conclusion of the regular season and play-in tournament, the matchups are all set for the first round. Let’s dive into the matchups for each team.
In the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks will take on the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Miami defeated the Chicago Bulls 102-91 in the final round of the play-in tournament to now play the team with the best record and defense. While Bucks forward and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo does have a championship and is one of the best players in the league, he’s also had multiple flameouts in the postseason. On the other hand, Heat forward Jimmy Butler usually elevates his game in the playoffs. Center Bam Adebayo has had success defending Antetokounmpo in the past, and despite their struggles in the regular season, Miami may shock the world in the playoffs. Prediction: Heat in 7
Next, the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics will take on the No. 7 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Atlanta defeated the Miami Heat 116-105 in the opening round of the play-in tournament to earn the right to face Boston. However, they are heavy underdogs in this series. The Celtics are led by the dynamic duo of small forward Jayson Tatum and shooting guard Jaylen Brown, with Boston having too much depth and firepower on both ends of the court for point guard Trae Young and company. Atlanta has been mediocre all year, as evidenced by their 41-41 record. Prediction: Celtics in 5
Moving on, the No. 3 seed Philadelphia 76ers will take on the No. 6 seed Brooklyn Nets. Philadelphia is led by stars such as MVP front-runner center Joel Embiid, shooting guard James Harden and point guard Tyrese Maxey. For the Nets, small forward Mikal Bridges has been outstanding in his short time there. However, Brooklyn’s overall lack of star power will not be enough to beat Philadelphia in a 7-game series. Prediction: Sixers in 5
Finally, the No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers will face the No. 5 seed New York Knicks. The Cavs are led by shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, point guard Darius Garland and power forward and DPOY candidate Evan Mobley. The Knicks are led by point guard Jalen Brunson and power forward Julius Randle. Both teams are evenly matched, so this series may be the biggest tossup in the first round; however, the home-court advantage may give Cleveland the edge here. Prediction: Cavs in 7
Moving on to the Western Conference, the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets will face the No. 8 seed Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-91 in the final round of the play-in tournament. Led by center Karl-Anthony Towns and shooting guard Anthony Edwards, Minnesota could give Denver some fits. However, Denver has a deeper roster with center and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, shooting guard Jamal Murray and small forward Michael Porter Jr. It would be hard to see Denver lose this series. Prediction: Nuggets in 5
Next, the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies will take on the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers, as Los Angeles defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-102 OT in the first round of the play-in tournament. Although LA has small forward LeBron James and center Anthony Davis, they’ve been inconsistent all season.
Meanwhile, Memphis has a deeper and more consistent team; they are led by point guard Ja Morant, power forward and DPOY favorite Jaren Jackson Jr. and shooting guard Desmond Bane. Prediction: Memphis in 5
Moving on, the No. 3 seed Sacramento Kings will take on the No. 6 seed Golden State Warriors. Sacramento snapped a 16-year playoff drought (the longest in NBA history) and possesses the highest offensive rating in the league, as they are led by point guard DeAaron Fox and center Domantas Sabonis. For the defending champs, the Warriors have been inconsistent all year, which is why they are the sixth seed. Although they shouldn’t be counted out with the likes of point guard Stephen Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson and power forward Draymond Green, they look outmatched by the best offense in the league. Prediction: Kings in 7
Finally, the No. 4 seed Phoenix Suns will take on the No. 5 seed Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams have big names on their rosters, which could make for an entertaining series. Los Angeles has forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, while Phoenix has small forward Kevin Durant, shooting guard Devin Booker and point guard Chris Paul. However, there are question marks over George’s health as he has been sidelined with a sprained knee since late March. Phoenix arguably has the edge talent-wise, with or without George. Prediction: Suns in 6