2017 NBA Playoff PreviewApril 14, 2017
If you read my last article about the state of the NBA, you might be expecting something cynical here about the playoffs starting up on Saturday. If you haven’t read my last article you totally should, here’s the link:
Now that you know my thoughts on the future of the NBA, here are my thoughts on the present, in short: the first round may have a couple upsets and will certainly be riddled with series of 6+ games in length, the second round will see some awesome matchups, highlighted by Rockets/Spurs and Cavs/Raptors (hopefully) and then chalk will prevail through the Finals. As crazy as it sounds my interest level will actually plateau after conference semifinals due to the level of predictability that will ensue. To be clear though I will definitely watch (and be excited about, I guess) the NBA Finals regardless of the teams playing, so don’t get that twisted, I really do love watching the NBA, I just think it could be better is all.
So first round, I’ll start in the East where my Boston Celtics happen to be the one seed by chance ;). They’ll play the Bulls led by Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, along with former Celtics LEGEND Rajon Rondo (absolutely love him). I actually wasn’t thrilled with any of the options the Celtics had for a matchup coming down the stretch, but I think this one plays pretty favorably for them for a few reasons. The first of which is that they can’t really capitalize on the Celtics biggest weakness, rebounding. Now on paper, that statement sounds like a load of garbage, because the Bulls are 3rd best in rebounding this year, compared to the Celtics who rank 4th to worst. My reasoning, though, is that match up wise the Celtics can compete; Al Horford can battle with Robin Lopez just fine, and the Bulls’ second leading rebounder is Jimmy Butler, who I think Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson can handle okay on the boards. (Just a side note, the Brooklyn Nets are actually leading the NBA in defensive rebounds somehow.) Another advantage for the Celtics is resoundingly in 3 point shooting, as they rank 3rd in made treys where the Bulls rank third worst. If it was even a little closer I would say maybe if the Cs have an off night the Bulls could take it, but there’s just no way over a 7 game series that the Bulls could take 4 games. Celtics in 5.
Cavs and Pacers is definitely going to be a hype series, with Paul George playing so well and the Cavs admittedly not playing their best ball right now. I see this series going 6 games but the Cavs just have a different level for the postseason, and there’s no way they’re gonna go down in the first round. Cavs in 6.
Raptors and Bucks is a sleeper, awesome series for the first round. Even without Jabari Parker the Bucks have shown they can compete with some of the NBA’s best, finishing the season on a 15-7 run during the final quarter of the season, pushing them all the way up to the 5 seed for a few games before falling back to the 6 seed for good. This is a team unquestionably led by the Greek Freak, otherwise known as Giannis Antetekounmpo, who just became the 4th player in NBA history to lead his team in all 5 major categories, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that without him, the team is effectively helpless. While I do think they have a few other quality young players, I really don’t see them taking more than a game from a deep Raptors squad, especially with Kyle Lowry coming back from injury last week. In the end, the Raps just flat out outmatch the Bucks at every position besides whatever the hell Giannis plays. Raptors in 5.
Last but not least in the East we have the Wizards and Hawks coming together for the ⅘ seed matchup, which should realistically be the best matchup but I just don’t see it that way. First of all, it’s important to note that despite the fact that they’re right next to each other in the standings, they are separated by 6 games, so it’s really not all that close. If the Wizards could have closed the season a little better they could very well be looking at the 2 or 3 seed right now, and with a little less fortune, the Hawks could have slipped 2 games into a lottery pick (where the Heat currently stand). So no, I don’t think this is bound to be a lengthy series here. Honestly, I think it’s a huge win for the Hawks just to be in the postseason after trading Kyle Korver, the NBA leader in 3 point % early on in the season. I get the appeal for the Hawks frontcourt of Dwight and Millsap over Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris (Rock Chalk), but the backcourts and bench ATL boasts are flat out incomparable to what the Wiz have to offer. Scott Brooks has plenty of postseason experience which should really help Wall and Beal get going, and with plenty of 3 point shooting available from the bench too, I can’t see much hope for an upset here. Wizards in 5.
Starting with the Trail Blazers vs. Warriors matchup, obviously the prediction’s kind of easy, there’s literally no way the Dubs are going down here. I love Dame and McCollum in the playoffs, and the midseason Nurkic addition has proven to be a major impact for the team, but we’re just watching a different beast of a team in Golden State. I like Dame Dolla to carry Portland to a win though. Warriors in 5.
Spurs vs. Grizzlies has the potential to be one of the most boring playoff series we’ve seen in decades, as neither team boasts serious star power outside of Kawhi Leonard, and the argument could be made that each team just plays in a good system, where single players really can’t take over a game. The Bill Belichick of the NBA in Greggy Popovich is absolutely not losing this series, and I think this has the potential to be the lone sweep of the first round. I really love Mike Conley’s play style, and I have a ton of respect for Marc Gasol as one of the best big men in the league… But Spurs in 4.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Rockets and Thunder is the highlight series of the first round. I think I speak for everyone when I say I’m salivating at the thought of 6 or 7 games of James Harden and Russell Westbrook battling it out down the stretch, with each having already earned a triple double in the 3rd quarter. Maybe this is the basketball gods way of apologizing for the Warriors being so flippin dominant over the last 3 years, either way I don’t care this is literally going to be sick as hell to watch. I definitely think the Rockets own a slightly better roster with the addition of Lou Williams at the deadline, and the D’Antoni system is much better than Donovan’s in OKC, but it’s super close and I like this series to go to 7 (prayers up). Rockets in 7.
FINALLY we have the Utah Jazz facing off against the best LA basketball team over the past 5 years. I could’ve left out that little note but I can’t pass up the opportunity to throw a little shade at the Lakers, god knows they won’t be bad for much longer. This 4-5 series is bound to be much better than its counterpart in the East. Kind of obvious because they literally had the same record after 82 games at 51-31, also same record held by both the Cavaliers and Raptors, just saying. The Clippers did get the 4 seed on a tiebreaker so they have a slight advantage there unless it goes to 7 which it very well may. I’m actually a huge fan of this Jazz team, with one of the best defenses in the league, and with legitimate star power in Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. However, as long as their big 3 is healthy I don’t see the Clips losing first round this year, with the squad likely to break up in the offseason either way. I don’t think this is the year Chris Paul ends his conference finals drought, but I think they may give the Warriors a run in the second round. Clippers in 6.
Overall I think this year will do very well by a bunch of the younger guys who don’t have a ton of playoff experience yet. Winning a series or two will do a ton for the Celtics’ young guys down the road; I think the Rockets will be a major free agent destination this year, especially if they can prove they can compete with the Spurs and Warriors without an All-Star, besides the Beard. I also think the losers of the Jazz vs. Clippers series will lose one of their impending FA’s this offseason (Paul/Blake for LAC, Hayward for Utah), and obviously the Warriors success in The Finals will play a huge part in the future of Steph and KD. So needless to say a lot is at stake over the next few weeks of playoff basketball, and I am bleeping HYPED about it.
P.S. Be sure to keep checking back for updates throughout the playoffs from my podcast, Hora Deportiva (episode 5 on NBA Awards dropping wicked soon).
Written by Connor Peterson