The 2016-17 NBA regular season is officially in the books, and the playoff field is finally locked in. Our set of writers each broke-down the slate of first round matchups, but this time it was done a little differently. Noah Berketo previewed the entire Eastern Conference while Steven Abramo previewed the entire Western Conference.
Eastern Conference Predictions
Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics: The Celtics surprisingly landed the #1 seed, the Bulls surprisingly got into the playoffs. This will be a lopsided series that features Isaiah Thomas getting a lot of buckets on the lackluster Bulls front-court and Jae Crowder getting things going on both-ends of the floor. If Jimmy Butler’s shot isn’t falling, this series could end as quickly as it started. Celtics in 4.
Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Cleveland went 12-14 following the All-Star break, and no team has ever won the title with a sub .500 record during the season’s second half. Thankfully, the Indiana Pacers aren’t exactly a contender, and the Cavs can outscore pretty much everyone. It won’t be a blowout series, Paul George will carve out a win or two. But barring injury, it’s Cavs all day. Cavaliers in 5.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors: Giannis takes on a notoriously weak playoff team in regards to their seeding. But sadly for the Bucks, an upset is not going to happen this time around. The Raptors are as real as any team in the East. Kyle Lowry’s return and Serge Ibaka’s arrival make this team dangerous. Also, DeMar DeRozan will get serious buckets. Raptors in 5.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards: Atlanta, like Cleveland, has been one of the coldest teams in the East since the All-Star break. Paul Millsap will have to tear through the Wizards plans of dominating this series to have any chance. I’m a little worried that Dwight Howard becomes a non-factor, subject to great defense this season from Marcin Gortat. Bradley Beal carries the overwhelming advantage against Kent Bazemore and with that, I’ll be surprised if the Hawks come away with the series win. Wizards in 6.
Western Conference Predictions
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors: Portland has the offensive firepower in Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe to keep-up with Golden State’s lethal Big 3. However, the life of this series hinges on the health of 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic.
Ever since Nurkic first arrived in Portland in mid February, he developed quickly as Portland’s perfect hybrid center: one that scored, shot and rebounded at an astounding rate. This made it difficult for defenses to guard Nurkic outside the paint. If healthy, that’s a problem that would present itself again to the likes of Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGhee.
However, Nurkic won’t likely be 100 percent in this matchup, which makes life much easier for the the Warriors. Portland’s defense is already bad both on and away from the ball, and it will probably be carved up by Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State is entering these playoffs magma hot and their hot streak will continue in this one. Warriors in 5.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs: On the surface, I want this to be a competitive series. I trust Michael Conley, and believe that JaMychal Green’s subtle dominance will translate smoothly into the postseason. But then I remember Chandler Parsons is out indefinitely, Zach Randolph has maximized his talents inside, and that the Grizzlies just don’t have enough star-power to push the Spurs.
San Antonio will find every way possible to get Kawhi Leonard involved in the offense, whether that be shooting jumpers along the wing, posting up against Memphis’ much slower forwards, or zip past the Grizzlies in transition. Memphis simply doesn’t have the depth, nor pure skill to slow down Kawhi.
I’m a bit nervous that the Spurs will endure several long dry spells when Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge share the floor, however, the experience of Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker will cop that out. Spurs in 5.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets: This matchup features a contrast in styles. The Rockets love to turn the game into a track meet, while the Thunder enjoy running its offense in half-court.
Houston poses the danger of just going on an offensive tear. There are several guys that can heat up from distance, and the fact is that not everyone has to make their shots, but if just one or two guys other than James Harden are making a difference, the Rockets are a scary team that few can match up with. One game it could be Ryan Anderson, the other game it could be Trevor Ariza, or Lou Williams, or Eric Gordon. Maybe even Patrick Beverley, or multiple guys at a time. That might be too much firepower for the Thunder to handle.
Oklahoma City does pose size however, and that’s a struggle for Houston. There is no guy on Houston that can really stop Enes Kanter. Houston can contain him, that will more likely to be Nene than Clint Capela, but there is no stopping Kanter’s ability to score down-low. If Russell Westbrook and Kanter are both on their game, the Rockets will not have much room for error. Rockets in 6.
Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers: In my opinion, this is the most compelling series of all the first round matchups. It contains a battle between relevance and loyalty in Utah and dignity in Los Angeles.
For the Jazz, they’ve seen Gordon Hayward blossom into a game-changing superstar. They’ve seen George Hill revitalize his career almost out of a nowhere, and they’ve seen Rudy Gobert become a monster inside. The Clippers have all pieces to combat that charge with stars of their own though, in Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
Hayward and Rodney Hood won’t be afraid to shoot it, and in a lot of ways Utah’s guards have an advantage over Los Angeles. However, the tell-tale sign of this series will come down to the forwards. Rudy Gobert has transformed himself into a rebounding machine for the Jazz, gobbling up 12 per game. But unfortunately, the Jazz remain thin in the front-court which is startling considering Derrick Favors is Utah’s only other big that has produced positive minutes.
With that in mind, the Clippers can pounce on this opportunity with vengeance. Jordan is thriving in a more comfortable role and Griffin is finally, finally healthy. Clippers in 7.