2017 Playoff First Round Preview And Predictions

Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers

The NBA regular season grind has finally come to a halt. For some teams, it couldn’t have come sooner as disinterest and fatigue started to show down the stretch. This long journey still has a very likely outcome for the NBA Finals, but in the playoffs sometimes lightning is caught in a bottle. Upsets are great for a news cycle or two, but fans still want to see the brightest NBA stars in the league’s most meaningful moments. Will they get their wish? We predict the outcome in each first-round series as the NBA playoffs takes center stage.

Golden State Warriors vs Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers will enter the series as heavy underdogs, but won’t roll over and play dead like a well-trained puppy. Portland tied three other teams for the best record post all-star at 18-7 and have raised their defense from the depths of hell earlier in the season. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum need to find a third scorer to hold things down until Jusuf Nurkic can return to the series, but it’s not likely to matter. While the Blazers will be competitive, the Warriors are a different breed of animal from every other team in the NBA. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry make the offense extremely efficient, while guys like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala lock things down defensively. The Warriors are just too good to lose in the first round.
Prediction: Warriors in 5

San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies just don’t go away and have played the Spurs well this season, finishing 2-2 against their division rivals. Memphis is probably one the most unfavorable matchups any higher seed could draw, because of their physical bruising style. Unfortunately, the injury to Tony Allen is crippling for the Grizzlies and will end up shortening what could have been a longer series. The Spurs continue to be powered by Kawhi Leonard, but they will need “playoff” LaMarcus Aldridge to emerge with the 52% shooting he displayed in last year’s playoffs. The Spurs can struggle to score at times when Aldridge plays like a hermit and that could allow the Grizzlies to keep some of the games in the mid-90s. Ultimately San Antonio is the better team and without Allen to defensively slowdown Leonard, this could be over quickly.
Prediction: Spurs in 5

Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
The obvious narrative puts the leading MVP candidates against each other in the forms of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. However, this series will be about much more than those two phenoms, especially in the case for the Thunder. Westbrook has to rely on teammates like Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter to assist him in the scoring load, but their biggest contributions might actually come on defense. OKC’s bench play is also questionable and doesn’t compare to the high-powered scoring duo of Eric Gordon and Lou Williams coming off the bench in Houston. While many expect this series to be a track meet, the Thunder would be playing in a careless manner if they didn’t at least try to control the pace for large chunks of the game. The problem with that is Westbrook is a raging inferno that doesn’t have a pause button. The Rockets will be delighted to go shot for shot and take this series.
Prediction: Rockets in 6

L.A. Clippers vs Utah Jazz
This is probably the most interesting first-round matchup in either conference. This version of the Jazz has never been to the playoffs and basketball fans will be curious to see how the Jazz will perform. Meanwhile, the Clippers might be looking at their last run together as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will be free agents this summer. History says to never trust the Clippers as what can go wrong usually does for them. They should have the upper hand as a veteran-laden team facing an upstart squad without much playoff experience. Utah’s defense is one of the stoutest in the league behind the go-go gadget arms of Rudy Gobert, but the key to the series won’t be Gobert or even Gordon Hayward. The key resides in the play of George Hill. If Hill can defend at a high level while keeping pressure on Paul, the Jazz could capture the series. This series is truly unpredictable, but the Clippers could possibly make one last stand before an eventual fall and split.
Prediction: Clippers in 7

Boston Celtics vs Chicago Bulls
Boston is overjoyed to have captured the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This is especially important given the fact the team hasn’t yet won a playoff series with this current core group of Celtics players. After finishing the regular season with a record of 31-10 at home, it’s evident Boston feeds off their home crowd. Drawing the suddenly healthy Bulls behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade will not be an easy task. Add to that the fact that Rajon Rondo will be chomping at the bit to upset his former team and the Celtics have a fight on their hands. Isaiah Thomas has been steadfast pacing Boston’s offense at 29.1 points per game, but defenses know how to key on main guys in the playoffs. This is where Al Horford will need to become a double-double threat averaging in the 18 points and 10 rebound range to relieve pressure off Thomas. Chicago’s wings are solid, but they are missing a true presence that can defend Horford in pick and pop situations. Look for the Celtics to struggle but eventually find a way to limit the Bulls.
Prediction: Celtics in 6

Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
Let’s be honest. The Cavs looked like the walking dead after the all-star break, only showing fleeting interest and brief signs of life in the regular season. They were an abysmal 12-15 after the all-star break with the league’s worst defense. LeBron James played an absurd amount of minutes this season which yielded career-highs in assists and rebounds. His workload seemed to reflect the Cavs desire to remain on top of the East seeding, but it wasn’t to be. Now they’ll face an intriguing Pacers squad who has the talent to put pressure on them in their positions of usual strength. Jeff Teague, Paul George and Myles Turner can in theory, keep pace with the likes of Kyrie Irving, James and Kevin Love. The Pacers will need to play at an elite level defensively to have a chance because the Cavs are likely to awaken from their post all-star slumber in round one.
Prediction: Cavs in 5

Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks
The return of Kyle Lowry has been seamless, giving the Raptors a fully healthy team that has the ability to play effectively defensively and offensively. Without Lowry this team is average. With him, they are elite—especially with P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka bolstering the defense behind the All-NBA talent of DeMar DeRozan. Where the Raptors can flourish is on the inside with Jonas Valanciunas who could dominate the paint against the Bucks revolving door at the center position. The Bucks with all their length don’t have anybody with the girth to match Valanciunas inside if he’s motivated. The Bucks will have an over reliance on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in this series on both ends. Tucker could be matched up with either and truly limit Milwaukee’s ability to create offense. For the Bucks, it will be Malcolm Brogdon’s impact that determines if the series goes longer than expected.
Prediction: Raptors in 6

Washington Wizards vs Atlanta Hawks
The Wizards didn’t expect to be seeded this low after their blistering mid-season run, but their defense failed them down the stretch resulting in the fourth seed. The good news is they draw an inconsistent Hawks team who is still without a definitive number one option. That being said, Atlanta is a well-coached team whose key to success is in their 4th ranked defensive rating on the season. Offensively Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap should get a ton of touches, and the Hawks will want to keep the pace relatively slow for their bigs while keeping the pressure on Marcin Gortat and Markieef Morris. On the other side, the Wizards have the best player in the series in the form of John Wall. His dribble penetration and ability to find his teammates elevates this team to new heights, especially when Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are knocking down shots. Bench play from both teams will likely determine the outcome of a game or two, but the edge goes to the Wizards in that as well.
Prediction: Wizards in 5

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