Western Conference: First Round
(1) Warriors sweep the (8) Clippers in four games
This will be an easy series for the Warriors. Clippers deserve praise for a successful season but their season ends here. Golden State simply has too much talent for Los Angeles to handle.
(7) Spurs defeat the (2) Nuggets in seven games
The Nuggets have exceeded all expectations by finishing second in the west. However, the Spurs have many veterans on the roster with playoff experience who should give them an edge. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan, the Spurs will ultimately overwhelm the Nuggets in this hard-fought series. San Antonio also has the coaching edge with Popovich who can adjust on the fly. The Spurs combination of experience and coaching will propel them past the Nuggets.
(6) Thunder beat the (3) Blazers in six games
The Blazers might be the third seed but they aren’t going into the playoffs at full strength. Jusuf Nurkic is injured which means Enes Kanter will be the starting center. Russell Westbrook will have an easier time attacking the basket without the Nurkic patrolling the paint. Portland will have no answer for Paul George. The Blazers will make games competitive but without Nurkic, they stand little chance to advance.
(4) Rockets defeat the (5) Jazz in seven games
These two teams met in the playoffs last year and the Rockets handled the Jazz in five games. Rudy Gobert has improved his mobility on the defensive end so he won’t be as big of a liability on switches and the Jazz will also have Ricky Rubio this time around. Their gritty team defensive will neutralize James Harden as much as possible but he will still get his way offensively. It will be a very close series but the Rockets will prevail.
Eastern Conference: First Round
(1) Bucks over the (8) Pistons in five games
The Bucks should easily take care of the Pistons. No player on the Pistons has the strength or the length to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is a one-man wrecking crew capable of dominating his way to the basket with little resistance. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should give the Bucks front court a little bit of trouble on the inside but Brook Lopez can just as easily cause trouble for the Pistons from the perimeter. Outside of those two, the Pistons don’t have enough depth or overall talent to ensure a fair competition.
(2) Raptors beat the (7) Magic in four games
The Magic have surpassed expectations by even making it to the playoffs, but their road ends here. Nikola Vucevic is the Magic’s best player but the Raptors have the veteran Marc Gasol to counter. Aaron Gordon has the athleticism to bother Toronto’s front court but Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka can neutralize Gordon. Defensively, Orlando will have no answers for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. The Magic will keep games competitive but the lack of playoff experience and star power will be their downfall.
(3) Sixers over the (6) Nets in six games
The Sixers geared up for a strong playoff run when they paired Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris with their already established stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Nets will not be able to counter the sheer star power of the Sixers. However, the overall core of the Nets can keep things interesting. D’Angelo Russell made his first All-Star appearance and Caris Levert returned from injury. The Nets have a group of young and scrappy players who compete on a nightly basis. Things won’t be easy for the Sixers, but they will ultimately win the series due to their star power.
(4) Celtics defeat the (5) Pacers in seven games
This series might be the first upset in the Eastern Conference. While the Celtics appear to be the more talented team on paper, they have underwhelmed this season. Boston will also begin the playoffs without their best perimeter defender in Marcus Smart as he will be sidelined with an oblique tear. Indiana will be without star Victor Oladipo, but the Pacers still have a solid core group of players in Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis to keep things close. The Celtics will ultimately prevail and advance in the series but the Pacers will give them a good scare..
Western Conference Semifinals
(1) Warriors defeat the (4) Rockets in five games
The Warriors star power will be too much for James Harden and the Rockets to handle. The Warriors have multiple defenders to throw at Harden such as KD, Klay, Draymond and Iguodala. The Rockets will need their other players to step up to even given them a chance. In the end, Harden might steal the Rockets a game or two but the Warriors should dominate this series.
(6) Thunder defeat the (7) Spurs in seven games
The playoff-tested Spurs should be able to challenge the Thunder with their experience and their coaching. The Thunder will ultimately come out on top due to their star powered duo of Westbrook and George. Popovich is the superior coach which gives the Spurs a chance, but the Thunder have the overall edge in terms of talent. It will be a close series but the Thunder should prevail, giving them a shot to dethrone the Warriors. Thunder in seven games.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
(1) Bucks defeat the (4) Celtics in six games
Boston has more playoff experience but Milwaukee has the best player in Giannis. The Celtics defensive scheme will give Antetokounmpo more trouble because of their length and positionless style, but Giannis is talented enough to power his way through this series. The Bucks offensive system is better than when they faced each other last year in the first round thanks to Coach Bud, and Antetokounmpo is also better this time around. The Celtics will take a few games but won’t be as successful in this matchup.
(2) Raptors beat the (3) Sixers in six games
Kawhi Leonard will be the star of this series. He will likely match up with either Ben Simmons or Jimmy Butler and will get the better of them both offensively and defensively. Joel Embiid is dominant enough to give the Raptors a scare on the inside but Marc Gasol won’t make things easy. The Raptors’ previous playoff experience will give them the edge in this series but expect this to be an exciting run of games.
Western Conference Finals
(1) Warriors defeat the (6) Thunder in five games
The Warriors should have no trouble against the Thunder, barring injuries. Golden State is simply too talented to lose this series. Westbrook and George can give them a brief scare but the Warriors overpower them in every aspect. This will be a short series and the Warriors should advanced to their fifth straight finals.
Eastern Conference Finals
(2) Raptors defeat the (1) Bucks in seven games
The Raptors’ best weapon against Giannis is Kawhi Leonard. He doesn’t quite have the same freakish length as Giannis but his defensive IQ will make things as difficult as possible for Giannis. The Bucks have the better record but they lack the playoff experience which might cost them a game or two in this series. The Raptors also have their own Giannis-lite in Pascal Siakam, who can be the x-factor in this series. With LeBron not in the picture, Toronto will experience the finals for the first time in this hard fought series.
(1) Warriors defeat the (2) Raptors in six games
The Raptors have beefed up their roster with players that have championship and playoff experience. They have the versatility and length to bother Steph, KD and Klay. Gasol is a high-IQ defender that can neutralize Cousins but the Warriors have too much talent to squander this series. They are the two-time defending champions and should be reigning champions once again.
Western Conference: First Round
(1) Golden State Warriors over (8) Los Angeles Clippers in four games
The Warriors have been cruising through an 82-game preseason and are finally ready for the chance to three-peat. As valiant as it was for the Clippers to make the playoffs, they do not have the firepower to keep up and will easily lose in a quick, four-game sweep.
(2) Denver Nuggets over (7) San Antonio Spurs in seven games
This matchup is ripe with upset potential. Most of the Nuggets players have yet to taste playoff basketball, and the Spurs are playoff veterans. Because of this, San Antonio will be able to give the Nuggets a scare, but their lack of outside shooting and playing a potential game seven at high altitude will be the weaknesses that give Denver the edge.
(6) Oklahoma City Thunder over (3) Portland Trail Blazers in six games
The Blazers have lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic for the season and were swept by the Thunder in the regular season even with Nurkic playing. It shouldn’t be a cakewalk for the Thunder either, as they played some inconsistent basketball down the stretch and fell from the third seed down to sixth. Expect OKC to attack the paint with Nurkic on the sidelines and steal at least a game on the road to win this series.
(5) Utah Jazz over (4) Houston Rockets in seven games
The Jazz will have a chip on their shoulders in this playoff rematch of last season’s semifinal series and now have the experience to take down the Rockets. Houston’s iso-heavy offense will soon run them weary, and Utah’s defense will be the difference in this series.
Eastern Conference: First Round
(1) Milwaukee Bucks over (8) Detroit Pistons in four games
This is probably the most boring matchup of the first round. The health of Blake Griffin is still unknown, but even considering his condition, the Pistons are severely overmatched on both ends of the floor, and the Bucks win handily.
(2) Toronto Raptors over (7) Orlando Magic in six games
This matchup is second to the Bucks-Pistons series in terms of boredom. Though the Magic finished 11-2 down the stretch and ranked fifth in defensive efficiency in that span, they lack the experience to take down the Kawhi Leonard and other veteran Raptor players. The Raptors tend to have baffling losses in the postseason (i.e. getting swept by a weak Cleveland Cavaliers team last season), so don’t be surprised if it takes a while for them to win the series.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers over (6) Brooklyn Nets in six games
The Nets are an upstart young team who can put a scare into the Sixers, even though Philly has more firepower. I fully expect both teams to defend home-court in the first four games, before the Sixers take control in the final two games
(4) Boston Celtics over (5) Indiana Pacers in seven games
The Celtics have been an inconsistent team this season, while the Pacers fell off a bit after Victor Oladipo went down for the season. Marcus Smart’s injury will hurt the Celtics on the defensive side of the ball, but their depth is what helps them prevail in this grueling, defensive series.
Western Conference: Semifinals
(1) Golden State Warriors over (5) Utah Jazz in four games
The Warriors played close games against the Jazz all season, but was that truly indicative of their true potential? The short answer: No. The Jazz have the defense but not the offensive firepower, and that’s going to be the difference in this series.
(6) Oklahoma City Thunder over (2) Denver Nuggets in seven games
You may be wondering: why pick the Thunder if the Nuggets swept them in the regular season? OKC is much more experienced and will take advantage of the youthful Nuggets in what should be a long, grinding series.
Eastern Conference: Semifinals
(1) Milwaukee Bucks over (4) Boston Celtics in seven games
The Bucks proved throughout the season they were the team to beat in the East. They will put themselves to the test against the preseason East favorite Celtics. Though the Celtics may be more experienced, it is unknown if their defensive heart and soul Marcus Smart will be ready to play by the second round. The Bucks will take advantage of this, and put the Celtics in a hole too deep to climb out of.
(2) Toronto Raptors over (3) Philadelphia Sixers in seven games
This will be the best series of the second round. The Sixers traded for pieces at the trade deadline to make a deep playoff run. The Raptors run very deep and their trade acquisitions will pay dividends late in the series, especially if they can turn Ben Simmons into a liability as a deep shooting threat.
Western Conference Finals: (1) Golden State Warriors over (6) Oklahoma City Thunder in four games
This series will be ripe with storylines and will be touted as an extended Russell Westbrook versus Kevin Durant battle. However, KD’s team will best OKC in quick fashion, as I predict that Westbrook will try to take over himself to show up Durant instead of facilitating, and the Warriors will be able to key in on Westbrook’s outside shooting liability.
Eastern Conference Finals: (2) Toronto Raptors over (1) Milwaukee Bucks in seven games
The Raptors have been mocked the past few years for their playoff failures, and this is the year they finally win their first Eastern Conference championship. Most Milwaukee players have never gone this far into the playoffs, while several Raptors have. The experience of playing this deep into the playoffs will be the difference for the Raptors.
NBA Finals: West (1) Golden State Warriors over East (2) Toronto Raptors in four games
The Raptors would hold home court advantage in a potential series against the Warriors, and they swept them in the regular season: a win at Toronto in which they won without Stephen Curry playing, and a win at Golden State in which the healthy Warriors lost to a Kawhi Leonard-less team, which seem like indicators that they can win a championship. But this is the Warriors we are talking about. They don’t care about the regular season, and they will look to become the first team ever to go 16-0 in the NBA playoffs.