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NBA Playoff Picture Preview

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Wyatt’s Take:

After an action-packed, drama-filled regular season in the NBA, one of the most highly anticipated playoffs in recent memory of the sport kicks off Saturday. One huge reason to why this year is different than most in the past is the competitiveness of the Eastern Conference. Lebron’s team is worse (now the four seed), other teams are playing better, and young stars are emerging and leading their teams. The West still is superior, but the East is catching up, and there should be some great action over the next month or so.
Eastern Conference

Great Matchups Early-
– #4 Cavaliers vs #5 Pacers: this is a series where almost everyone you talk to is going to pick the Cavaliers, and rightfully so. Lebron has dominated the Eastern Conference is whole career, but this year is a little different. The Cavaliers are real bad defensively, and with a lack of overall firepower on offense in spite of Lebron, I see the Pacers pushing this to 7 games. I do think Lebron’s greatness will overcome their issues this early on in the Playoffs, but lookout for Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. After being mocked for giving away their franchise player in Paul George to the Thunder for seemingly nothing, the well-coached bunch led by Oladipo and center Miles Turner are tough enough to compete with anyone.
– #1 Raptors vs #8 Wizards: the Wizards are coming into this series limping, to say the least. They have lost 14 of their last 21 games, including losses to the Magic, Bulls, and Hawks. Although I am very skeptical of the way they are playing right now, they have the talent of a team that is far better than the eighth seed. The Raptors on the other hand, are very good. They have played exceptionally especially in the second half of the regular season. Still, I can’t trust this team in the playoffs until they prove they can win big games, and big series. I think the Raptors win this one in seven games, because of their bench play, but this series could very well come down which guard duo plays better: John Wall and Bradley Beal or Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan.

Championship Game Prediction-
#3 76ers vs #4 Cavaliers: these two will face off in the conference finals because of two players: Lebron James and Ben Simmons. Simmons has been showing out as of late, as the 76ers are amidst a 16(!) game winning streak, not to mention without Joel Embiid for a majority of that stint. Simmons floor vision is truly incredible, and at 6’10”, he can do things not many other people in the league can do. The lack of a jump shot is an issue, but he’s dealt with that all year. As long as he facilitates, and Embiid and the other role players continue to feed off him, then the 76ers are going to be very dangerous. I also have the Cavs getting to the conference finals strictly based off history. The Raptors year in and year out face Lebron in the playoffs, and he always prevails. Don’t see much of a change coming this year.

Western Conference

Great Matchups Early-
#4 Thunder vs #5 Jazz: this matchup, similar to the Raptors vs Wizards, is a matchup dependent on one team to play much better than they have been playing towards the end of the year. The Thunder, despite all of the star power in Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Russel Westbrook, have stumbled into the playoffs, and despite retaining the #4 seed, they were only a few games out of not making the playoffs at all. The Jazz on the other hand have been lead by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell scores the ball with ease and the entire Jazz offense runs through him. In this series, I’m going to give the edge to the Jazz: The Jazz are a well-coached team, who play great team defense and spread the ball around offensively, much like the Spurs. Look at Jazz center Rudy Gobert to be an X factor in this one.

#3 Trailblazers vs #6 Pelicans: in this matchup, I think it all comes down to which star shows up and plays at a higher level; Anthony Davis, or Damian Lillard. Both of these stars are in the MVP conversation, and both have done incredible things this year. Davis has had to step up ever since Demarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles, and he has done an exceptional job, averaging 28 pts 11 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game. Lillard has scored the ball at an incredibly high level as well (27 ppg), and with the duo of him and CJ McCollum, I see the Blazers outlasting AD and the Pelicans

Championship Game Prediction-

#1 Warriors vs #5 Jazz: this may come off as a surprise, but I do in fact see the Jazz upsetting Houston in the second round. Much like the raptors in the East, the Rockets led by Harden have always come up short. The most glaring loss was last year vs the Spurs. In a crucial game 7 in which the Spurs did not have Kawhi Leonard, Harden and the Rockets put up a dud, and lost that series. I refuse to trust them no matter how good they have played in the regular season. Not to mention, they did add star point guard Chris Paul, who also has a history of losing crucial playoff series. Now in terms of the series, yes I see the Warriors and the Jazz facing off. This does somewhat rely on Steph Curry’s health for the postseason, but either way I still see the Durant-led Warriors reaching the conference finals. Golden State has done nothing but prove to NBA fans that when healthy, they are the best basketball team in the world. Their only playoff loss last year came in game 4 of the finals, a game in which the Cavs set records for threes made in a game and points scored in a half. Why the Jazz? Again, I see smart coaching, ball movement, and Donovan Mitchell being the reasons they beat both the Thunder and the Rockets.

 

Varun’s Take:

West
Jazz v Thunder
The Thunder have gone through one of the strangest seasons any team has had this year. They had the initial struggles where Russell Westbrook deferred too much at times to his teammates in clutch situations. They then had everything click, reeling off a string of quality wins before the season-ending injury to their starting SG, Andre Roberson. After the injury, the team’s been wildly inconsistent and that’s what makes them so dangerous in the playoffs. On any given night, they can click and look like a serious title contender. Westbrook gets to the rim at will, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony hit open shots off the penetration, and Steven Adams gets offensive rebounds, extending possessions. When those things happen, the Thunder can go toe to toe with any team in the league. When those things don’t happen, Westbrook settles for tough jumpers, George bricks open shots, and Melo looks like more washed up than ever, this team looks like one that could lose to a lottery team. This team has a world of pressure on them, as what they do in the tournament could impact what happens to the team over the offseason with Paul George’s impending free agency.
The Jazz were not expected to be good this year after they lost Gordon Hayward. Their ceiling was low, but their floor was relatively high because of their stout defense, led by defensive player of the year candidate Rudy Gobert. The offense was the issue, as they didn’t have any shot creators. Then they got Donovan Mithcell and since he’s taken off, this team has exploded. Players like Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio have stepped up their games, taking a Jazz team that was far under .500 at one point this year and propelling them to 48 wins on the year.
Mitchell has to be thanking his lucky stars right now that Andre Roberson won’t be harassing him throughout this series. Instead, he’ll match up with Josh Huestis or Alex Abrines, neither of whom should scare him. However, it’s tough to trust rookies in the playoffs, and the Thunder have the advantage in pure talent.
Thunder in 6

Trailblazers v Pelicans
This has the potential to be the best series of the first round. Dame vs The Brow. Both are superstars who’ve taken their game to an MVP level this year. For Davis and the Pelicans, this season has been a massive success. Their whole team could have deteriorated after Boogie Cousins’ injury but instead, Davis raised his game to a whole new level. Jrue Holiday is finally healthy and is playing spectacular 2-way basketball. He and a motivated Rajon Rondo could form a dynamic backcourt duo for New Orleans. All they need to do is run the offense through Holiday and Davis with competent shooters and this could be a team that could make a deep playoff run.
The TrailBlazers are an extremely interesting team. They have a plethora of bad contracts but they have two great guards with strong pieces around them. Damian Lillard has proven himself in the playoffs already against the Rockets. The firepower the TrailBlazers have on their roster may be too much for the Pelicans to deal with.
Holiday must be able to take one of the guards, preferably Lillard out of the game. If both those guards are forced to give the ball up, the onus will fall on Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu to make big shots. If they do, say bye-bye to the birds from Lousiana.
Blazers in 7
East
Raptors v Wizards
The Raptors underwent a wholesale culture shift over the summer, taking pressure off Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. They still have playoff ghosts to deal with and they don’t get an easy test here, as they’ll take on the Wizards.
Washington has had a season that has largely been considered a disappointment. They were inconsistent with John Wall, and once he underwent surgery, it looked like they might go under. Fortunately, they stabilized and were able to keep afloat until Wall’s return. He’s looked exceptional since he’s been back, showing the pure talent that’s made him a top point guard.
The Wizards can beat the Raptors. They have the talent to. Toronto has to prove they’re past their playoff struggles before they can be picked to win a series.
Wizards in 7
Bucks v Celtics
The Bucks have also been a disappointment this year, firing their coach midseason. Giannis is a special player who’s surrounded by good players that don’t seem to fit well together. He’s gonna have to play a lot of minutes to keep his team in the game.
The Celtics have lost numerous players to injury and it’s a testament to their culture and coaching that they’ve excelled. Al Horford and Jayson Tatum have to step up in Kyrie Irving’s absence. They have to play their interchangeable lineups that have served them well this year in order to get past a scary Bucks team.
The Celtics should win this series if they can keep Giannis in check with multiple defenders. If he starts blowing past everyone and finishing at the hoop… Bucks could make some noise.
Celtics in 6
Conference Finals
West: Rockets vs Warriors
East: Cavs vs Sixers

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NBA Playoff Picture Preview