The regular season is over, which means it’s time for the 2017 NBA playoffs to begin. The defending champions, Cleveland Cavaliers, kick off the postseason with game 1 in their first round series against the Indiana Pacers. We’ve got our predictions for that series and the other 7, including the intriguing Thunder-Rockets series, which will provide a platform for MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden to duel with stats.
Indiana Pacers vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite the Cavs poor record since the All-Star break, the resting and the coasting, it’s hard not to consider them as massive favorites to beat the Pacers in the first round. Yes, Paul George and Lance Stephenson have given James problems in the past, but the Cavaliers are just too good to fall so early, unless there’s something so fundamentally wrong with this team and we’re ignoring it. Conclusion? Cavaliers in 5.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Toronto Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered everything that was promised his more this season as he became the man who does it all for the Bucks, ranking top 20 in the NBA in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. But the absence of Jabari Parker will be too much for the Bucks to deal with against a deep and experienced Toronto team. Conclusion? Raptors in 6.
Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs
The Grizzlies were hoping to give themselves an edge later in the season by signing Chandler Parsons. Turns out he’s too fragile to be relied upon, at least this year. On the other side are the Spurs, who have swept the Grizzlies in three of the four times the teams have met in the playoffs, including last year in the First Round. Kawhi Leonard is better, the Spurs overall are better. Conclusion? Spurs in 4.
Utah Jazz vs Los Angeles Clippers
On the one hand, the Clippers are more experienced in the playoffs overall and took the regular season series 3-1. But things change in the playoffs, and the Jazz seem to be built for slower basketball that relies on depth and defense, along with the emergence of Gordon Hayward as a bonafide star and Rudy Gobert as the best defensive big man in the NBA. Conclusion? Jazz in 7, and maybe the end of the Rivers-Griffin-Paul triangle in L.A.
Atlanta Hawks vs Washington Wizards
Unless John Wall’s quads injury is serious, it’s hard to see the Hawks, with the 27th best offense in the NBA (per possession) keeping up with a terrific Wizards team. Yes, the game slows down in the playoff which might be better for the Hawks, but it seems that after what looked like two years of moving towards being serious contenders in the East, the Hawks moved backwards. Conclusion? Wizards in 6.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Golden State Warriors
Damian Lillard said the Blazers are going to win this in six. Not going to happen. Kevin Durant is back, Stephen Curry is playing terrific basketball, and the Warriors swept Portland in the regular season, as well as beating them (a better Portland team than this year) 4-1 in the playoffs last year. Conclusion? Warriors in 4, sweeping their way into the conference semifinal.
Chicago Bulls vs Boston Celtics
The Bulls and Celtics have met four times in the playoffs over the years, including twice during the Michael Jordan era. The Bulls have never won the series, including a terrific 7-game first round series back in 2009, when Rajon Rondo was still in Boston. The Bulls are probably the most difficult 8th seed the Celtics could have asked for but in the end, there’s a reason Boston won so many games in the regular season. Chicago are dysfunctional, difficult and unpredictable, but bottom line not good enough to win in the best-of-7 series. Conclusion? Celtics in 7.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets
So here we have it. The two favorites to win the MVP (although Kawhi Leonard should have it) squaring off in a series bound to give us 250 points and more each night, with plenty of turnovers, 3-pointers and passion in an overall whirlwind of basketball. Westbrook will keep putting up triple doubles, but the Rockets were made to play at this tornado-like speeds, and James Harden will prevail, which means moving on to the next round, even if Westbrook wins the individual battle. Conclusion? Rockets in 6.