(Stats via Basketball-Reference.com)
NBA Playoffs – Round 1 Predictions
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons – Cavs in 5
This is similar to last year’s matchup with the Celtics, which resulted in a sweep. A young team with a great coach (Brad Stevens) facing LeBron James and two (previous) all-star caliber players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. This year, the Cavs‘ younger players have playoff experience too. But, the Pistons have Reggie Jackson, who has been to the NBA Finals and played in the Western Conference Finals. The Pistons also have Andre Drummond, an NBA Allstar this year. But, a major difference between Brad Stevens and Pistons’ coach, Stan Van Gundy, is his playoff experience. He’s taken teams to the Finals and is no stranger to the first round. Tyronn Lue, on the other hand, has only coached half a a regular NBA Season; but is no stranger to Championship runs as a player (much like Steve Kerr last year). The Pistons are good enough to make this a competitive series. But, the Cavs know their best chance to beat the Warriors down the road is to be less banged-up and better rested. They will be motivated to end this quickly. Also, if the Cavs can get this done in 4, Justin Bieber won’t have to move his Cleveland performance.
Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers – Raptors in 5
The Raptors last 2 playoff appearances ended in first round exits. In 2014 they lost in 7 games to the Brooklyn Nets, then got swept in 2015 by the Wizards. They’re a better team this year, and they know they have to advance this year. They were in striking distance of the 1st seed for most of the season and have been great against the leagues best teams. The Pacers, however, will have the best player on the floor in Paul George. The Pacers had a great start this year but started declining as the season went on. I think Paul George will takeover a game in Naptown and win one of these by himself, but the Raptors will make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets – Hornets in 7
The Heat have the talent and the experience to win this series. Their problem is age. Dwyane Wade has been incredible in so many games this season. But, they’ll likely need to lean on the inexperienced players (in the playoffs) on this team to win 4 our of 7. Goran Dragic has been on and off this season. Hassan Whiteside has barely played a full NBA season before and Justise Winslow is a rookie. Luol Deng is in a similar situation to Wade, he’s been great, but it’s unclear how tired he’ll be a few games in. I have to assume Bosh won’t be playing, but if he is, he’ll still need time to get back into rhythm. The days off between games may give Deng and Wade enough rest time to stay fresh for this series, but I think the Hornets are good enough to keep it competitive long enough for those guys to wear down. Steve Clifford has done an incredible coaching job this year, but Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, and Jeremy Lin have all been great this season and propelled the Hornets to the playoffs when many assumed they’d be awful without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This series could swing either way, but I think the Hornets can pull it off and avenge their 2014 sweep (as the Bobcats).
Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics – Hawks in 7
These teams are evenly matched in being well-coached units with no single player required to make it work. Both teams certainly have all-star caliber players, but no one that specifically makes either the offense or defense work. While the Celtics have the better coach, Brad Stevens, I think the Hawks have big enough edge talent wise with the duo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford on both offense and defense to win this. But it’s entirely possible the Celtics survive and advance.
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets – Warriors in 4
I know the Rockets won one against he Warriors last year by sleepwalking through the first half. But, if Trevor Ariza doesn’t knee Steph Curry in the head, the Rockets would’ve gotten swept. The Rockets are a mess and there’s not much else to say about that. They backed into the playoffs by beating the Lakers and the Kings‘ bench. Against any other team, I would count on James Harden taking over a game and the Rockets winning one, but the Warriors have at least three guys who can take over in response. Assuming the Rockets don’t resort to reckless fouls (they probably will), there’s no way this is competitive.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies – Spurs in 4
This is just going to be sad. Dave Joerger has done an awesome job with the Grizz-zombies. But the Grizzlies have a tough enough time getting their offense going against most teams, there’s no way they’ll be able to make it work against one of the most suffocating defenses ever in the Spurs. This one will be tough to watch and a bummer considering what the Grizzlies have accomplished short-handed.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks- Thunder in 6
This is similar to the Cavs-Pistons series. A much more talented team with a (so-far) not-great coach against an incredible coach. The difference here is that the Mavericks have playoff experience and Rick Carlisle isn’t just a great coach, but one of the greatest of all time. The Mavericks do not have the talent or the legs to win this, but Dirk and Rick will take advantage of the Thunder‘s 4th quarter woes and win a couple.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers – Blazers in 7
Since returning from injury and suspension, Blake Griffin only got 5 games in before the post-season. But the Clippers won all of them. Only two were against playoff teams (the Mavericks and Grizzlies), but it’d be surprising if he’s fully ready for the playoffs and the team as a whole might be in a weird place. These teams seem to be on opposite trajectories. The Blazers surpassed all expectations and went from an 11-20 start to get the 5th seed with a 44-38 record. Damian Lillard is as determined as ever to prove he’s one of the best players in the league, and CJ McCollum has taken an incredible leap this year. The Clippers on the other hand went from briefly being title favorites in 2015 to having just a truly bizarre season. The Clippers obviously CAN win this. But, I predict an earlier implosion than last year’s.