The Cavaliers do not look invincible to the rest of the Eastern Conference like they have the past few years. The thing is, they certainly seem invincible to the Toronto Raptors. Despite the fact that the Raptors were the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference, they seem to be more scared of the Cavs than any other Eastern Conference team. Logically, the Raptors should win this easily, but I just can’t trust them to do it.
Cavs in 6
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
There’s almost no question that the 76ers win this series. They’re young and inexperienced, but they have too much talent and the players still standing on the Celtics really don’t have much of an experience advantage in their current state. I’ve been skeptical of Brad Stevens being THAT much better than most other coaches, but he’s clearly proven that he’s a difference maker for this Celtics team. I think the Celtics can take a game when the 76ers get too comfortable and let off the gas. But, unless the 76ers lose their two best players to injury, this won’t be much of a series.
It was already going to be a tough series for the Jazz, but now it sounds like Ricky Rubio may not be able to play in this series, and that’s going to make it even tougher for Utah. I still don’t think it’s impossible that they pull off an upset, their defense is good enough to totally mess up the Rockets, it’s just that the Jazz offense may not be able to score enough points to compete.
Rockets in 6
Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans
There are so many variables to consider with this series. Is Rondo really this good in the playoffs? How about Mirotic? Or were they just up against a bad Blazers defense? When will Steph be back? How good will he be? It’s tough to judge how either of these teams played in the last series both because of opponent and circumstance, but I think the Warriors will win it handily. Bringing Steph back may prove to be a challenge. I could actually see them only losing the first game he plays (or first game he starts) just because of the readjustment for him and for the rest of the team. The Pelicans might be for real, but I don’t think they’re beating the Warriors.
The Raptors might lose game 1, they might lose the series. But, despite the fact that I originally predicted the Wizards could be the best team in the East (before the season started), I think the Raptors have proven they can beat ALMOST anybody, and I think they’ll at least be confident in this first round. The Wizards are good enough to win a couple, and should make it a competitive series, but the Raptors should win this one.
Raptors in 6
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7)
The Celtics have a lot of injuries to deal with, and I’m not one of these people that worships at the church of Brad Stevens. But, after seeing how they won the series against the Bulls and Wizards last year (with a much different roster), I think they’ll be able to beat a team at a serious coaching disadvantage, even if that team has the best player on the floor in Giannis Antetokounmpo. This could be the year the Bucks get past the first round, but I think the Celtics will grind through it.
Celtics in 7
Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Miami Heat (6)
The 6ers are clearly the more talented team, but inexperience will cause them to drop a few games they should win. I anticipate at least one vintage Dwyane Wade game and an inexplicable Kelly Olynyk game. I also think Spoelstra will out-coach Brett Brown (who I also think has done a fantastic job this year). If Embiid comes back, the 6ers might pull it off, but despite the fact that the 76ers have the clearly superior roster, it will be tough to be so dependent Ben Simmons and his poor shooting (again, despite the fact that he’s unbelievable in just about every other facet of the game). Embiid is the wildcard here, but I trust the Heat to pull this off.
Heat in 7
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)
We’ve seen this before. The Pacers had an awesome season and won twice as many games as most expected. But LeBron James is here to annihilate the Eastern Conference again and the Pacers will be his first victim.
Cavs in 4
Houston Rockets (1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
The Rockets were clearly the better regular season team, but if Jimmy Butler can handle the minutes Thibs will give him and KAT and Wiggins aren’t afraid of the moment, I think they’ll at least put up a fight. The Rockets shouldn’t lose this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Rockets in 6
Golden State Warriors (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
They might come out stale in Game 1 or Game 3. I expect them to drop one, but ultimately, I don’t really think the Spurs even want to be there. They might want to win one for Pop, or win one for Aldridge, but that might be it.
Warriors in 5
Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (6)
The Pelicans will have the most talented player on the floor, and that counts for a lot. But Dame and CJ have won playoff games and Davis hasn’t, that might count for a lot too. Nurkic is the big wild card in this series. If he’s awesome, the Blazers should have a good chance of winning; and the same could be said fo Amini. But, the Blazers might be in trouble if they’re fully dependent on their backcourt.
Blazers in 6
Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
The Jazz are an unbelievable story this year and it’s been awesome to watch. The Jazz have the better coach (I know, I know, but for the NBA), but the Thunder definitely have the two most talented players in Westbrook and Paul George. Rudy Gobert is awesome, Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles have been great too. But, I don’t know if that’s enough against Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and whatever Melo has left. I think the Jazz could definitely win, but the Thunder should.