There are so many variables that will at least affect the margin of victory and number of games (possibly the winner) of this series, Kevin Love’s injury, Andre Iguodala’s injury, Steph Curry’s injury, Kerr’s and Lue’s rotation decisions. But the most important thing is really how engaged the Warriors are. If they play 100% in each quarter of each game, this SHOULD be a sweep. But, every slow start could lead to a loss if the Cavs take advantage of those. My guess is that there will be a couple games where the Warriors play with fire and the Cavs will take at least one of those (and even if the Warriors don’t take a game off, I can see LBJ putting everything he has left into ensuring they win at least one, even if he’s dead-tired for the rest of the series).
I’m gonna take a detour. It’s pretty cool for the Celtics that they’ve been able to get this far without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. That might speak to how weak the Eastern Conference is, but still, great for them. That being said, I’m actually pretty bummed that the Bucks fired Jason Kidd now. I don’t think Kidd was an unbelievable coach or anything, but he was better than Joe Prunty, and considering that the Bucks took the Celtics to 7, I wonder if with halfway decent coaching, they might’ve been here in the Conference Finals and we’d get to see Giannis and LeBron in this series.
Alright, about the actual series: all I can say is that I don’t think the Celtics will get swept. The Cavs are doing their thing and crushing these weaker Eastern Conference teams. It helps that the Celtics, much like the Pacers, seem like a team that doesn’t get rattled easily. The Cavs will win and will win convincingly, but I don’t think it’ll be a humiliating sweep.
Cavs in 5
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
I’m probably a little too confident for the Warriors, but I really feel like this might be similar to the last two Raptors/Cavs series. The Rockets had a great regular season, Chris Paul has had some great playoff games. Harden hasn’t looked great when things get tight. On the other hand, we don’t really know how well Curry’s knee is, so he may be more limited than we know. Either way, I don’t see the Rockets winning more than one, if the Warriors do their usual thing where the take their foot off the gas in Game 3 or 4. But, considering the fact that they’ll be playing Games 3 and 4 on the road, I think they’ll be ready to play.
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.
I’ve been mostly wrong this post-season, so I’m not afraid to be wrong again. I’ve fooled myself into thinking the Eagles can do this. The Giants made it happen (twice) with a quarterback not much better than Nick Foles and a defense of similar quality. It seems like mediocre quarterbacks have a better shot against the Patriots than great ones, so I’ll let myself believe the Eagles are going to pull this off. The Patriots defense isn’t great, they’ll let the Eagles run and give Foles enough time to make it work. The Patriots obviously have the advantage in terms of experience, but the Eagles have stuck with underdog, “nobody believes in us” attitude and rode it to two playoff upsets, I don’t think they’ll be scared. So, fuck it. The Eagles are really gonna do it this time.
No one really knows what’s going on with Brady’s hand and there is no reason to believe Belichick doesn’t have whatever magic it might take to get Brian Hoyer to win and AFC Championship game. I think people make too much of Tom Coughlin’s influence on the Jaguars and how it might mean they’ll beat the Patriots like the Giants have in the past. That said, are Blake Bortles and Eli Manning that much different? So, just for fun, I’m going to buy the Jaguars hype, believe Brady is actually hurt, and assume Hoyer is just as bad on the Pat’s roster as he has been since he left the team… and predict that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be going to Super Bowl 52.
Prediction: Jaguars win
Vikings @ Eagles
Well, I didn’t trust Case Keenum nor Nick Foles to win last weekend and they both did. I guess I trust Keenum more. The Eagles’ defense seems to play better at home and if they can keep the Vikings under 20 points, they might be able to pull this off. That said, I still think Keenum having so much confidence and a whole season of experience with this team and coaching staff will make a difference. I think the Vikings win, but only if they can put points on the board. If the Eagles can make it an ugly game, it’s theirs.
It’s almost impossible to trust the Falcons to win a playoff game, but it’s somehow even harder to trust Nick Foles to win a playoff game. The Falcons should win this one, the Eagles defense seemed to decline towards the end of the season and Nick Foles just couldn’t run the offense effectively. The Falcons SHOULD have confidence after than win over the Rams and have the more talented Quarterback. But, they’re the Falcons, so they could find a way to blow this. My guess is that they don’t do that just yet though.
Prediction: Falcons win
Titans @ Patriots
The Titans don’t have a chance in hell, but after Mariota’s performance last week, I expect them to put up a good fight. But, there’s not much mystery as to who wins this one.
Prediction: Patriots win
Jaguars @ Steelers
The Jaguars annihilated the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 5, but their performance against the Bills, especially Bortles’, shouldn’t inspire much confidence. I think the Jags have a shot if Bortles plays like he did at his peak in the middle of the season and Antonio Brown isn’t quite himself. But, the Steelers’ offense, even against the Jag’s excellent defense, will probably score too much for the Jaguars to keep up.
Prediction: Steelers win
Saints @ Vikings
The Vikings beat the Saints at home in Week 1, but that was Week 1 and since then Sam Bradford got injured and now the Vikings are starting Case Keenum. Also since then, Alvin Kamara has had a breakout year (as has the Vikings’ Adam Thielen). Either way, it’s hard to know if the result will be the same and Drew Brees has had a few monster games this season that make me feel like he’ll be able to turn it up in a playoff game in a way that Case Keenum won’t.