2018 NBA Playoff Preview and Predictions (First Round)
The 2018 NBA Playoffs are upon us. The match-ups have been set. The first round of playoffs is scheduled to begin Saturday, April 14th. This year's playoffs are poised to be an exciting one. The competition in the Eastern and Western Conferences are stiff. There is not much separation in talent and potential. Lets look at the first round match-ups in each conference.
1: Toronto Raptors vs. 8 Washington Wizards
The Raptors are the top dogs of the East, setting a single season record in wins with 59. The Raptors look to overcome their playoff woes and make it to the NBA Finals. The Wizards enter the playoffs in a slump, losing 7 out of their last 10 games. The good news for the Wizards is that their all star point guard John Wall is fully healthy. Both teams are evenly matched. The Raptors does average more points per game (111.7) than the Wizards (106.6). The Raptors will prevail but it will not be easy. The length of this series will depend on the play of Kyle Lowry, who is known to go cold in the postseason.
Raptors over Wizards in 6
2: Boston Celtics vs. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
The Celtics enter the playoffs with high hopes. But, they will have to make the journey without all star Kyrie Irving, who will miss the entire playoffs. Despite not having Irving, the Celtics have not missed a beat. The Bucks have fallen below expectations. They posted a 12-13 record post All Star Break. Although the Bucks are loaded with talent, the Celtics have a better overall team. They are ranked in the top ten in points scored, total defense, 3-points made and 3-point percentage. The key for the Celtics will be rookie Jayson Tatum. If he plays well, the Celtics will be more dangerous. The Bucks will make this interesting, but it will not be enough.
Celtics over Bucks in 6
3: Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6 Miami Heat
The 76ers blasted through all expectations, entering the playoffs as the 3rd seed. They have been on fire, winning 15 games in a row to close out the regular season. After missing the playoffs last year, the Heat returns as the 6th seed. Their defense will be key as they look to slow down the attack of Ben Simmons. The 76ers will be without all star center Joel Embiid in game one and is questionable for the entire first round. The question is can the young players of the 76ers handle the playoff pressure. The Heat are less talented, but have veterans to rely on such as Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside. If Embiid does not play in this series, the 76ers are in trouble.
Heat over 76ers in 7
4: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 5 Indiana Pacers
The Cavaliers find themselves in an unfamiliar place. They are the number 4 seed for the first time in the LeBron James Era. The Pacers have been a thorn in the Cavaliers' side, defeating them three out of their four meetings. The key for the Cavaliers will be defense. They finished the regular season ranked at the bottom of the NBA, allowing 109.9 points per game and 47.5 percent shooting. The Pacers have the less talented team on offense. All Star Victor Oladipo is the only player who averages more than 15 points per game. If the Cavaliers' Kevin Love plays at a high level, the Cavaliers will win this series with relative ease, despite their defensive woes.
Cavaliers over Pacers in 5
1: Houston Rockets vs. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Rockets had a historic regular season, setting a single season franchise record in wins and the NBA record in 3-pointers. They seem to be the overall favorites to win the NBA championship. But first, they will have to get past the Timberwolves, who return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Timberwolves have a good offense but they will have trouble containing the Rockets on defense. In the three regular season games, the Rockets scored 116, 120, and 129 points against the Timberwolves and won the games. With the improvements made on defense, the Rockets will overpower the Timberwolves.
Rockets over Timberwolves in 4
2: Golden State Warriors vs 7 San Antonio Spurs
The defending champions, Golden State Warriors look to march back to the NBA Finals. Despite injuries to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, the Warriors still finished second in the West. The Spurs were successful in reaching the playoffs and extending their streak. But, they will have to face the Warriors without Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs must rely on their number one-ranked defense to keep the Warriors grounded. But, it will not be enough. The Warriors are still the offensive juggernauts of the NBA, ranking first in points per game (113.5). Also, the Spurs do not have enough offensive firepower to match. The Warriors will have a relatively easy time.
Warriors over Spurs in 4
3: Portland TrailBlazers vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans
This match-up is very intriguing. The TrailBlazers shocked the West, finishing 3rd in the conference. The Pelicans are heating up at the right time, entering the playoffs on a 5 game winning streak. The Pelicans are the better offensive team, but struggle defensively. The Blazers are lead by their duo Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who both average north of 20 points per game. Although the Pelicans have Rajon Rondo, who has tasted success in the postseason, the Pelicans do not have enough to stop the Blazers.
TrailBlazers over Pelicans in 5
4: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5 Utah Jazz
This series looks to be the best of the first round. The Thunder did not perform up to expectations but managed to finish 4th. They look to prove doubters wrong. Carmelo Anthony will be key for the Thunder. He returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Melo will have to step up after an underwhelming regular season. The Jazz were arguably the most surprising team in NBA, making the playoffs after losing Gordon Hayward in free agency. Also, the Jazz have a stingy defense, allowing under 100 points per game. They are led by their rim protector, Rudy Gobert. This series can go either way. The Thunder have the better talent but the Jazz have the better team. This will be the only series to go the full seven games in the West. The Thunder will barely get by the Jazz due to having more experience.
Thunder over Jazz in 7