NBA Playoff Preview and Predictions
The start of the NBA Playoffs has arrived. Here are my predictions for each series, along with key questions and thoughts worth considering as these series play out. I’ll tackle these in order, beginning with the series I find most interesting:
Toronto (3) v. Milwaukee (6)
PJ Tucker has the strength and all around chops as a 1 on 1 defender to really give Giannis Antetokounmpo fits. While he’s on the floor, though, how efficient will the Raps be offensively? The ability of Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson to make open shots will give them room to breathe. But which DeMarre Carroll will we be getting for the duration? ‘16 minute a night DeMarre’, ‘30 minute a night DeMarre’, or ‘something in between picking up notable bumps and bruises along the way DeMarre’?
I chose Greg Monroe as my Sixth Man of the Year. The Bucks will certainly be leaning on him greatly, especially if Jonas Valanciunas tosses Thon Maker around on his way to easy putbacks. I think they’ll need Monroe upwards of 30 minutes a game.
Milwaukee needs to keep Kyle Lowry out of the lane. Lowry suddenly was just back from his hand injury and doing his thing. It’s one thing if DeMar DeRozan hits a few more contested jumpers than Jason Kidd would prefer. Lowry getting all the way into the teeth of Milwaukee’s defense could be the difference between early double digit leads for the Raptors and a few grind it out games that end in the high 80s. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova have their work cut out for them.
There’s a lot of talk about how exciting this playoff opportunity is for Giannis - same can be said for Khris Middleton. He came back from that hamstring tear to really fuel their playoff push and his ability to check DeRozan will be key - sliding Giannis elsewhere frees him to roam as a helper/switch some screening actions.
PREDICTION: Raptors in 6
LA Clippers (4) v. Utah (5)
Health is crucial everywhere, but it is an inescapable topic in this series more so than any other. What will Utah be getting from Derrick Favors? George Hill and Rodney Hood have been nicked up at a few different points already this season. We know the story of how last year’s playoffs went for the Clips. I am downright giddy thinking about this matchup. I really hope we can get both teams at full strength.
The battle between DeAndre Jordan/Rudy Gobert and the chess match they each play defensively will be fascinating. These are the guys that make up that upper echelon of ‘rim runner + rim protector’ archetype that the modern game loves to be built around. One misstep could lead to an easy alley oop slam for either guy. They will be the ones making those split second decisions as the backbones of their respective defenses.
Chris Paul’s brilliance will really have a chance to shine through in this one. George Hill is a surprisingly divisive player, but his defense at the position has always been undeniable. Hill really needs to shine his brightest and stay on the floor enough for Utah’s backup PGs not to hurt them.
Regardless of Favors’ health, how much does Utah go small and how well do the Clippers hold up against that on defense? I expect another classic series from Joe Johnson, knowing he’ll get plenty of chances to take those LA reserve guards down on the block.
PREDICTION: Utah in 7
Houston (3) v. Oklahoma City (6)
Russell Westbrook up against James Harden is as close as we can get to a lock from an entertainment perspective, right? Two of the top MVP candidates in a first round series! The men drawing the assignment to guard these dudes are just as exciting in this setting. Andre Roberson and Patrick Beverley are terrific defenders worthy of All-Defense consideration, plus Westbrook and Beverley have their own personal history. Russ and Harden are known for their gimmicky foul drawing - will Roberson or Beverley find themselves in foul trouble because of it?
Mike D’Antoni is known for keeping his rotation tight in the playoffs. His hand is forced even further in that direction without Sam Dekker. This is a series, though, in which Eric Gordon and Lou Williams aren’t super likely to get picked on defensively.
I don’t view OKC’s supporting cast through a negative lens like some people did in making a case for Westbrook as MVP. Victor Oladipo really needs to come through when the ball finds him. If he’s staggered just a bit, OKC won’t even need the services of its backup PGs, which has been a bugaboo all season.
I’ve really thought highly of Billy Donovan because he’s tinkered with lineups to try different things thus far in his time as an NBA head coach. I think this is the time to show more Jerami Grant at the 5. While we’re on small lineups: Houston coming at Enes Kanter lineups with Ryan Anderson at the 5 would be fun. Who blinks first in that case?
Steven Adams was a very hot name after last year’s playoffs. He got his extension. OKC doesn’t stand a chance if he isn’t every bit as good as what we saw last year.
PREDICTION: Houston in 7
San Antonio (2) v. Memphis (7)
You’ve got to be hurting some for Tony Allen right now. This series probably would have allowed him to stay on the floor and he’s the only hope Memphis had at truly slowing Kawhi Leonard down.
San Antonio’s options with its bigs are plentiful. I’m fully expecting at least two true throwback Pau Gasol performances (remixed by the 3PT shooting he’s slowly embraced) because Memphis doesn’t really have the makeup to target him enough to worry Gregg Popovich. People also soured way too quickly on LaMarcus Aldridge. That dude is still going to get them buckets and is underrated defensively.
I don’t think Memphis wins more than a game without Troy Daniels getting extremely hot. He should be able to stay on the floor guarding the likes of Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons.
PREDICTION: Spurs in 5
Boston (1) v. Chicago (8)
Boston has probably realized already that life as a #1 seed isn’t all that glamorous. I’m a little surprised at how many people are going on about the Bulls being the most likely candidate to upset somebody.
Isaiah Thomas is playing at a whole new level AND the rest of his teammates are healthy. Avery Bradley’s shooting makes a huge difference. On top of that, Jae Crowder was just shy of 40% from deep this year on 5.5 attempts per game.
I’m genuinely excited for a tug of war between Robin Lopez and Al Horford (and Kelly Olynyk to a lesser extent). There will be stretches in which Al drags RoLo out to the perimeter and glides right by him. Lopez ain’t no slouch, though. He’s going to have his say on the offensive glass and he’s been canning his midrange jumpers this season.
Boston’s bench gets a little too much love for my taste, but this won’t be the time it hurts them.
PREDICTION: Boston in 4
Cleveland (2) v. Indiana (7)
The Cavs are just too good offensively. Indiana’s backup bigs may be their weakest spot. Channing Frye is licking his chops. Ty Lue shouldn’t be afraid to deploy him in this series.
Paul George belongs with the best of the best. He showed us that already in his age 22 + 23 seasons! He’s winning a game for his team in this one by himself. Sadly, this team has been dreadful on the road all season long. And as I remember some of the ‘sad Paul George’ moments from earlier this season, I’m not remotely entertaining the idea of the Pacers truly making this series interesting if they fall behind 2-0.
Myles Turner is at the top of list of most improved guys that didn’t get that most improved spotlight shined on them much at all. But Kyrie Irving and LeBron will still get into the paint plenty. Turner can’t do it all. I’m not ready to say the Khloe Kardashian curse isn’t a thing, but I don’t think Tristan Thompson will be suffering any consequences just yet. He’ll have plenty of opportunities for mop up duty flying in for offensive rebounds.
I can’t decide which I’m more excited for: Playoff Jeff Teague or Playoff Thad Young.
What happened to pace, Larry Bird? I’ll never forgive them for what they did to Roy Hibbert. They didn’t even follow through on doing what they said they would, which would have made Hibbert expendable. Instead, Nate McMillan started things off in that direction only to slowly bring them back to what they were in the first place. And there’s no reason for any human to dislike Roy Hibbert enough to do him like they did. I’m living through the Cavs in this one.
PREDICTION: Cavs in 5
Washington (4) v. Atlanta (5)
We talked on our pod about Atlanta’s late slide without Paul Millsap at length. By mid-March, I was rooting for Atlanta to straight up miss the playoffs. I don’t think we see any Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dennis Schroder magic, most definitely not 'efficient enough to win a playoff game' magic. Dwight Howard has quietly been pretty steady, but we can’t give him too much credit. All signs indicate that he still hasn’t embraced what the entire league knows he is as a player.
Fatigue is a legitimate concern for Washington. Marcin Gortat may be wearing down already, and Ian Mahinmi is banged up going into the series. Jason Smith is going to need to give them a Drew Gooden-esque performance for at least a few minutes a night. With Mahinmi, I would really feel good about this team, knowing he could give them 18-24 minutes to keep Gortat as fresh as possible.
I want to see Kelly Oubre play more than just token minutes all the way through. Atlanta’s defense is very good, though, which may give Scott Brooks pause in making that happen. I’d expect them to willingly leave Oubre and Markieff Morris open as they send help toward John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Atlanta has a plethora of wing options, but I don’t trust their point guard play and those wings aren’t good enough to make up for that going up against a combo as great as Wall/Beal.
PREDICTION: Wizards in 4
Golden State (1) v. Portland (8)
I get that Jusuf Nurkic has been a nice story. He’s boisterous and bold and fearless, too, giving them something new at that position that the entire team can get behind. But holy smokes, if I were in that front office, I’d be terrified at the thought of him coming back for this series, regardless of what any doctor says. Portland’s roster is far from complete; they need to make a few more moves. Surging late behind Damian Lillard is worth celebrating. But they’re running into a brick wall.
I’m looking forward to seeing how much Steve Kerr is going to dare Al-Farouq Aminu to shoot threes. Portland’s small lineups will be a fun experiment to watch. Evan Turner may have the most to prove in this series. His contract didn’t make any sense. For him to prove otherwise, he’s going to need to play the best ball of his life in those stretches with just one of Lillard/CJ McCollum on the floor.
PREDICTION: Warriors in 4
I did predict three sweeps, but I’m going to be watching all of these series closely. I still like the matchups. This all comes back to the silliness of the omnipresent ‘no disrespect…’ lead ins. We don’t owe anybody an apology! Golden State and Cleveland and San Antonio and Boston and Washington and a few others are really good! This is the time of year we’ve been waiting for. Do we get Cavs-Warriors III? How soon does Kevin Durant return to form?
Be sure to stick with us all the way through for our daily news podcast, making its return for the playoffs after a brief vacation. We’ll recap all the games each day and only give you what you need to know from those games: injuries, important late game plays and key matchup/rotation observations in just 5 minutes! We’ll even have those 5 minutes of news/analysis in written form, too, if that’s your thing.