Viet and David give their (not so) expert opinions on the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.
NBA Western Conference Playoff Bracket
1. Rockets vs. 8. Timberwolves
V- Minnesota has the 5th-best offense in the league, anchored by Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns. Despite this being a Tom Thibodeau coached squad, their defense is bad (23rd overall). If the regular season is any indication, this is really good news for Houston. The Rockets beat Minnesota by exactly 20 points the first 3 times they played. The last time they played Minny (sans Jimmy Buckets) was the closest game, a 12 point victory for the Rockets.
That point differential (+18) is the 2nd largest for the Rockets against any of the Western Conference Playoff teams, trailing only Utah (+19.5). Both teams can score but the Rockets can also play a little defense this year (6th overall) and that may prove to be the difference. Should be a fun clash of styles pitting a team that shoots and makes the fewest 3-point shots in the league versus the team that is ranked first in NBA history in both categories. The Wolves, on the adrenaline of finally making the playoffs post-Garnett, might be able to steal one at home. Rockets in 5.
D- How bad would Minnesota’s defense be if Thibodeau wasn’t the coach? Their roster is stacked with long, athletic guys, but they cannot seem to stop anyone. The main question here, is how many points does Houston score in the series? Do they break 500 points in 4 games? I say yes. Rockets in 4.
4. Thunder vs. 5. Jazz
V- This should be a gritty series as Utah has the size and defense to limit OKC’s stars. In the end I believe Russ and PG13 will be too much offense for the Jazz to keep up with, especially since they will be depending so much on their stellar rookie Donovan Mitchell. As a Rockets fan I am rooting for the Jazz as they are the only team that poses an even more inviting match-up than the aforementioned T-Wolves, but this should go OKC with a couple nail-biters thrown in. Thunder in 6.
D- I really don’t know where to go with this one. On one hand, Russ Westbrook and PG13. On the other, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. I really think that OKC would’ve preferred to play Portland, because Gobert has made Russ’s life pretty rough in their matchups so far this season. Besides, OKC has Melo, and he never gets past the first round. Utah in 7.
3. Blazers vs. 6. Pelicans
V- The Pelicans were surprisingly successful despite losing Demarcus Cousins for the year. Most of that success stems from Davis’s incredible season. That said, they may still be the most under-gunned team in the WC playoffs. Blazers looked like they had the three seed locked up until a surging Jazz team coupled with a losing streak turned the last game of the season into a battle for 3rd. This is a more balanced Blazers team that can actually play some defense. Davis might be good enough to win one by himself. Blazers in 5.
D- Anthony Davis is really really good. But he’s also basically the entire New Orleans team – I mean Jrue Holiday vs. Damien Lilliard… Portland, on the other hand, was one of the hottest teams in the West in the second half of the season. Davis is good enough to steal a game, but an all around team effort leads Portland to round 2. Blazers in 5.
2. Warriors vs. 7. Spurs
V- Kawhi is out. What a brilliant built in excuse to basically quit on a team. Somewhere, not on an airplane, Royce White is crying himself to sleep seeing how that actually works. This summer will be interesting but Kawhi has laid the framework to have a “say” in where he goes if the Spurs decide to move on. Durant wrecked the league when he went to GSW, so even without Curry they will be okay. Warriors in 3.
D- I find it interesting that V is calling Golden State in 3, considering that this is a best of 7 series.
So Kawhi basically didn’t play in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors last year (oh what could have been), and he’s not going to play this year either. So will the outcome be any different? San Antonio was spanked by Golden State last year, but that was with Steph Curry and the 2017 LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor. This year, no Steph Curry, and the new and improved 2018 version of Aldridge. Is that enough for San Antonio to pull the upset? Probably not, but a man can hope! Warriors in 6.
NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Bracket
1. Raptors vs. 8. Wizards
V- Wizards are that one team that never seems to get over the hump. A Wall injury seemed to revitalize the team momentarily until they crashed back down to into their resplendent mediocrity. A spontaneous media campaign by Wall calling out his team-mates mid-season only piled on the Wizards bizarre and underwhelming season. Raptors looked sharp this season, and they are armed with enough depth to make a deep run. Raptors in 5.
D- You could argue that Toronto and Washington are comparably talented teams. So why are the Raptors the #1 seed and the Wiz Kids the #8 seed? It’s simple. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are Will Farrell and John C. Reilly at the end of Step Brothers. John Wall and Bradley Beal? They’re Farrell and Reilly at the beginning of the movie… Raptors in 6.
4. Cavaliers vs. 5. Pacers
V- It seems like the Pacers always play Lebron. It is built in to the fabric of the EC playoffs. Oladipo has been very impressive after being unceremoniously cast off last summer by OKC. This should be a hard fought series, but Lebron will once again be too much for the Pacers to handle. Cavaliers in 6.
D- All I wanted for Christmas was Lebron James vs. Lance Stephenson, and apparently I was a very good boy this year. The Cavaliers were extremely meh this year, and the Pacers were a fun surprise *cough, holy crap, Oladipo, cough*, but at the end of the day, it is what it is, and this is playoff LeBron. Cavaliers in 6.
3. 76ers vs. 6. Heat
V- Trust the process! No Embiid, no problem. The 76ers roar into the playoffs riding a 16 game winning streak. Also, Embiid might be back as early as game 2. The Heat have been a plucky bunch, winning many games they probably shouldn’t have this year. It will be enough to get them a game at home. 76ers in 5.
D- So this Ben Simmons kid seems like he might stick around in the NBA, even without a jump shot. However, no matter how good the ROY has been this year, we’re all tuning in for some Embid vs. Whiteside smackdowns. Prayers for Embid that he makes it back before the end of the series. Sixers by sweep (which means 4, V).
*Editor’s Note: My dude…
2. Celtics vs. 7. Bucks
V- The Celtics may be the most hobbled 2nd seed in NBA history. They finished with a record of 55-27 despite a year filled with all sorts of injuries, including season-enders to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. As for the Bucks, it was a tumultuous season, filled with injuries and a head coaching change, but they’re back in the playoffs for a second straight year. The Greek Freak will be the best player on the court every night but it will be a battle of weaknesses. The Celtics, who weren’t exactly high octane with Kyrie, will struggle to manufacture offense. Good thing they go against an absolutely horrible Bucks defense. Stars can win series and I expect some highlight moments for Giannis. Ultimately, the Celtics still have elite defense, great coaching, and home-court, which should be enough in the end to win. Celtics in 7.
D- Best player on the court goes to Milwaukee with the Greek Freak, but best player off of the court (I mean coach) goes to Boston by a landslide. Giannis is going to make this interesting at times, but Brad Stevens knows how to maximize what he has, and will make this series look easier than it should be. Celtics in 6.