With the 2018 NBA playoffs set to start today, what are the first round matchups and who will be moving on to the conference semifinals?
(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards
The first place Raptors will take on Washington in the first round this year. Toronto, who’ve never been the number one seed in the postseason, will be looking for more than just a first round win this year. The story here is the matchup of the two elite guards for each team. The experienced and talented backcourt tandems will look to better the other. While Toronto is much deeper than Washington, the Wizards may find a spark in their team with John Wall’s return. Still though, despite their postseason troubles, the Raptors will take this one.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors; 4-1
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had their regular season struggles yet again this season, barely hanging on to a home playoff spot in the East. Right behind them, the revamped Indiana Pacers stunned the whole league as Victor Oladipo came home and turned in his first All-Star year in the league. While it’s tempting to pick the Pacers to make the upset and defeat the defending conference champions, the Cavs still have LeBron James and it’d be surprising to see a young team take down The King still in his prime. Cleveland may struggle but they should be fine here.
Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers; 4-1
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat
Finally back in the playoffs, Philly will need Ben Simmons to carry them through the first round without Joel Embiid. The team recently reinforced their back court by getting Markelle Fultz back from injury who could even start beside Simmons against the Heat. If Simmons stays on the roll he’s on, they’re gonna be hard for Miami to stop. While the Heat are again in the postseason, they have no real star expect for possibly Goran Dragic but that’s a stretch. While Whiteside may be a top NBA center, Erik Spoelstra doesn’t play him like one. Although, without Embiid this round, he could be a factor. Either way, the Sixers should handle this easily.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers; 4-0
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks
This will be one of the more interesting matchups of the playoffs. Though Boston again looked elite this year, they’re now without their two All-Stars, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Though they’re still one of the deepest teams in the playoffs, Giannis and the Bucks have a talented enough offensive lineup to take down the Celtics. Al Horford now becomes the best player on Boston’s available team and several young stars will have to step up for the Celtics to have a chance. Never doubt Brad Stevens but with Antetokounmpo playing like an MVP along with Middleton and Bledsoe, Milwaukee is the favorite here.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks; 4-2
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
After getting Jimmy Butler back just a few games ago, Minnesota downed the Nuggets Wednesday to clinch a postseason birth for the first time since KG was there. While making it is an accomplishment in the West, they’ll be running into a buzzsaw in Houston in the first round. With likely MVP James Harden and future hall of famer Chris Paul, It’ll be a tough series for the Wolves. Karl- Anthony Towns will need to show he has an ability to excel against Clint Capela down low and Andrew Wiggins will have to shoot above 40% from 3 for the Timberwolves to have a chance. Even then, it’s unlikely they get past The Beard.
Prediction: Houston Rockets; 4-1
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
After OKC barely grabbed a home postseason spot at the four seed, they’ll attempt to take down rookie standout Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. While the Thunder have the big names and star power, Utah has quietly crept up the Western Conference standings in the toughest division in basketball and has the shooting, defense and chemistry to make some noise in the postseason. If Mitchell catches fire and Gobert continues his dominance on the defensive end, winning the matchup with Steven Adams, look for the Jazz to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Utah Jazz; 4-3
(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
After MVP caliber seasons from both these team’s stars, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard, the two will duke it out in the first round of the playoffs. With the loss of Boogie Cousins earlier in the year, Davis will have to do it all for the Pelicans and hope Jrue Holiday can handle backcourt duties. For Portland, they’ll rely on their two offensive weapons in the backcourt, Lillard and McCollum, to carry the load. With the roll the Blazers have been on, it’s tough to see New Orleans having enough on offense or being able to stop Portland’s explosive guards.
Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers; 4-2
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
With no Curry or Leonard, the excitement that would’ve come with this series after last year’s controversial matchup isn’t as strong. San Antonio always seems to have a shot in every series they play, but they don’t have the offensive firepower to compete with Golden State. Lamarcus Aldridge is by far their best scorer but he isn’t versatile enough to concern Warriors defenders. As long as KD and Klay can catch fire at times and Golden State can prevent sneaky runs by the Spurs they should breeze through this one.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors; 4-0