After one of the most tightly contested regular seasons in recent memory, the NBA playoffs tips off Saturday afternoon where the champion Golden State Warriors begin their journey to repeat at Oracle against the undermanned San Antonio Spurs at 3 PM EST on ABC. Will we get a fourth straight Warriors vs. Cavs finals? There’s a good chance it happens, but the rides there might be a little bumpier than usual. The Daily Mix has you covered with a concise preview of each matchup and what you need to know heading into every series.
(1) Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards:
LTS: This definitely isn’t your average 1/8 seed type of matchup. Most of these contests will be close, but I’ll hesitantly give the edge to the Raptors amid a mediocre 7-6 finish to the season because of great bench play and home court. The Wizards never seemed to put it together this year, but are healthy at the right time. Just three years ago the Wizkids swept Toronto.
Raptors in 6
DG: This is a tough draw for the Raptors. They’re the 1 seed and their reward is a team that has been to 3 of the last 4 Conference Semis. John Wall has to play out of his mind for the Wizards to stand a chance. I could totally see the Wizards stealing a game in Toronto to make it interesting going into Game 3. However, Lowry and DeRozan are on a mission to take down The Land.
Raptors in 6
(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Milwaukee Bucks
LTS: Another anomaly when it comes to your atypical 2/7 series. Though, Boston is ravished with injuries I expect them to pull it out. I don’t trust Milwaukee even though they boast by far the most talented player in the series they are still a year ahead of schedule. Huge coaching and home-court advantage for the C’s even without Kyrie, Smart, and Hayward.
Celtics in 6
DG: Boston started the year thinking that they would be the team to unseat the Cavs and become the new Kings of the East. However, injuries to Hayward and Irving have significantly decreased their chances. Greek Freak will make this interesting, but the combo of Tatum and Brown will be too much for the Bucks to handle. The Brad Stevens Coaching Clinic continues.
Celtics in 6
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Miami Heat
LTS: Philly comes storming into the post-season as by far the hottest team and the stats back it up, as no franchise has entered the playoffs on a larger win streak to close out a season than the Sixers (16 straight). They should do a lot of growing up during the series and will have their struggles against a veteran Heat team, but if Embiid comes back healthy, they handle Miami in six. Look for the 76ers to rely on veterans Bellinelli and Redick for leadership, as the pair have appeared in a bunch of big games. I think this matchup boasts the most star power of any in the Eastern Conference.
Sixers in 6
DG: This is the best matchup in the East. On one hand, you have the hottest team in the NBA. The process was not only trusted this year, but mastered. Everything is clicking with the young guns as Simmons and Fultz are clicking. However, the Embiid injury does scare me especially since we don’t know when he’s officially coming back. Also, I am a firm believer in coaches with experience and Erik Spoelstra has a lot of it. Throw Dwayne Wade’s leadership in the mix and the Heat are ready for the upset.
Heat in 7
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Indiana Pacers
LTS: Very unfamiliar territory for a LeBron-led team to finish fourth in the East. They still get a favorable matchup against an overachieving Pacer team. I just want to sing Nate McMillan’s praises for a second as nobody predicted this team to be in the post-season. But, you know how this works. LeBron hasn’t lost a first-round game since the Knicks upset the Heat at home in 2012.
Cavs in 4
DG: Death, taxes, and LeBron James in the playoffs. Hats off to Indiana for making it to the playoffs. I thought they would be a lottery team. Lead by the most improved player in Victor Oladipo, the Pacers have had a nice season. That being said, LeBron is playing out of his mind. I’m expecting nothing less than a sweep.
Cavs in 4
(1) Houston Rockets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
LTS: The Rockets have been on cruise control the last week or so since clinching the one seed and the Wolves needed an overtime victory on the last day of the season to end their 14-year post-season drought. The Rockets should be able to kick it into gear and handle the Wolves in five.
Rockets in 5
DG: The Rockets are ridiculosuly good. Their offense is better than a video game. If you’re the Wolves, you have to be kicking yourselves for falling to the 8th spot. They were a staple in that 3rd and 4th spot until a poor second half sent them falling. The Harden Playoff Redemption Tour starts now.
Rockets in 4
(2) Golden State Warriors vs (7) San Antonio Spurs
LTS: 2017’s Western Conference Finals look a lot different as two of the major stars from the series will most likely be missing for their upcoming contests. This is an unfortunate draw for the Spurs who fell to the 7 seed after dropping their final game to the Pelicans. Sans Steph I still expect KD to dominate and Golden State to win in 6 on the back of the 2014 MVP and Klay Thompson. This all goes out the window if Kawhi makes an appearance.
Warriors in 5
DG: No one can beat the Warriors if all four of their all-stars are healthy and playing. Well, now it’s only going to be three all-stars without Curry. This has the makings to be a good series because the Spurs are supposed to be “down.” When we zig, they zag. If Kawhi Leonard plays, strap in. Warriors will not lose the series, but I’ll say they win in 6 games to be safe.
Warriors in 6
(3) Portland Trailblazers vs (6) New Orleans Pelicans
LTS: Both of these franchises overachieved this season as their star players should both be up for some MVP votes. Dame needs to be mentioned among the best point guards in the league and AD solidified himself as a bonafide stud carrying the load once Boogie went down. I’ll ride with the Blazers who should take care of home court. Rondo/Jrue vs Dame/CJ should make for an entertaining chess match in the backcourt.
Blazers in 7
DG: I second what LTS said. Both teams overachieved this years. Anthony Davis is unguardable at times and can win games by himself. That being said, it’s time to start the Damian Lillard For First Team All NBA Team Campaign. He’s that good and he’s on a mission to prove it on a big stage. Dame and the Blazers take care of business.
Blazers in 6
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Utah Jazz
LTS: After a rocky start, OKC straightened out their woes and took care of business the final three games of the year to get in prime position for home court and a favorable draw in the first round. Adams equalizing Gobert is the key this series. I’m hoping to see an efficient Westbrook and timely shotmaking from Melo and PG. Thunder in 6.
Thunder in 6
DG: When it seemed like OKC was dead, they came back to life thanks to spectacular play from their leader, Russell Westbrook. I’m very interested to see how Russ incorporates PG and more importantly, Melo, into the playoff offense. On the other side, who would’ve thought the Jazz would be a 5 seed this year? Quinn Snyder is a hell of a coach. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of this rookie named Donovan Mitchell who’s pretty good. The Jazz play together as a team better than the Thunder. Jazz with the upset.
Jazz in 7
Enjoy the playoffs.