The NBA Playoffs are here


Image from: Kim O’Reilly / CBS Sports

The NBA Playoffs have arrived. Sixteen teams remain. An NBA Championship is just sixteen wins away. Can the Warriors repeat? Can the Celtics avenge their Finals loss from last season? All questions will be answered in a matter of weeks, as round one begins this weekend. With eight enticing matchups on the round one slate, these playoffs will be sure to entertain the basketball fanbase. 


Eastern Conference

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Miami Heat / Chicago Bulls

Pick: Bucks in 4

Finishing with the best record in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks come into the playoffs red hot and will look to make another run to an NBA Championship. Led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Bucks present one of the best lineups in the league. All five starters offer major contributions to each game, and the bench is very deep. A major concern for Milwaukee, however, is their free throw shooting. The Bucks finished second-worst in free throw percentage during the regular season as a team that was bottom ten in free throw attempts. Being able to knock down free throws is of utter importance during the postseason, so this gives fans a legitimate reason to have concern about the Bucks down the stretch. Defensively, the Bucks were solid, finishing second-best in opponent field goal percentage. Regardless of who Milwaukee ends up playing, I believe their defense will force a lot of turnovers and missed shots, which will lead to easy transition baskets the other way. Also, I don’t think either opponent has a player that could lock down Giannis to help contain their offense. With this Bucks team presenting the challenge that they do, I have them sweeping their way into the second round. 


(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Atlanta Hawks

Pick: Celtics in 5

Looking to avenge their NBA Finals loss from a year ago, the Boston Celtics enter this postseason hungrier than ever. Boston finished top five this year in both total offense and total defense. They may very well be the most complete team in the entire NBA. Led by one of the top duos in basketball, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have a dominant lineup from top to bottom. They can score fast, and come back and play stiff defense. The Celtics bench was third-best in the NBA in three-point percentage as well, which makes it very difficult for opposing teams to defend them. They get a very intriguing matchup in the first round, however, as they get to face Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks surprised the basketball world by winning in Miami to secure the seven seed in the East, and will look to continue that momentum during this series. If any team is gonna give Boston a problem these playoffs, it will be because they score a lot of points. The Hawks finished third-best in the NBA in total offense, averaging over 118 points per game. Their major struggle, however, was defense, where they finished fifth-worst overall. One major stat line to follow in this series is free throws. Atlanta and Boston finished third and fourth respectively in free throw percentage. In a series in which the games could all end up being very close, free throws are going to have a dramatic impact. With that being said, I trust the experience of the Boston Celtics to help them prevail in this series. It won’t be easy, but I think they do get the job done and advance to round two. 


(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Brooklyn Nets

Pick: 76ers in 5 

Kicking off this postseason is a rematch of a first-round matchup from 2019, as the 76ers get set to match up with the Brooklyn Nets. Philadelphia swept the Nets in the four regular season games, winning by an average of over 11 points per game in those meetings. Brooklyn has found their stride, however, winning five of the last six games in which all five starters took the court. With the additions of Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Mikal Bridges, and Dorian Finney-Smith at the deadline, a spark was provided to a Brooklyn offense that was struggling to find their stride. A key factor to watch in this series will be shots from outside the perimeter. Philadelphia was best in the league in three-point percentage, while the Nets finished fifth in that category. A difficult task for the Nets in this matchup, however, is that they take on a 76ers defense that finished third-best in the NBA over the course of the regular season. The matchup on the court I believe will have the largest impact will be the two big guys in the paint. For the Nets, there’s Nic Claxton, who is 6’11, and finished second in the NBA with 2.5 blocks per game. He will now be tested by MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid, who led the league in scoring, averaging over 33 points per game. With these two going at it down low, both teams will have to rely on shots from the outside, and make sure they hit their free throws when they get to the line. With Philadelphia having the best shooting percentage from three and the free throw line, I don’t see any issues for them in this series. Thus, I have the 76ers winning the series in five games. 


(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) New York Knick

Knicks in 7

What a matchup we have here, as the Cavs and the Knicks are set to square off in round one. The Knicks defeated the Cavs in three out of four matchups this year, and will look to continue that trend here in round one. Cleveland finished sixth-worst in total offense, but finished best in the league in total defense, holding teams to under 107 points per game. Both teams have a strong starting five, with valuable assets that rotate in off the bench. For the Knicks to win this series, a key factor for them is rebounding. They finished third-best in the league in offensive rebounds, and third best in total rebounds. By getting these offensive rebounds, they steal possessions and can keep up with a Cavs offense that can strike quickly. The duo of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland have torched opponents all year with their scoring. The Knicks will have to look to Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley off the bench to account for much of their scoring. With Jarrett Allen down low for Cleveland, New York is going to have to hit a lot of outside shots against a Cavs team that struggled in guarding the distance shots. Out of all the first-round matchups, however, I truly feel that this is the most evenly matched, and one that could be close every time they play. I don’t see either team dominating this series, as I have it going to a game 7. In game seven, I feel that even though the game would be in Cleveland, the Knicks would put together a shocking performance to take out the Cavs and spoil Mitchell’s first year with them. 


Western Conference

(1) Denver Nuggets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves / OKC Thunder

Pick: Nuggets in 4

The top seed in the Western Conference, Denver Nuggets, are set up for what should be a comfortable first-round series. Denver has one of the best starting fives in the league, and are really hard to stop. MVP candidate Nikola Jokic has been stellar all season, averaging a triple-double during the regular season. Keeping up with Denver’s offense is going to be such a difficult task for any of their opponents, as they shot over 50% from the floor during the regular season. With the paint presence of Jokic, it forces opponents to take a lot of outside shots, which is not a favorable situation. The Nuggets will get out in transition and can score from everywhere. Aaron Gordon, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. pose as threats from every position, making it almost impossible to guard this team. Denver hasn’t turned the ball over much as of late, and doesn’t get outrebounded on the glass. Taking this into consideration, I find it very difficult for either of Denver’s possible opponents to take them down for a monumental upset. In fact, I don’t see them even winning one game, as I have the Nuggets winning this series in four games, and comfortably moving on to round two. 


(2) Memphis Grizzlies vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers in 6

Having the potential to go down as the best two-seed versus seven-seed matchup in NBA history, the red hot Memphis Grizzlies get to battle the Lakers. The Lakers overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to defeat the Timberwolves, earning them an opportunity to face a Memphis team that has a high level of confidence going into these playoffs. Both of these teams finished top-10 in total offense during the regular season, and have a large amount of depth when it comes to scorers. The physicality of Lebron James and Anthony Davis allow the Lakers to work into the paint and score down low. For Memphis, the elusiveness of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane allow for a lot of movement that frees up open shooters from the outside. Both teams finished in the bottom ten in three point percentage, meaning that a lot of the offense may have to come from down low. The Lakers will have to work around the presence of Jaren Jackson Jr., who led the league in blocks per game, and is also the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. The Lakers players have also come out and spoke about their thoughts on this matchup, and they seemed confident. I think the size of L.A. will cause some struggles for Memphis’s offense, and this could control the emotions of some of the Grizzlies players, specifically Dillon Brooks. With all that being said, I think the experience and leadership of the Lakers will lead them to an upset win of the Grizzlies, and will shock the NBA world.


(3) Sacramento Kings vs (6) Golden State Warriors

Pick: Warriors in 6

A very high-scoring series is expected as the Sacramento Kings get set to take on the defending champions, Golden State Warriors. Sacramento is in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, and won the Pacific Division for the first time since the 2002 season. The Kings and the Warriors finished first and second in total offense during the regular season, and will most definitely continue that success in this round. Considering both teams finished in the bottom half of the league in total defense, lots of baskets should fall during every game. Sacramento finished second-best in the NBA in field goal percentage, knocking down almost 50% of their shots. The Warriors were towards the middle of the league in that category, but found great success, as they usually do, in the three point shots, finishing second in the league. Another key factor in the offensive efficiency is the sharing of the basketball. Golden State and Sacramento finished first and third respectively in assists per game. All this ball movement contributes to freeing up open shots and space down low. A big concern in this matchup is turnovers. The Warriors finished last in the league, averaging almost 16 turnovers a game. In a series where every possession is crucial, this stat from the Warriors is definitely worrisome. However, I think that Golden State will have some stretches where they go on a huge run and “bury” Sacramento. I think it is too tall of a task for this Kings team to be able to keep pace with the Warriors on the scoreboard. They may steal a game or two, but I don’t think they have what it takes to take down the champs. Thus, I have the Warriors winning this series in six games. 


(4) Phoenix Suns vs (5) Los Angeles Clippers

Pick: Clippers in 6

Two of the NBA’s top duos get set to battle as the Clippers get to take on the Suns. L.A. will have to begin the series without Paul George, but Kawhi Leonard has been playing very good basketball in George’s absence. For Phoenix, the duo of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker has proven to be almost an unguardable pair. Offensively, both teams finished in the middle of the league, as they found their stride towards the end of the regular season. Defensively, Phoenix finished sixth and Los Angeles finished twelfth overall. The two squads are very evenly matched on paper, so this should be a very interesting series to follow. Not having Paul George for the beginning of the series definitely hurts the Clippers, but they have won some tough games this year with him on the sidelines. A big determining factor in this showdown is going to be whether or not the Clippers can steal a game in Phoenix to open up the series. Personally, I think they’re ready for the task. If L.A. can win a game without Paul George, they will set themselves up for success when he returns. Aside from the dominance of Booker, Durant, and Ayton, I don’t feel too confident in Phoenix’s roster to knock out the Clippers. The Clippers bench was third in the league in points per game, and I think this continues in the playoffs. With the depth that L.A. has, I think they sneak past Phoenix for the upset win, ruining the Suns “all-in” season and another chance for Chris Paul to get a ring.