By: Kento Kato
NBA Playoff 1st Round Predictions
Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
This will be the first time the Celtics will go into the playoffs as the number 1-seed since they won it all in 2009. They should have no problems here as they play against a team that has been very inconsistent this year. At their best, they have the ability to spread the floor with Rajon Rondo being their floor general and Jimmy Butler being the go-to-guy. Dwyane Wade can and should be tough to guard as he always is in the playoffs, and if Nikola Mirotic, Denzel Valentine, and co. can hit the outside shot, they have a chance to take a game or two. But in too many games during the season, the Bulls struggled to be a consistent offensive team and were not necessarily elite on defense either.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are very consistent. Even with Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, and Al Horford all missing time at points during the season, the Celtics managed to eclipse 50 wins. Their ceiling may not be as high as some of the other contending teams, but their floor is also higher. Night in and night out, they compete, play together and play tough. Isaiah Thomas remains one of the toughest players to guard but they do lack offensive consistency and explosiveness outside of him. The games may be close, but Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown will provide the Celtics with more offense than the Bulls role players will and should help the Celtics win it in 5.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers
The Cavaliers stumbled into the playoffs and it is not a great signs for their fans as no team that has gone under .500 since after the All-Star Game has won the finals. We all know LeBron James can and probably will turn it on in the playoffs but what about everyone else? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are both still All-Stars but still have just a fraction of the playoff experience that LeBron has so it is a bit concerning to see them wait until the playoffs until they “flip the switch”. But even if they are able to do so, the rest of the crew will need to prove that they can do so as the Cavaliers’ role players have struggled also. And they will need to do so with their defense as that is what has really hurt them in the last two months.
On the other hand, you have the Pacers, who have probably been the biggest disappointment this season, but is lead by what seems to be a very motivated and in-rhythm Paul George. We have seen Paul George have some very memorable games against the King and I expect Paul George to will his team to at lesat one win and can see the Pacers winning two games this series. But at the end of the day, the Cavaliers are still a 2-seed and the Pacers are still a 7-seed.
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Raptors finally got to see Kyle Lowry in the lineup with P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka for the last few games of the season. The Raptors defense has improved since acquiring Ibaka and Tucker and it should only get better with Lowry back. They have been overlooked for much of the season after a slow start and after Lowry went out. But the dark horse Raptors still managed to enter the playoffs with the 3-seed and they could make some noise and go deep in the playoffs yet again. Many people, including myself, have focused on the addition of the two aforementioned front-court players, but at the end of the day, this team will only go as far as Derozan and Lowry takes them. If they want to have any real chance at taking out the Cavaliers, the two All-Star guards will have to shoot a lot better than they did last season.
The Bucks are back in the playoffs after missing out last year, in large part, due to Giannis Antetokounmpo. But it wasn’t until the return of Khris Middleton that this team really took off. In him, they got a great shooter, good defender, and a solid rebounder. We all would have liked to see this team with the Greek Freak, Middleton, and Jabari Parker, but nonetheless, this Bucks team is lengthy, hungry, and ready to shock the world. That being said, I still think that they lack the experience and will ultimately lose in 5. But expect a huge series from Giannis.
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Wizards cooled off a bit after an incredible stretch from about October to March, in which they had one of the league’s best record during that span, but they are still a very dangerous team. John Wall posted career-highs in points, assists, and steals and leads what is a very dangerous offensive team. And his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal finally had a season in which he was able to pretty healthy and he has always played well in the playoffs so I expect him to continue that trend. They have the ability to score with any team in the league, even the Cavaliers, Rockets, and the Warriors, but this team will only go as far as they want to, if their defense remains solid. They started out the year playing great defense but in the second half of the season, they were near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. Overall, they still managed to boast a defense that was in the top half of the league, but they will need to buckle down on that side of the ball again.
The Atlanta Hawks, the so-called Spurs of the east, play very differently than the Wizards. They do not have a Wall-like player that initiated the offense the majority of the game as they rely on constant movement and they are a lot more defensive-minded and consistent on that end than the Wizards. But in the playoffs, having the best player on the court helps, and that honor belongs to the Wizards’ Wall. The Hawks usually get past the first round (only to get swept by LeBron seemingly every year), but I do not see it happening this year as the Wizards have the potential to play like a 2-seed. I see the Wizards taking this in 6 games.