NBA Playoff Previews and Predictions

Buckle up for a wild and exciting next two months. There is no prohibitive favorite (sorry Utah), but I’m just not buying the gaudy predictions for your title odds. Landmines, brutal matchups, and superstars are sprinkled throughout this year’s seedings, and volatility should be expected. Let’s dig in.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

1-Philadelphia vs. 8-Washington

This will be a short series. The Sixers’ suffocating defense should make quick work of the Wiz’s dynamic duo. Daniel Gafford has emerged as a solid rim protector, but Joel Embiid will have his way with him. The longest this stretches out is five games, and that’d only be thanks to a true Westbrook + Beal smokeshow.

Prediction: Sixers in four

4-New York vs. 5-Atlanta

I’m psyched for this series. Playoff basketball back is in the Garden, and entertaining but sharply contrasting styles should make this a raucous series. Trae Young can win a couple of games on his own, but Tom Thibodeau will construct a scheme to contain him and has multiple stoppers to throw at him. Julius Randle is on a tear, and the Hawks best chance of slowing him down is John Collins (gulp).

Prediction: Knicks in six

3-Milwaukee vs. 6-Miami

Another great series here, which should be the most interesting from a schematic perspective. Miami bounced Milwaukee in round two in The Bubble by creating a f’ing wall to keep Giannis from dominating the paint. Erik Spoelstra vs. Mike Budenholzer is the biggest advantage Miami has, but the Heat have had a disjointed year and aren’t clicking on all cylinders thanks to plenty of missed time from Jimmy Butler and others. I expect most of these games to be tight but for the addition of Jrue Holiday to be the difference from the last time these two met in the playoffs

Prediction: Bucks in five

2-Brooklyn vs. 7-Boston

Gross. I hate both of these teams, and I don’t want to pick a winner. Thankfully, I don’t have to think too hard about it to see how this one plays out though. Brooklyn has savvily been resting their very willing to rest superstars, and Boston’s loss of Jaylen Brown is crushing to the Celtics’ chances. The most compelling angle in this series to me is how Steve Nash does in his first playoff action vs. Jedi Brad Stevens. The Nets could rest any one of their three stars and still cruise here; this is all a tune-up for them.

Prediction: Brooklyn in four

Western Conference Quarterfinals

1-Utah vs. 8-Memphis

Get your brooms out. Memphis stinks, and Golden State at least could have stolen one here with a classic Steph heater. A battle of two point guards who think they’re God’s gift to basketball will make for some obnoxious theatre in a quick series. Memphis will want to slow things down as much as possible, but Utah will bomb from deep in the sweep.

Prediction: Jazz in four

4-Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5-Dallas Mavericks

Dammit. As a Mavericks fan, that was my reaction as soon as the Clippers successfully tanked their last few games to end up playing Dallas again. Dallas’ defense has been much better of late, than their season-long rating would indicate, but this is a problematic matchup for our Mavericks. The Clippers (unlike my preferred matchup, in Denver) have multiple Luka irritators and agitators, and it’s no secret that as Luka goes, the Mavs go. This is an even more balanced Clippers team than Dallas saw in The Bubble, and unless peak Porzingis shows up, and Tim Hardaway Jr. continues his unconsciously hot shooting streak, I see a hard-fought, bitter defeat once again for Dallas.

Prediction: Clippers in six

3-Denver vs. 6-Portland

Fireworks! Man this should to be the most high-flying and wide open series of the entire playoffs. I’m excited to fight sleep for these late night tip offs and wake up on the couch to 147-143 finals with gaudy stat lines from Jokic and Lillard. The loss of Jamal Murray has only served to thrust Michael Porter Jr. into a secondary scoring role that he’s relished in, and Denver has no one to pretend they have a chance at stopping Dame or CJ. Despite their wobbly team defense, Portland actually has some formidable defensive lineups with Nurkic, so they’ll put up more of a fight defensively than one might expect. However, the eventual MVP in Nikola Jokic should be able to control most of this wildly entertaining series.

Prediction: Nuggets in seven

2-Phoenix vs. 7-Los Angeles Lakers

Poor Chris Paul. If perhaps his greatest extreme team makeover job yet is rewarded with the champs sitting at the 7 seed, I’d almost feel bad for the guy. Paul deserves legit MVP consideration, and despite my pre-season call that they’d be a top seed in the West, they’ve outpaced the wildest of expectations. Now Paul and his Suns run into the worst possible first round matchup they could have imagined. Deandre Ayton works his ass off and is a good defender but will be cooked and filleted by Anthony Davis in this matchup. It’s hard to fathom LeBron going down in round 1, and I just can’t see it happening here. And I’m not betting against him…yet.

Prediction: Lakers in six

Eastern Conference Semifinals

1-Philadelphia vs. 4-New York

I’m excited to see what Thibs would do in this series. No one can stop Joel Embiid, and as awesome as Nerlens Noel has been, he won’t be able to handle Embiid down low, and putting Julius Randle on him is the quickest way to get the Knicks’ most valuable player in foul trouble. The pesky Knicks have some guys like Reggie Bullock and Noel to slow down Simmons a bit, but Philly just has too much firepower. I’d also love and expect to see a, 40/20 type, monster game from Embiid at the Garden at some point.

Prediction: Sixers in five

2-Brooklyn vs. 3-Milwaukee

Please basketball gods, that do not exist, let us have this matchup. I feel like Brooklyn loses here or wins the whole dang thing. Milwaukee has the proper weapons to slow down the unreal offensive arsenal that Brooklyn rolls out. Giannis can minimize Durant’s impact; Jrue Holiday is tailor made to slow down Kyrie (if Irving is available, both physically and mentally), and Harden, well I guess he can just eat, but Middleton can slow him down a bit. Brooklyn is an absolute sieve on the defensive end, so the past playoff failures for Giannis, when teams successfully closed down the paint on him, are unlikely to surface here. And for the first time in years, the Bucks might actually have a coaching advantage here. The Bucks exorcise many demons here and end Brooklyn’s party earlier than most expect.

Prediction: Bucks in six

Western Conference Semifinals

1-Utah vs. 4-Los Angeles Clippers

This would be another classic series. Each team is built around two stars, and I think one of Utah’s becomes their achilles heel and gets exposed. The Clippers can run variations of small ball lineups with Batum, Morris, or Ibaka at the 5, and any of these sets will create headaches for Rudy Gobert. All respect to the likely Defensive Player of the Year, but we’ve seen him relentlessly attacked in the playoffs before, and I think we see that again here. Matchups are everything in the playoffs, and Gobert’s impact that carried this team can be drastically minimized over a long series against the same opponent. Utah can still shoot its way to the Conference Finals, but without the proper wings to throw out at Leonard and George, I don’t see it happening.

Prediction: Clippers in six

3-Denver vs. 7-Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers dispatched Denver 4-1 in The Bubble’s version of the Western Conference Finals, but these teams look much different than they did in Orlando. Any conversation about matchup headaches against the Lakers starts with their size, and the addition of Aaron Gordon plus Michael Porter Jr.’s ascendence will help mitigate some of that concern for Denver. The Nuggets have bodies like those two, JaMychal Green, and PJ Dozier to throw at LeBron and Davis in hopes of slowing them down some. And despite the Lakers’ gaudy defensive rating, something still doesn’t feel right about this team, and I doubt they can keep up with the Joker’s firepower in the thin air of Denver in a long, tough series.

Prediction: Nuggets in seven

Eastern Conference Finals

1-Philadelphia vs. 3-Milwaukee

Philadelphia has had a cakewalk to this point, and Milwaukee will be the ultimate test. It’s time to see if Joel Embiid has really evolved from the offense clogging, easy to frustrate underachiever that he has been for most of his playoff career. The Bucks can throw Brook Lopez at him and let Embiid wear himself out, and Giannis can contain Simmons as well. We may see a Heat-esque wall built up to slow down Giannis, but Khris Middleton’s emergence as a secondary playmaker along with Jrue Holiday’s presence should be enough offense to get the Bucks to their first finals.

Prediction: Bucks in six

Western Conference Finals

3-Denver Nuggets vs. 4-Los Angeles Clippers

Demons. Can the Clippers shake them after their embarrassing collapse to these same Nuggets last year? I believe they can and will. The Clippers have the tried and true formula to reach the finals in having a top 10 offense and defense, and I think their star wings will prove too devastating for Denver’s adequate defense. Similar to their attack vs. Utah, healthy doses of small ball will wear down Jokic. These Clippers are built for the playoffs and have lineup flexibility to take down anyone, and I think they keep marching to the finals.

NBA Finals

3-Milwaukee vs. 3-Los Angeles Clippers

Giannis vs. Kawhi 2.0. Version 1.0 of this was when Milwaukee embarrassingly blew a 2-0 lead to Kawhi’s Raptors on their way to the title. These two teams feature elite offenses and defenses and can beat you in multiple ways. An interesting point of emphasis here would be who controls and dictates the pace. Milwaukee plays at the second fastest pace in the entire league, while the Clippers play at the third slowest. The top two stars for each team, I’d say Giannis/Middleton and Kawhi/George are likely a wash, but you could argue that the Bucks have the next 2-3 best players. I like the Bucks depth and some good favor for Giannis’ decision to stay in Milwaukee to win out here.

Prediction: Bucks in six

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