The 2018 NBA playoffs are here and we look at the best matchups in the first round that will be interesting enough for us to enjoy. We always overlook first round matchups and have the foregone conclusion that the higher seed will prevail, but there could be some potential upsets in the making.
3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6 Miami Heat
The city of Philadelphia is back in the basketball playoff world with home court in the first round against Miami with Dwyane Wade at the helm. The talk of the East has been the Sixers as they are the favorites to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, but “Wade County” might have something to say about that.
The Sixers and Heat played each other four times in the regular season with the series ending 2-2. The games were all relatively close and this series has the possibility of going to seven games. If this series goes to seven games, this would come down to who will close out for the Sixers because the Heat have Wade.
The key factor in this matchup is how will the Sixers contain Hassan Whiteside since there will be no Joel Embiid to start the series and even if he does return how healthy will he be after having the surgery to his eye? The Sixers will have no inside presence to defend Whiteside so they would have to out shoot the Heat from the perimeter in order to keep up in the series.
The Heat are a better defensive team than the Sixers allowing just a little over 100 points per game, fourth in the league, on the season where the Sixers are 11th on the list, allowing 105 points per game. The Heat have a veteran presence in D-Wade and the Sixers are a hot team coming into the playoffs, but out of that 16 game winning streak three of those teams were playoff teams that included the Cavaliers, Bucks, and Timberwolves.
It is fair to say they have not yet been battle tested in that winning streak and they will be running into a team that has dealt with hardship this season and that was able to get into the playoffs.
Prediction: It will be an interesting series, barring any injuries, that should go to seven games with the Heat closing it out in Philadelphia to send the Sixers home.
1 Toronto Raptors vs. 8 Washington Wizards
The North is on top of the East this year winning 59 games as they gear up for the Wizards. Toronto seems like a team ready for the Finals, but are they just a regular season team? They have faltered in the playoffs the last few years and their struggles start in the early rounds. Last year, they went to seven games with the Milwaukee even though Toronto had home-court advantage. The Wizards might have the better back court, but the Raptors are the better overall team with DeMar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, and down low their advantage is Jonas Valanciunas.
The Wizards may be the eighth seed, but the roster speaks top five in the East and they should not be overlooked. They actually won the season series over the Raptors 3-1 with some close games. John Wall and Bradley Beal will need to come up big time in some away games in order to win this series.
As long as the Raptors have the home-court in this series, they can win it. Toronto is top five in best offenses while Washington is out of the top 10. This should be a tough series between them that could be lengthy.
Prediction: The Raptors will be taking this series in six games.
2 Boston Celtics vs. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
We can look at this series of the Celtics and the Bucks in multiple ways. Boston did win the season series three games to one, but those were all with Kyrie Irving. Having a coach like Brad Stevens helps who has placed a system in Boston the past few years to make all his teams’ competitive.
Boston has had a rough season in a season where they were expected to be the new kings of the East with the additions of Irving and Gordon Hayward, but unfortunately they both suffered injuries that will keep them out of action for these playoffs. The Celtics still have a solid team to push this series far with players like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris. But will this be enough to take down the talented Bucks?
The Bucks exited last year’s playoffs early on in the first round, but this is the year that they advance to the second round because the Celtics do not have their key pieces for a title run. The Bucks have all their pieces in place with the return of Jabari Parker surrounding an already stout lineup in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Thon Maker.
Prediction: This will still be a competitive matchup only because of Boston’s defense and the excellence of their head coach, but this will end in six games with the Bucks advancing to the second round.
3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
The season series between these two teams is tied at two a piece and all four games were decided by 10 points or less. The Pelicans looked like a team going down after losing superstar big man DeMarcus Cousins, but have found a way to land the sixth spot in a conference that is tough to get a playoff spot. The Pelicans were able to rally behind MVP candidate Anthony Davis.
The point of dominance is the opposite for the Blazers as they have a great backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum compared to a solid one for the Pelicans in Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday. New Orleans have the better big man in Davis compared to Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic.
The series will come down to how much can the Pelicans rely on Davis’s huge play to carry them. The Pelicans are the better offensive team at third overall in the NBA, averaging 111 points per game. The Blazers have a top five defense and it helps during playoffs as the court gets, seemingly, smaller and the game is slowed down.
Prediction: The Blazers should win this series as they are are just a better team all-around, but the series has the potential to go seven games.
2 Golden State Warriors vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs
The rematch of the Western Conference Finals with Gregg Popovich who is arguably the best coach ever. Many people are overlooking this matchup because the Spurs are without Kawhi Leonard and do not look like the dominating team that they used to be.
The Warriors did take the season series three games to one, but the Spurs have never cared for regular season matchups and neither does Pop. To Pop, season games against potential playoff opponents are more of lessons to learn so when they do play them they install a gameplan to outplay them.
In every way, it looks all good for the Warriors to advance, but not so fast. The Warriors are in a slump and will be missing their main superstar in Steph Curry for, possibly, the whole series. If any team wants to be tested early on the playoffs, a matchup against the Spurs would be the medicine.
This series will be a battle and the Spurs will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Knowing this is the team that swept them last year and now with Curry missing, they have a chance to knock out the champs early on, but do they have enough firepower?
The Spurs are one of the worst offensive teams in the league while the Warriors are the best, averaging around 114 points per game. On the other hand, the Spurs actually boast the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 99.8 points per game. If the Spurs defense plays to the level it can, then they can generate fast break points. They have enough to take the Warriors to seven games, but in that final game who will be the main man for the Spurs to close out the series? We already know Kevin Durant is the man for the Warriors at the moment, but the Spurs do not have THAT guy.
Prediction: Warriors will win in a narrow game seven at home and advance to the second round.
The top seeded teams in each of these series will be battle test to see if they have what it takes to advance to the second round. This year’s playoffs have plenty of key injuries that could hold some of the favorites from going far in the playoffs, but at the same time it’s a chance for role players to step up. All the talk and slander is over and it’s time for these teams to lay it out all there.