The NBA playoffs started yesterday. With no time to waste, here are my predictions for the first-round:
#1 Heat vs #8 Hawks
In theory, the Heat should have no problem handling the Hawks. They have Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. Despite some rumored chemistry problems, they still have the best record in the Eastern Conference. As good as Trae Young is, I don’t think the Hawks can win the series. At a max they might be able to push it to six games, but, my prediction is Heat in five.
#2 Celtics vs #7 Nets
Ah yes, the Brooklyn Nets. This is going to be a very interesting series; the outcome could largely depend on two players: Ben Simmons and Robert Williams. Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since 2021, and it’s interesting to debate if Simmons’ return will be helpful or a detriment to the Nets. From the Celtics end, we know that Williams will be a positive for the team; it’s a matter of how well he plays if he returns. Celtics ownership has said this group is about the long term, and they won’t jeopardize Williams’ health for a run this year.
There are a few things I’m questioning here. Simmons’ return will likely be around Game Four of this series, and I don’t think throwing him into a competitive playoff series against Boston is a great idea. Boston’s crowd is hostile (trust me; I’ve been there and been a part of it) and they’re still mad at Kyrie Irving; imagine what they would do to Simmons! If Simmons couldn’t make free throws at home, how does he expect to make them against Boston?
With Williams, the Celtics have the best defense in the entire NBA. Most articles I’ve found on this subject have the headline, “Can Brooklyn overcome Boston?” I think it’s going to be a long and competitive series, but I’m a believer. Celtics in seven.
#3 Bucks vs #6 Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are a great team, I’ll start by saying. But, given their track record against playoff teams during the second half of the season, I’m worried about them in the playoffs. They’re going against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks. Who in Chicago will guard the Greek Freak? Bucks in four.
#4 76ers vs #5 Raptors
In a playoff rematch from 2019, the reloaded 76ers are playing the new look Toronto Raptors. Although James Harden‘s new nickname is “Small Game James,” I highly doubt that he’ll get knocked out of the first round by a young Raptors team; especially when Joel Embiid is by his side.
The Toronto Raptors’ shooting can be especially hot or cold at times during the season, and how they shoot could swing the series. At the same time, Matisse Thybulle, the 76ers’ certified lockdown defender, is unvaccinated, and will be unable to play in road games. That’ll make it a tough series for the 76ers. Scottie Barnes is like a better version of Thybulle with more offensive game for the Raptors, as he can guard all five positions and is a Rookie of the Year candidate.
I have the 76ers winning in seven. It’ll be tough, but Game 7 will be on the 76ers’ home floor (unlike in 2019), and they just have more talent. A lot of the Raptors have championship experience, but it’s going to be very difficult for them to guard Embiid throughout the series.
Note: Since I made this prediction, the 76ers won Game 1 of the series behind Tyrese Maxey‘s 38 points. Plus, Barnes injured his ankle. I’m changing my prediction to 76ers in six.
#1 Suns vs #8 Pelicans
This isn’t difficult. The Suns are the best team in the NBA, and Devin Booker is an MVP candidate, much better than CJ McCollum. Deandre Ayton is a better big man than anyone the Pelicans have. As much as I like Jose Alvarado, he’s no match for Chris Paul. The Suns are also incredibly deep, with playoff experience. Unless someone gets injured, Suns in four. Maybe five if Brandon Ingram goes off for 50 points in Game Four.
#2 Grizzlies vs #7 Timberwolves
This is actually a really tough pick for me. When I heard the Timberwolves were playing the Grizzlies, my initial thought was that Patrick Beverley could lock up Ja Morant for the series. Beverley is one of the most annoying point guards in the NBA, and has gotten a rise out of KD, which takes skill. In addition for the Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best offensive big men in the entire NBA. Anthony Edwards could come out of his shell and prove that’s he something special. The Timberwolves have more stars.
But, Memphis has Morant, who’s transformed into an All-World point guard this year. Everyone on the roster has improved in some way, and Desmond Bane is a candidate for Most Improved Player. Jaren Jackson, Jr, is healthy, and Steven Adams is a bruising big man that could probably handle KAT for a series. Going into the postseason, the Timberwolves have a net rating ranked 15th in the NBA. The Grizzlies are 8th. Plus, while they had every right to celebrate, I’m worried the Timberwolves will be complacent with just making the playoffs. Grizzlies in 6.
#3 Warriors vs #6 Nuggets
To me, the outcome of this series depends on if Stephen Curry is playing or not. The Warriors have everyone else healthy; Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney. Their biggest problem will be slowing down Nikola Jokic, which is a tall order. Luckily for Golden State, Denver is missing its two other stars, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr.
The Warriors will ramp up their game during the playoffs. If Curry plays like himself for the whole series, it’ll be Warriors in six.
#4 Mavericks vs #5 Jazz
Once again, a series comes down to if a star player is healthy or not. Luka Doncic, who injured his calf in the last game of the season, will likely miss Games 1 and 2 of the series. If that’s the case, then Spencer Dinwiddie is going to have to step up and keep this team alive. What makes this all the more frustrating for Mavericks’ fans is how the entire team is centered on Luka.
If the Jazz can pull off either one or two wins before they get back to their home court, then chances are they could go up 2-1 or 3-1 in the series. If Doncic does return later, it’ll be a difficult closeout, but I think the Jazz can win in seven, provided that they have an answer for Dallas’ small ball lineups. Rudy Gobert already knows they’re coming.
What do you think of my predictions? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!