NBA Playoffs 2019: Predictions as Round 1 Commences
The entire 82-game NBA season has once again come and gone, and this time within the blink of an eye.
It started in late October with 30 teams all wide eyed and optimistic for the new season, but now in early April what is left are 16 teams, some being surprises, a dethroned King James, two newly retired legends, and the remaining teams wondering what went wrong this year.
However, every NBA fan knows that the action doesn’t truly end until late June. It’s that time when the 16 teams left battle it out to show why they belong here and to try to achieve the ultimate title of NBA champions.
Crazy shots will fall, difficult calls will be made, 3-1 comebacks will be made, and somebody will make history.
Yes, it’s time for the NBA Playoffs.
As the first round begins Saturday, these are the matchups and what to watch out for.
#6 Brooklyn Nets vs #3 Philadelphia 76ers
Game 1 Final: Nets 111 76ers 102; BKN leads series 1-0
The Brooklyn Nets were one of the big surprises in the NBA this season. Since coming over from New Jersey in 2012, the transition hasn’t been easy as consistency was lacking in all facets including coaching and that showed with only one playoff appearance in 2015.
However, with Kenny Atkinson in his third season, point guard D’Angelo Rusell has finally blossomed into an All-Star player, defense has improved dramatically with the addition of guys like Jared Allen, and the Nets have elevated to a 42-win season and the East’s 6 seed.
The Nets are good at scoring from anywhere inside or outside the arc and can get to the rim frequently thanks to the backcourt duo of Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. Jared Allen, the team’s leading big man, does a good job at crashing the boards and providing second chance opportunities.
Let’s also not forget that Brooklyn has some silent studs on their bench like Joe Harris, who infamously beat out Steph Curry in the 3-Point Contest in February. He can be very dangerous.
Facing them from the other side of the court are the third seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who had a phenomenal season and finished 51-31 despite roster turnover and drama.
Head coach Brett Brown has done a good job of getting this team back into the discussion after they spent a chunk of seasons as the NBA’s worst team. However, the pressure seems heaviest on Brown this postseason to get something done and make it past the rival Boston Celtics to an Eastern Conference title.
After some trading and touchups, the 76er roster is stocked with talented starters at all five positions who can move the ball around and find the open man.
Ben Simmons is a highly mobile point guard for his size and can dish the ball out to shooters like JJ Redick and Tobias Harris for good looks. Like Jared Allen, Joel Embiid, one of the league’s toughest big men, can rebound as good as anybody and plays solid defense.
If Philly has one weakness, it’s the lack of depth on their bench. Unlike the Nets with guys like Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe, the 76ers don’t have many names on their bench that grab attention. There are guys who can have sneaky performances, like T.J. McConnell, but they won’t be enough to continue powering the offense and decide a series.
If Philadelphia wants to win their first round series, their starting five must dominate every game on all areas of the floor.
With the Brooklyn Nets having experience with beating top opponents this season, it’s not out of the question that they could give the 76ers a run for their money in the first round. Based on Philadelphia’s record at home and their more recent playoff experience, it seems like they will end up pulling away with the series in five or six games, but don’t be surprised if D’Angelo Russell and the Nets make some noise in the postseason.
In Game 1, D'Angelo Rusell and his teammate Caris Levert shone scoring 23 and 26 respectively, exploiting the 76ers defense who had to play two times harder because of a struggling offense that shot 40% and 12% from beyond the arc. Philly will need to turn things around and work on fixing the little things, like their 69% free throw shooting from Game !, to even the series.
#7 Orlando Magic vs #2 Toronto Raptors
Game 1 Final: Magic 104 Raptors 101; Orlando leads series 1-0
The Orlando Magic have also been one of the NBA’s surprise teams this season. In their first season with Steve Clifford as head coach, the team left their annual lottery ways behind them and became the top team in the state of Florida and are now a scary team for anyone to go up against.
Offensively, their numbers have risen greatly from recent seasons as they can score into the high 120’s and all five of the usual starters have experience with double digit scoring including sixth man Terrance Ross.
They can push the ball up the court well and control the pace of the game and defense is a strong suit with strong defenders in Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. Their defense was ranked third in the league in defensive rebounds and second in transition defense.
If there is any team that has the best chance to upset a top seeded team like the Toronto Raptors, it’s the Orlando Magic so the Raptors should not take this series lightly.
Toronto comes into this series with a 58-24 record and the second seed in the East. With Lebron James, who was a thorn in their side the last few playoff meetings, out of the Eastern Conference and Kawhi Leonard leading the charge, the Raptors feel they finally have a legitimate chance to win the East.
They come in holding one of the best records at home of 32-9 and rank top five in field goal percentage and seventh in total points scored at an average of 114. Kawhi Leonard leads all scorers with 26.6 per game and is an excellent defender like he was in San Antonio.
Toronto did trade center Jonas Valanciunas earlier in the season to the Memphis Grizzlies, but in return they got Marc Gasol who along with Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam can all score at will but also help the team in rebounds and defense.
Where Toronto might have some problems is with the health of guys on their roster since it is older than the Magic’s. The only two players that came close to a full 82 games was Siakam, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka.
Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry each played 60 and 65 games respectively, and while the Raptors have shown they can win without the two they will both be crucial to playoff success in the North.
Almost anyone would be tempted to pick the underdog Magic in this series, but ultimately the Raptors will come in hungry and use the home court advantage to their benefit. Could be a five-game series.
Game 1 ended with a surprising Magic victory across the border as Orlando hit the offensive jackpot late with a DJ Augustine three-point basket in the final seconds to propel this team to victory. Both sides saw abysmal shooting from some of their stars, but Toronto took the worst hit with their star point guard Kyle Lowry who went a combined 0-13 from the field.
Rebounding and free throw work, like with the 76ers, is needed.
#8 Los Angeles Clippers vs #1 Golden State Warriors
Game 1 Final: Clippers 104 Warriors 121; Golden State leads series 1-0
After a battle for the West’s 8 seed with LA Lakers and Sacramento Kings, the shaky LA Clippers have made it into the playoffs with a 48-34 record.
However, their roster isn’t as sharp as it was back in the Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan days. After trading Tobias Harris to Philadelphia, the Clippers were left with a bunch of young prospects playing most of the minutes.
What makes up for their younger roster, however, is their energy and ability to push the basketball up the court. This energy has helped them make huge comebacks during the regular season like in the February 9th game vs Boston where they came back from down 28. Landry Shamet, acquired from the Harris trade, along with Lou Williams, one of the best sixth man’s in the league, are the team’s hot hands when it comes to scoring and can get hot at any second.
Montrezl Harell is another guy to watch for as he is the hard nose basketball play on the roster.
If there is one thing for the Golden State Warriors to worry about with the Clippers, it’s playing in close games down the stretch. The Los Angeles Clippers are very good at closing out tight games with their top guys and that could hurt the Warriors and prolong the series.
Coming in at 57-25 and the West’s 1 seed, the Golden State Warriors have nobody to look up to. Once again, the West runs like Oracle Arena and they are the team to beat, and unfortunately for them, this is the year where they look most vulnerable. The same roster is still much intact, but they’ve had to get through a lot of drama and games closer than they should have been to get here.
Suspensions, fines, and off the court drama have followed this team throughout the regular season, but through it all they continued playing Warriors basketball. With the Denver Nuggets riding close behind them for the West’s top spot, the Warriors came in and demolished them with their shooting prowess. The Warriors are first in field goal percentage and points scored at 49.1% and 118 respectively.
Rebounding finds them near the top ten in the league and defense is game by game, but they can force turnovers on you and make you take difficult shots. Golden State will need power Draymond Green and center DeMarcus Cousins to be on their game defensively in order to stop an LA Clippers hot streak.
The key to the Clippers making any noise in the series is staying up to par with the Warriors incredible offense and limiting turnovers. Once Golden State gets on a run, it’s very hard to stop them.
If the Golden State Warriors come in and have their way from Game 1, don’t be shocked if they take care of business in four games and move on to play the winner of Houston and Utah.
Game 1 showed the Clippers making noise, but for all the wrong reasons. They did not get enough offensive production from key guys, one being Patrick Beverley, who made noise solely by getting into taunting games with Kevin Durant which saw both ejected.
Afterwards it was the Steph Curry show as he hit 38 points and helped the Warriors shoot nearly 50% from inside the arc.
#7 San Antonio Spurs vs #2 Denver Nuggets
Game 1 Final: Spurs 101 Nuggets 96; San Antonio leads series 1-0
This postseason marks the first time since the 1997-98 season that the San Antonio Spurs will not have Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, or Tony Parker on the roster. Now, it’s time for Demar DeRozan, the newest Spur, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Patty Mills to lead this team into the playoffs.
San Antonio finished the season at 48-34, however some of those losses came from bad teams like the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, making that a weak spot for the Spurs. The Spurs also have the occasional inability to close out games early, as back in December they blew a 21-point lead and lost at home to the Chicago Bulls.
This could be an issue for the Spurs in trying to win a few games in the first round.
The Spurs saving grace is their offense and ability to score a lot of points. They stand right behind Golden State in field goal percentage (47.8%) and are No.1 in 3-point field goal percentage (39.2%). LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan lead the team with an average of 21 points per game and the latter adds 6.2 assists per game to get more open looks for baskets,
San Antonio is not the greatest rebounding team (20th), and this could become a factor in their ability to close out games if they have the lead.
Meeting them in round 1 are the 2 seed and NBA surprise Denver Nuggets. Entering the playoffs at 54-28, the Denver Nuggets are one of the best teams at home and if there was a comeback team of the year award it would go to them.
Head coach Mike Malone has done a fantastic job at bringing the Nuggets from a perennial lottery team to a playoff team that has a good chance at being a Finals contender. Where they might lack in initial scoring opportunities, they make up with second chance buckets through excellent rebounding that ranks 8th in the league. Big man Nikola Jokic leads the team with 10.8 rebounds per game and can score from inside the arc and beyond averaging 20.1 a game.
Another standout player on the Nuggets roster is guard Jamal Murray who averages 18 points a game and 5 assists. Him and Jokic are great at giving each other looks and making plays off of one another which makes them one of the best duos in the playoffs.
The only thing the Nuggets may have to fear in the first round is their inexperience and the pressure that comes with having the home court advantage. While they’ve defended home court extremely well this season, they haven’t had to do it in a high-pressured situation like the playoffs. If they advance into the later rounds and face teams that know how to win on the road, things could get shaky for Denver.
The Denver Nuggets came into Game 1 and showed the inexperience as the Spurs came in and showed their playoff might without the Big 3 that led them for so many years. Denver will need to focus in for Game 2 before they stare at a surprising 0-2 deficit.
#5 Indiana Pacers vs #4 Boston Celtics
Game 1 Final: Pacers 74 Celtics 84; Boston leads series 1-0
The Indiana Pacers vs Boston Celtics series could be one of the closest in the first round. Despite facing numerous critical injuries and distractions during the regular season, they both come in with nearly identical records and a desire for redemption against the opposing squad.
The Pacers, standing at 48-34, will have to look other guys for offense production, especially down the stretch of games, as their top offensive talent Victor Oladipo was lost to a season ending injury earlier in the year.
Luckily, for them those guys exist as the Pacers held onto the 4th and 5th best offense in terms of field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. However, it’s not as efficient late in games as Indiana’s total points scored on average ranks 22nd.
When the offensive production starts to linger, the Pacers will need to rely on their top-notch defense led by Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner to protect leads or stay in games. Sabonis compiles 10 rebounds per game and Turner protects the rim with almost 3 blocks per game.
The Pacers can carry out a seven-game series with the Celtics, as they did it with Lebron and the Cavs last year and the Celtics have not been sound to close out the regular season.
The Boston Celtics are back in the playoffs with Brad Stevens and hold down the East’s 4 seed.
A lot of eyes will be on them in the postseason to make a run as the future of the team with point guard Kyrie Irving is hanging in the balance. They finished the regular season at 49-33 and come into the playoffs with the ability to exploit Indiana’s weaknesses.
While they do have injury problems themselves, with Gordon Hayward playing less minutes because of frequent injuries and Marcus Smart now out until at least a possible second round series, they still have other playmakers to thrive off.
The Celtics’ offense ranks 13th in the league which an average point total of 112 and includes three players who can score in the double digits on average in Kyrie Irving (23.8), R.J. Hunter (17.0), and Jayson Tatum (15.7).
Irving and Tatum are the Celtics clutch players late in games, even when they played inconsistent ball late in the season, so this could be a pressure point for the Pacers. Kyrie Irving ranks third in clutch points for the 2019-19 season at 159.
The Celtics defense is nowhere near the worst; however, it will be hurt by the absence of Marcus Smart.
The series is very hard to predict, but with all things considered expect Boston to defeat Indiana in the first round.
They took Game 1 comfortably after a rough first half, as Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris scored 20 each and helped the Celtics hold their lead with good free throw shooting, rebounds, and forcing turnovers.
#6 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #3 Portland Trail Blazers
Game 1 Final: Thunder 99 Trail Blazers 104; Portland leads series 1-0
It’s been another respectable season for Rusell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook continues to average a triple double and game and he has nearly 140 straight games with a triple double.
Him and small forward Paul George combine to average 75 points a game and are the focal point of the Thunder offense. When these two excel in scoring, rebounding, and assists, the rest of the team excels as well.
Oklahoma City’s field goal and 3-point field goal percentages are lower than other teams at 18th and 22nd respectively, but they get plenty of second chances from rebounding by guys like Westbrook as they rank 2nd in that category. On defensive boards, they are excellent at pushing the ball up the floor as well.
The Thunder have finished the season with a 49-33 record and a good record against the NBA’s top teams, but some of those games, like other losses, have resulted from their shaky defense. There are games where it is sharp and others when its sloppy and it leads to large point total being dropped on them in one quarter.
This was seen on February 14th when the Thunder gave up 65 points by halftime to the Pelicans and despite Russell Westbrook 44-point triple double lost 133-132.
On the other side, is the 53-29 and third seed Portland Trail Blazers. Portland has had success getting into the playoffs the last few seasons, but each hasn’t ended with an early exit to either the Warriors or Pelicans who shut them out last season.
The team is once again led by guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who average 25 and 21 respectively and also gets the ball moving. They rank 12th in field goal percentage and 8th in 3-point field goal percentage meaning the shots are firing all game and most are landing.
Portland excels at second chance opportunities as they are 3rd in the league for that category, but they will need other guys to pick up the slack as Jusuf Nurkic, the team’s leading rebounder, suffered a season ending led fracture injury in late March.
Portland’s defense could be as concerning as OKC’s in this first round series. Without Nurkic in the lineup, the Blazer’s rim protection efforts and number of turnovers have declined.
The Blazers have other guys who can guard the paint well like ex-Knick Enes Kanter and Zach Collins, but neither has experience playing big minutes with Portland.
Another worry for Portland is the pressure that is on them to rebound from last year and perform well. They were predicted to make some noise last year before a 4-0 sweep to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Additionally, their end of season schedule was not as difficult as the OKC Thunder’s, so the question is can Portland flip the switch and turn on their serious basketball play.
As a result of OKC’s weapons and the 4-0 curse lingering on the Blazers, this series could very well be an upset for the 6 seeded Thunder in six games.
However in Game 1, they did not succumb to pressure and to the triple double and double double performances of Russell Westbrook and Paul George an ultimately ran away with a close victory 104-99 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. If OKC wants Game 2, they need to first improve the 3-point shooting which was at 15.2%.
#8 Detroit Pistons vs #1 Milwaukee Bucks
Game 1 Final: Pistons 86 Bucks 121; Milwaukee leads series 1-0
The Detroit Pistons are the one team that may have people asking, “they’re a playoff team?”. After swinging back and forth around .500 and battling it out with the Hornets and Heat until the very last games of the season, they clinch the East 8 seed at 41-41 to face the 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Detroit is not a consistent offensive team and that has a lot to do with their shaky 2018-19 campaign. They rank towards the bottom of the league in field goal and 3-point field goal percentage at 29th and 22nd and they average 107 per game.
Without their key big men Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, who is injury prone as of late, they lack the great shots to challenge a top team offensively. Drummond averages 16.5 rebounds per game and Griffin is a good assist man with 5.4 per game.
The one thing that can keep afloat for at least the first four games is their unpredictable 3-point shooting, as although it is ranked poorly it tends to find games where its unstoppable.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, this series seems like a walk in the park.
In their first season under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the team’s star Giannis Antetokounmpo has evolved into a true freak of nature as his nickname tells and they finished with an impressive 60 wins. They’ve competed with the league’s best and shouldn’t be frightened by the sub-par Pistons.
The Bucks are top five in 3 major offensive categories, including field goal percentage (3rd at 47.6%), points scored (1st at 118), and total rebounds (1st at 49.7). Giannis Antetokounmpo is the team leader in points scored, rebounds, and assists averaging 27.7, 12.5, and 5.9 per game. Him, point guard Eric Bledsoe, forward Khris Middleton, and center Brook Lopez are the major contributors of defense
The Bucks have not been crowned NBA champs since 1971, but this year could very well be the year that all changes. The Pistons might be able to sneak away with one game in the series but expect a Bucks domination like the one that came in Game 1 with a 121-86 pounding of the Pistons where every statistical category went their way.
#5 Utah Jazz vs #4 Houston Rockets
Game 1 Final: Jazz 90 Rockets 122; Houston leads series 1-0
The fifth seed Utah Jazz, showcasing one of the league’s talented young guards in Donovan Mitchell, are an unpredictable team that at times can shock teams.
They finished the latter portion of the 2018-19 regular season with the second-best win percentage, behind only the Bucks, despite having an average offense according to statistics.
The Jazz are 10th in the league in both field goal and 3-point field goal percentage and 13th in average points scored with 112.
Rebounding is something they are stronger at, partially due to their 7’1” center Rudy Gobert who is hard to box out and defend allowing him to average 13 rebounds per game while scoring 15.9.
Another advantage of Gobert with his height and length is the ability to get easy lobs to him for baskets in the paint.
If the Jazz get many fast break opportunities, the speed and ball skills of Mitchell and Ricky Rubio could push the pace and find Gobert in the air for dunks. The Jazz can be dangerous and hard to beat if they can get their way with open shots and pacing.
The Jazz defense is also shouldered heavily by Gobert who is one of the league’s best shot blockers and can make scoring in the paint difficult. He helps the Jazz allow only 50.1% from the rim. A key to scoring a lot of points on Utah is finding open shots from midrange and the perimeter.
Facing the Utah Jazz are the fourth seed Houston Rockets who finished the season at 53-29.
The Rockets have come very close to making the NBA Finals the last couple seasons, with each one ending in a tough defeat against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Once again, the Rockets can make it there and will look for vengeance on the West and if they play them, the Warriors.
Like the Warriors, the Rockets roster is chop full of quality players, especially those in their starting five. Shooting guard James Harden is one of the top scorers in the NBA, averaging 36.1 points per game, who can hit shots from nearly anywhere on the court. Surrounding him are other stars like point guard Chris Paul and shooting guard Eric Gordon who can also shoot well while providing the ball movement.
The Rockets offensively rely heavily on the three-point game, as they’re 10th in the league in that area so opposing teams should work to take away those shots.
Another weakness of Houston’s that could hurt them in close games in the first round series is rebounding.
The Rockets were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league this season with 42.1 per game and Clint Capela does most of the work in that field.
Matching Capela up with Rudy Gobert looks to be an advantage for the Jazz so Houston will need to box him out well to prevent second chance baskets.
Overall health of the roster will also determine the Rockets success in the playoffs, as Chris Paul has been injury prone this season and in previous postseasons and James Harden’s performances tend to fade a bit in the playoffs when all the offensive production falls on him.
Fortunately for the Rockets, none of these weaknesses affected them in Game 1, as James Harden did what Harden does, dropping 29 points and racking up 10 assists while the remaining starters all scored in the double digits.
They shot 50% from inside the arc and won the rebounding battle with the Jazz while scoring 62 of their points in the paint from an abundance of assists. Game 1 finished with a 122-90 routing.
If the chips fall Houston’s way, they could win the series in six games and advance for a potential semifinal matchup with their old rivals, the Golden State Warriors.