Celtics in 7
The Boston Celtics shocked everyone and blew past the Cleveland Cavaliers at the end of the season to claim the number one seed and home court in the Eastern Conference. However, their path to the Eastern Conference Finals will not be an easy one. The Celtics are a solid team, led by Isaiah Thomas who finished third in the league in scoring with 28.9 points per game, but they are not a dominant team, most games they play are close and a team like the Chicago Bulls their first round opponent will not be easy. Jimmy Butler is capable of taking over games and is strong on defense, in addition Rajon Rondo a former Celtic would love the opportunity to hurt his former team. The two teams split four regular season meetings, look for the playoffs to be just as close as the Celtics need seven games to advance as the Celtics like Thomas are at their best when the game is on the line.
Warriors in 4
Last season the Golden State Warriors expended a lot of energy in the regular season, chasing the record 73 wins and it may have caught up with them in the later rounds as they blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. This season they had a normal regular season and once again are the team to beat after posting the best record in the NBA at 67-15. After a brief slump in March, the Warriors showed why they are the best team in the NBA winning 15 of their last 16 games. The Portland Trail Blazers were strong in the second half, and grabbed the last playoff spot, causing Damian Lillard to say his team will upset Golden State in six. Maybe that will happen when he plays NBA 2K17, because this series will be over quickly with the Warriors sweeping the series in four straight games.
Cavaliers in 5
There is no doubt that the Cleveland Cavaliers were reeling at the end of the regular season as they dropped their final four games, while posting a 10-14 record since March 1st and lost control of the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The feel among the reigning NBA Champions is that now that the playoffs have arrived they can flip the switch and play like they did in the first half. Though that could be easier said than done as bad habits could be formed while shifting into cruise control like Cleveland did down the stretch. The best thing going for the Cavs is their first round opponent, the Indiana Pacers is a team that handled well in the regular season, winning three of the four regular season matchups. Other than Paul George, the Pacers do not have anybody that can challenge LeBron James. The talent gap is significant in this series and will help the Cavs begin to get back into playoff mode.
Spurs in 7
The San Antonio Spurs have the pedigree and the experience and were the second best team in the NBA all season. Once again fans are looking forward to a possible Western Conference showdown with the Golden State Warriors, but before the Spurs can face the Warriors they have their work cut out for them as they face the pesky Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. The Grizzlies split four games with the Spurs in the regular season, and their tough physical in your face defense will certainly take their toll on the veteran Spurs, who they held to under 100 points in all four meetings. San Antonio did not play well down the stretch, dropping four of their last five games as they rested up for the playoffs. The one thing the Spurs have going for them is they are deeper and have a player that can take over in Kawhi Leonard who will be the difference in Game 7.
Raptors in 7
All eyes will be on Giannis Antetokounmpo in this series as he gives the Milwaukee Bucks a serious chance of pulling off a first round upset. The Greek Freak has been dominant at times in the second half, finishing the season with 22.9 points per game to lead Milwaukee. The Raptors though after struggling in the middle of the season, come into the postseason playing solid basketball as they closed the regular season with 14 wins in their last 16 games. The Raptors got another big season out of DeMar DeRozan, who averaged 27.3 points per game to lead Toronto. The Raptors also have a significant edge in playoff experience having reached the Conference Finals last season. The Raptors won three of four meetings with the Bucks in the regular, but the playoffs will be a struggle, look for this to go the full seven games with Toronto barely hanging on at the end.
Rockets in 7
In what might be the marquee matchup of the first round the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Houston Rockets with the two top MVP candidates going head to head. After averaging a Triple Double, Russell Westbrook is the odds-on favorite, though James Harden was not far behind, may have had the overall better season as the Rockets are in position for a long playoff run. Westbrook and Harden also finished 1-2 in the league’s scoring race, as they have seemed destined for a playoff battle since the start of the season. The Rockets won three of four regular season meetings, with three game decided by bucket. It only seems natural that this one will go the distance, with perhaps dueling Triple Doubles, in the end it will be the Rockets moving on as they have the overall deeper team.
Wizards in 6
After a disappointing 2015/16 season, the Washington Wizards bounced back nicely under new Coach Scott Brooks. The Wizards got strong seasons from John Wall and Bradley Beal who each averaged 23.1 point per game, giving the team quite the capable 1-2 punch. The Atlanta Hawks don’t quite have the same scoring punch, rely mainly on defense, with Dwight Howard having a strong season in the middle in his first year in his hometown. Howard, was among the NBA’s leading rebounders with 12.7 boards per game, while scoring 13.1 points per game. The Hawks did not have any players reach 20 points per game, with Paul Milsap leading the way with 18.1 ppg. The athleticism edge is clearly with Washington who shoots better from the outside, and won three of four regular season meetings with the Hawks which will lead them to winning this series in six games.
Clippers in 5
This might by one of the closest matchups on paper, but there are too many questions about the health of Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood to think the Utah Jazz can give the Los Angeles Clippers too much of a scare. Talent wise the Clippers should be better than they are as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can at times be one of the best offensive duos in the NBA, while DeAndre Jordan provides suffocating defense. However, far too many times the Clippers had their throats tighten up in at the wrong time as they have sputtered in the playoffs. The Jazz don’t have much playoff experience and it is hard to know what to expect out of them, after finishing the season with a terrific record of 51-31. With that being the case I think the Clippers will shine and win this one rather easily.