Bucks in 4
The Milwaukee Bucks opened a new arena this year and gave teams more reason than ever to fear the deer as they posted the best record in the NBA at 60-22. Leading the way for Milwaukee was Giannis Antetokounmpo who averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game and should be the favorite to win the NBA MVP. The Detroit Pistons meanwhile scratched their way into the playoffs at 41-41, with Blake Griffin staying healthy most of the season. However, down the stretch Griffin has been hobbled with a sore knee. Even if he was 100% it would be hard to see Detroit making this a series as the Bucks swept for regular season meetings and could do so again in the first round.
Warriors in 4
All season you had the sense that the Golden State Warriors were pacing themselves in the regular season as their 57 wins were the lowest since 2014. However, when they needed a win they got win every time as the posted the top record in the Western Conference. When you have won three of the last four NBA Championships you get the knowledge of when and where to step on the gas. The Warriors won three of four regular season meetings with the Los Angeles Clippers, who under most circumstances would be overmatched in this series, add the injury to Lou Williams and the Warriors look to be in position for another quick series, expect a sweep.
Raptors in 5
After being unable to get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the last three seasons, the Toronto Raptors hope the road to the NBA Finals has been cleared as they are built to win in the playoffs. This is really a must win season for Toronto as their ability to retain Kawhi Leonard is questionable at best. Leonard has traditionally been a big performer in the postseason, having won the NBA Finals MVP with San Antonio in 2014. The Orlando Magic finished the season strong, making the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They played Toronto tough, splitting four games, but now that the postseason is here, we get to see if the Raptors played their cards right as they cruise into the second round.
Nuggets in 7
The Denver Nuggets were the story in the Western Conference in 2019 as they challenged the Warriors most of the season for the top spot, ending a six-year playoff drought. The San Antonio Spurs meanwhile continue their long playoff streak, as they have not missed the postseason since 1997. The Spurs have a huge edge in experience, though most of the core that won five championships has moved on. Gregg Popovich is one of the great postseason coaches who can steal this series if the Nuggets are not careful. Nikola Jokic will be the best player on the floor after a breakout season in Denver and the Nuggets are 34-7 at home, which will be the difference in a Game 7.
76ers in 6
The Brooklyn Nets nightmare is over as they are back in the postseason for the first time since 2015. A big reason for their return to the postseason has been the work General Manager Sean Marks who was able to work around the lack of draft picks by making a series a smart trades, including one that saw them land D’Angelo Russell. While it is unlikely that the Nets the will win this series, they could make things interesting as they have a deep bench. However, with Joel Embiid leading the way, the Sixers have a shot to make a run at the NBA Finals and will show a talent gap once the series gets underway.
Thunder in 6
The Oklahoma City Thunder is the worst possible matchup for the Portland Trailblazers after sweeping them in four regular season meetings. The Blazers may have home court in the series and are the third seed, but the loss of Jusuf Nurkic will be a big problem as he could have given Portland a big edge in the front court. Once again Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double for the season, with Paul George having a big season with 28.0 ppg. Look for Westbrook and George to have a big series as the Thunder roll past the Blazers in six games.
Celtics in 5
At times the Boston Celtics appeared unsettled as they posted a 49-33 record in the regular season. Talent wise they have the players that can lead the way to the NBA Finals, but often they failed to gel as Gordon Hayward spent most of the season finding his game, while constant talk of free agency seemed to be a distraction around Kyrie Irving. For the Celtics after two losses in the Eastern Conference Finals this is where the rubber meets the road. The Indiana Pacers have not been the same team since losing Victor Oladipo and will have a tough time winning this series. If the Celtics are able to quickly advance that will be a good sign, if they can’t this could be a disappointing postseason for Boston.
Rockets in 7
After falling one game short of the NBA Finals last year, the Houston Rockets had their ups and downs in 2019, despite James Harden putting up historic numbers to win the scoring title with 36.1 ppg. Harden will once again be in the MVP conversation as he was the main weapon all season to carry the Rockets into the postseason. However, in the playoffs Harden has been contained in the past and the Utah Jazz have a player that could make things hard in Rudy Gobert, arguably the best defensive player in the NBA. Look for this to go the distance as the Rockets find a way to win Game 7 at home.