Hawks in 4
At 38-44 the Brooklyn Nets are hardly worthy of the playoffs, but in the mediocre Eastern Conference they were fortunate to finish in eighth place and get the eight spot. One team that was not mediocre was the Atlanta Hawks who had the best record in the East at 60-22. Last season the Hawks finished 38-44 and held the eighth spot, but proved to be very pesky to the top seeded Indiana Pacers, pushing the series to a seventh game. This makes it very hard for the Nets to surprise the Hawks. The Nets do have some size with Brook Lopez who could keep them in some games, but ultimately the Nets do not have the firepower to even come close to winning the series. The Hawks swept the Nets in the regular season and will also sweep them in the postseason.
Warriors in 5
There are no superlatives left for the Golden State Warriors season as they posted a franchise best 67-15 record and were the best team in the NBA from start to finish. The New Orleans Pelicans technically finished in last place in the Southeast Division, but their 45-37 record was good enough to get them into the playoffs. This is a team that is clearly on the rise, as Anthony Davis is poised to become next NBA superstar. Just getting a taste of the playoffs should be a valuable experience for the Unibrow and the rest of his your teammates. However, it will be the Warriors driving the school bus. The outside shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can’t be defended and only a big game by Anthony Davis will allow the Pelicans to steal one game, as the Warriors win this series easily.
Cavaliers in 6
The Celtics were expected to be a non-factor in the NBA postseason, but a strong second half enabled them to grab the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. One player that helped was Isaiah Thomas who was picked up at the trade deadline, while Kelly Olynyk played solid defense in the middle. The Cavaliers will be a very difficult challenge for the Celtics, but the boys in green will not make it easy for LeBron James gang to advance. The Celtics and Cavaliers split four matchups, with the Celtics winning two late season matchups. Those games should give Boston some confidence, and should keep the Cavs alert that this series won’t be a cake walk. It will be the first taste of the postseason for Cavs stars like Kyrie Irving, so it will be up to LeBron to carry them in this series, and the King will be up to the task.
Mavericks in 7
It was a terrific season for the Houston Rockets as they finished with the second best record in the Western Conference at 56-26. The key was James Harden who had a MVP type season and finished second in scoring. The Mavericks also had a fine season, as Dirk Nowitzki moved up the all-time scoring list. Harden is the key for the Rockets as he could carry them far in the postseason. However, Nowitzki knows all about carrying a team in the playoffs. The Rockets meanwhile have players that need to get past the reputation of postseason let downs, led by Dwight Howard. I give the Mavericks a big edge in coaching with Rick Carlise winning a NBA title in the past, while Kevin McHale has also had his struggles. This series will be close and tight throughout and will go the full seven games. In the finale it will be the experience and defense of the Mavericks that will prove to be the difference.
Bulls in 5
It was a pretty remarkable season for the Milwaukee Bucks, who made the playoffs after finishing a NBA worst 15-67 last season. The Bucks also lost their top draft pick Jabari Parker to a knee injury and remained in the playoff picture all season due to some remarkable coaching from Jason Kidd. However, now in the postseason reality will come like a hard slap as the Chicago Bulls with a 50-32 record could be in position for a long playoff run. The Bulls defeated the Bucks three of four times in the regular season and have the better players, the playoff experience and the focus needed to get off to a quick start in the postseason. Derrick Rose is back on the court and looks healthy; Jimmy Butler is strong and with Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah in the front court it’s hard to see the Bucks even coming close to putting a scare in Chicago, they will be lucky just to scratch out one win in the middle games of the series.
Spurs in 6
It was a good season for the Los Angeles Clippers as they equaled a franchise best record of 56-26, despite being overshadowed by the Warriors in the Pacific Division. The Clippers have the weapons and the talent to make a long playoff run, but they drew the short straw of facing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The defending champions basically jogged through to the regular season, turning it up when needed and won 55 games, to get the sixth seed in the Western Conference. It is hard to pick against the Spurs as they should be fresh and healthy enough for another long postseason run. The Clippers can win this series is Chris Paul and Blake Griffin each have big series as the Clippers will have the home court edge. The Spurs though will need to be completely outplayed to lose. In any close game you would expect Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to find away to win and the Clippers though a strong team doesn’t have the ability to blow the Spurs off the court.
Raptors in 7
The one and only intriguing matchup in the Eastern Conference for the first round of the playoffs, see two dark horses looking to make their mark. The Raptors last season lost a first round playoff heartbreaker in seven games to the Brooklyn Nets, with Paul Pierce leading the way for a win at the Air Canada Centre. Pierce now plays for the Wizards which adds extra drama to the series. The Wizards made it to the second round last season, and had a solid season, but lost all three games in the regular season to Toronto. The biggest problem for Washington is inconsistent shooting from John Wall and Bradley Beal. If those two can find their range the Wiz can make a run as they have the better defense. The Raptors meanwhile will look to light up the scoreboard and this series has the making of classic. In the end this time it will be the Raptors advancing as a year older and wiser will see Kyle Lowry make the big shot when it counts.
Grizzlies in 5
In the tightly bunched Western Conference, one game separated the second seed and the sixth seed as two teams posted records of 56-26 and two teams posted records of 55-27. The Memphis Grizzlies finished 55-27, while the Portland Trail Blazers got the fourth seed by winning the Northwest Division with a record of 51-31. Unfortunately for Portland, the Grizzlies are the worst possible playoff matchup for them. Both teams have injury issues as the postseason begins, but the Blazers but the loss of Wesley Matthews makes advancing in the stacked Western Conference a near impossibility. The Grizzlies won all four regular season meetings. The Blazers may be able to steal one game at home, but the Grizzlies will advance in a short series.