EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons

Unless something very unfortunate happens to LeBron James in the next month and a half, Cleveland is cake walking back to the Finals. The Cavs will have no trouble getting through Detroit, nor any other team put in front of them until June. Cleveland is somewhere between the third and fifth best team in the NBA, but there’s not even a debate that they’re the top team in the East. The only thing to talk about is that this time around with Love and Irving potentially both healthy, do they have a shot at shocking the Spurs or Warriors?

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Indiana Pacers

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Indiana Pacers

Since we know the Cavs are going to win the East, we’ve got to dig deep for some things to watch for in the rest of the East. With Toronto, there’s one major focus — can this team overcome their playoff struggles? The Raptors were swept last season by the underdog Wizards, and this year will face an Indy team that probably has the best player on the floor. Paul George has led teams deep into the playoffs before, so there’s some history here that indicates the Raptors may not be heavy favorites as many feel. The Raps seem like they’re a better team than past years, but I’ve got to see it to believe it.

(3) Miami Heat vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat

This section of the East is crazy because teams 3-6 ALL finished with 48 wins. Some crazy tiebreaker rules have them seeded as such, but the matchups are actually pretty fun. Miami gives us a little bit of an older team led by D-Wade, going up against a hot, young, hungry team in Charlotte. Want to hear something scary? The Hornets had the strongest finish in the East, going 21-8 post All-Star break — which was only behind the Warriors and Spurs in the NBA. Wade’s experience and Whiteside’s athleticism could be huge thorns in Charlotte’s side in this series, but Kemba has performed on the big stage in the past. Watching these guards duel it out will be the highlight of the series, and I think the Hornets will shock everyone and advance all the way to the Eastern Finals.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Boston Celtics

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta and Boston drew the short end of the stick. I actually think both teams are better than Miami and Charlotte, and not only do they have to play each other, but the winner gets a trip to Cleveland. The Hawks and Celtics are a mirror image in some ways — they win with well-rounded team basketball. Atlanta has the experience, but Boston is a young team of overachievers that play with a lot of heart. This series has the potential to go deep, and both teams have great shots to advance. The Celtics and Hawks may be the only two that won’t be changing their rotations much in the playoffs. A lot of “stars” see their minutes bumped in the postseason, but look for these teams to get it done with depth. That’s what got them here.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Houston Rockets

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets

This is actually a pretty entertaining first-round matchup. We certainly get star power as the Dubs try to start their back-to-back title run in a Western Conference Finals rematch. Houston is not nearly as good as they were last season, though, and the Warriors are much improved. This series has sweep potential, but maybe Houston “steals” one at home. What I’m curious to see is how close these playoff games will be. If teams can give Golden State a hard time, Steph and Draymond should be playing all the way until the final buzzer (or at least close). Their DFS value gets a big boost for the postseason if things are competitive — although I’m sure we’ll all take 46 points with 10 triples in three quarters from Steph any night.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs

Unfortunately for Memphis, this is probably the most one-sided playoff series. It’s not the Grizz’s fault — the injuries they suffered were ridiculous. I’d give the Rockets a better chance than the Grizzlies to pull off a first-round upset. This should be a sweep, but who knows, maybe Pop even starts resting some guys in this series (I’m only half kidding). The fun in the West starts in the second-round. We’re all anticipating the GSW/SAS Western Conference Final … and if we get it, it’s sure to be spectacular. However, assuming OKC can pull through, the Spurs have their hands full with KD and Russ before we see the main event. Spurs vs. Thunder has the potential to be the second best series of the postseason.

(3) Oklahoma City vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks

Now that we already discussed how fantastic an OKC/SAS second-round meeting could be, the Thunder need to be very careful in making sure to take care of business against the Mavs. Dallas got hot late in the season and Dirk will be a much bigger factor in games in the postseason. In the end the Thunder are just too talented, but this won’t be a series they can just sleepwalk through. Typically, I like to feel things out before I make predictions too early, but I’m leaning towards Durant leaving if he doesn’t get a ring this season. That means OKC is playing for a lot. I expect their two stars to have extraordinary postseasons, even if San Antonio is the end of the road.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Portland Trailblazers

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers

This should be the most competitive series the West has to offer in the first-round. It’s still a top heavy conference, so it’d be pretty surprising to see Portland pull it off, but they’re incredibly scrappy. It’s amazing the Blazers have come so far this season — they lost four starters from 2015, and Damian Lillard was able to carry this team right back to the middle of the playoff pack. This could also be a make or break year for the Clippers. A let down against the Blazers could really accelerate a rebuild process for LAC. Blake, CP3 … someone would likely be gone.

Quick Hits

Shocker:

NBA: Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets

  • Hornets reach the Eastern Conference Finals.


If the Cavs don’t win the East:

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Whoever wins does gets smoked in the Finals… BUT they then become an attractive free agent destination because LeBron’s vice grip on the East has been broken.


If the Spurs win it all:

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers

  • Tim Duncan finally rides off into the sunset and (maybe) tops how Kobe went out. We’d have to have a serious discussion about who had a better career between the two, though.


Best Series:

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs

  • Come on! The Warriors top the Spurs in a legendary Game 7 in Oakland.


Finals Prediction:

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Warriors take care of the Cavaliers in five. As a result LeBron makes Cavs fans seriously sweat things out while he considers leaving for the Lakers before finally agreeing to return on a one-year deal.


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