The first round of the NBA Playoffs is over. A time to hope and a time to cry. A time to bet on the Warriors and stay away from the Cavs. A time to talk trash and a time to admit Portland wasn’t what you thought it was. Fans in Oklahoma City, Washington, and Milwaukee are left pondering their teams’ futures while fans of jazz in New Orleans and Jazz fans in Utah rejoice for it. Even though Cleveland escaped the Pacers in 7 games, the fans of both teams have remarkably different outlooks on next year.
Here’s how the 1st round panned out (with my predictions in parentheses) followed by a look at the series of greatest interest in a 2nd round that’s just underway.
# 1 Houston defeats # 8 Minnesota 4-1. (My Prediction: Houston 4-1)
# 2 Golden St defeats # 7 San Antonio 4-1 (My Prediction: Golden St 4-1)
# 3 Portland loses to # 6 New Orleans 4-0 (My Prediction: Portland 4-3)
# 4 Oklahoma City loses to # 5 Utah 4-2 (My Prediction: Oklahoma City 4-2)
# 1 Toronto defeats # 8 Washington 4-2 (My Prediction: Toronto 4-2)
# 2 Boston defeats # 7 Milwaukee 4-3 (My Prediction: Milwaukee 4-3)
# 3 Philadelphia defeats # 6 Miami 4-1 (My Prediction: Philadelphia 4-1)
# 4 Cleveland defeats # 5 Indiana 4-3 (My Prediction: Cleveland 4-1)
I’d love to be able to tell you to watch the 2nd round matchups in the West but you’ll only come away shuddering at the impending doom that awaits whoever wins the East. I’d be surprised if Utah and New Orleans combine to win more than 1 game against the 2 best teams in the NBA this season by far, Houston and Golden State. And Sith Curry is rumored to be arriving soon.
# 1 Houston over # 5 Utah 4-1
# 2 Golden State over # 6 New Orleans 4-0
# 3 Philadelphia versus # 2 Boston - This brings back memories...... for a lot of older folks. For a new generation of fans this is like if every Rocky movie went up against every Mark Wahlberg movie. Boston and Philly haven’t played a truly meaningful game since the 80’s. But between 1965 and 1985, Philly met Boston 10 times in the playoffs and each time the winner ended up in the Finals (winning the title 6 times).
And it seems like, barring a shocking series of fortunate events in Northeast Ohio, this rivalry is going to dominate the Eastern Conference for the next 5 years. Boston bested a more talented (yet frustratingly confusing) Milwaukee Bucks team while missing their 2 best players, 1 of whom they’ve been without for essentially the whole season. Philadelphia found their gold at the end of the process rainbow with legendary seasons from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Philadelphia’s lack of playoff experience really pits history against them. Since the ABA merger in 1976, only 3 teams have made the Finals after missing the playoffs the year before. (‘77 Sonics, ‘02 Nets, and ‘08 Celtics) None of them were as young or lacked as much playoff experience as Philly’s top 4 did going into this postseason (Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Covington - 0 games). Here’s Five Thirty-Eight’s more informing look at it.
Boston’s future is just looking brighter and brighter with every step they take with Brad Stevens at the helm. I don’t think they have what it takes to upset the Sixers in this round but I’m pretty sure they’re going to make it exciting. If Kyrie were healthy, I wouldn’t be picking Philly. Pick: Sixers in 6. (Very good chance this series goes 7)
# 4 Cleveland versus # 1 Toronto - Every year is the same year for Toronto. Must be maddening rooting for an episode of the Twilight Zone. This does seem like Toronto’s best case scenario in a long time. An injured Boston is not a true threat. This may be the last year Philly’s youth can be their downfall and the world saw what Victor Oladipo and Indiana did to the psyche of Cavs nation. As it gets exceedingly harder to believe in this Cleveland team after such a lackluster showing in the playoffs save for one player, it gets exceedingly easier to believe that player will find a way.
No matter how well the Raps played this year, or any year for that matter, they haven’t ever found an answer for LBJ. James owns the Raptors with a career record of 49-12 (including 8-2 in the playoffs) against the North and so the pressure really falls on the Raptors. One of the last vestiges of an advantage that James has is his ability to control the narrative. The stats say Toronto should advance but the eye test of history says LeBron will find a way. A master at work. Pick: Cavs in 6