At long last, we are over the long 82-game grind of the season and the mass turmoil caused. The playoffs is here and the road to the championship isn’t as clogged as it was the last couple of years. (Come on, we all know the Heat are going to the Finals and so are the Lakers before them circa 2008.) And for a crazy, lunatic basketball fan like you and me, that sounds like heaven.
Here are the complete first-round series match-ups and a prediction who will win each.
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs (8) Brooklyn Nets
I’m sure it’s a bittersweet moment for the Hawks when they learned they’ll be getting Brooklyn in the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs. First, it would be much better for the team’s long-term interest if the Nets goes to the lottery because they have the right to swap picks with them in this year’s draft (the remnant of the Joe Johnson trade). But then again, if Brooklyn hasn’t gone in, they’d be facing a slightly more dangerous Pacers team that could give them a heck of a matchup problem in the frontcourt.
It’s still easy to see why they’d still be liking this scenario because the Hawks have absolutely owned and kicked Nets’ butts all season. In fact, Atlanta has played some of the best basketball they could ever play against Brooklyn. Aside from the fact that the season series went convincingly the Hawks way (4-0), the East’s best squad scored over 118 points per 100 possessions against the Nets and assisted on almost 75% of their baskets against them, a staggering number that I’m positive could be one of the best passing rates ever by one team against another!
Prediction: Hawks in 5
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (7) Boston Celtics
Boston is a fun team to watch, but it stops right there.
Yes they are at a stand-still with the Cavs in the season series (2-2) but it’s hard to see LeBron James not getting past the first round against a relatively young team who are only happy to get here. And we’re not even talking about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
If you have three of the best players in the series clumped in one team, it’s awfully hard to be betting on the other. If they could win one game, I’d call it somewhat of a minor miracle.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
(3) Chicago Bulls vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee is one of the feel-good stories of the season and a bright future for the young core. “Future” is the operative word.
While the Bucks has done a decent job defending at the post all season, the Bulls have simply too much firepower in their arsenal. Granted, their pieces played sparingly together because of an assortment of injuries but they are still one of the East’s favorite. It’s quite baffling that a team with Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson could still add someone like Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic to their schemes.
Jason Kidd and his boys are about to experience firsthand how unfair that was.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
(4) Toronto Raptors vs (5) Washington Wizards
The four vs five matchup always makes compelling playoff basketball. This one is no different.
Washington pulled off an upset over Chicago last year in this same scenario. That is basically the series that earned Wizards coach Randy Wittman money and a three-year extension. Well, signs sure point that way.
Toronto has the East’s best offense while Washington has the second-best defense but you know which proverbially wins championships, right? The Raptors got the better of the Wizards through the whole season (3-0), but the final pair of games are close and decided in the final seconds. Having said that, it becomes clear that Toronto does not have the biggest of advantages against the Wizards despite the lopsided season series standings.
On the other hand, one can argue that the Wizards are more well-suited to the rigors of a playoff series than the marathon of playing an 82-game season. They protect the paint, they rebound, and they got guys that they can go to in the clutch. Not that the Raptors don’t, but they’re the smaller team and Washington has done this before.
Prediction: Wizards in 6
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) New Orleans Pelicans
Not much to say except “Welcome to the playoffs Anthony Davis!” Wake me up in the second round, will you Steph?
Prediction: Warriors in 4
(2) Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks (7)
The interstate rivals are in for one exciting series.
Personally, I couldn’t think of any more perfect first-round scenario for Houston. If they ended up somewhere in the 3-6 range, they’d be staring right at an early exit– again. Instead, they’d be facing a Dallas squad that cares more about putting the ball in the basket rather than stopping people for doing it. They’ll be playing right into the Rocket’s hands. If Dallas is to have a chance, they’d have to run their opponents at the three-point line where they take almost 40% of their shots.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) San Antonio Spurs
Oh boy, oh boy. The basketball gods are smiling.
The talent level of both teams are pretty much conference finals material and it’s crazy to think these super-squads are only one game apart. One game!
The season series were tied for a reason and both teams display strengths and weaknesses for each other to watch out for and take advantage of. The Clippers rebounding and interior scoring will be a huge problem for the Spurs who will open on the road and WITHOUT Tiago Splitter. In the four games they played, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Glen Davis combined to shoot 77% (47 for 61) in the restricted area.
Still, you’ve been here long enough to know not to bet against the Spurs. They’ve seen everything and still lived to tell about the tale.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
(4) Portland TrailBlazers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Talk about a clash of styles, you got one here with Portland’s three-point happy offensive attack to Memphis’ grinding and bruising, mostly half-court style of play.
But as much as the Grizzlies are banged up, the Blazers are worse! They got Wes Matthews out for the season and LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Arron Afflalo has dealt with one kind of injury after another.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 6