After a long 82 game season, the sweet 16 teams are ready to rock n roll…
The West matchups are all great and anything can happen. The East matchups are more predictable.
Let’s start with the East:
#1 Celtics vs #8 Bulls
They split the season series 2-2. This is one series that could go the distance and although the Celtics should win, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Bulls unseat the #1 seed.
The Bulls are a great rebounding team while the Celtics are the 4th weakest in that category. Both Butler and Wade have to have great series for the Bulls to have a chance.
Isaiah Thomas is the key to the Celtic’s success along with Avery Bradley, the best defensive guard in the league. They also have a great home winning record (30-11).
Prediction: Celtics in 6.
#2 Cavs vs #7 Pacers
Cavs won the season series 3-1. The Cavs played the last two games of the season smartly by not playing LeBron and Kyrie due to “injuries”. They basically tanked these games and gave up the #1 seed to avoid having to play the Bulls who swept the Cavs 4-0 during the season. Pacers have only Paul George and very little beyond him.
Prediction: Cavs will sweep in 4.
#3 Raptors vs #6 Bucks
Raptors won the season series 3-1. The Raptors made two key acquisitions during the season, Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker while the Bucks lost Jabari Parker to season ending knee injury. The Raptors were the best 4th quarter team in the league. They do have depth which helps to explain their 4th quarter success.
Prediction: Raptors in 5.
#4 Wizards vs #5 Hawks
Wizards won the season series 3-1. The Wizards have a great back court with Wall and Beal. The Hawks have the 4th best defense in the league but their offense is dreadful. They finished with a winning record but were outscored by a negative 70 points this season. This is not likely to change in the playoffs.
Prediction: Wizards in 6.
Now, for the Wild, Wild West:
#1 Warriors vs #8 Trail Blazers
The Warriors won the season series 4-0. This is deceiving as the all 4 wins were before the All-Star break. Since then, the Blazers have acquired Jusuf Nurkic and have won 17 of their last 24 games. Nurkic did suffer a fractured left leg but is expected to play. We won’t know at what level he will play. The Warriors lost Durant for 6 weeks but adjusted very nicely and won 13 straight games without him. This actually made the team stronger as the bench got extra work and responded fabulously. Durant came back for the last 3 games and looked strong playing long minutes. His shot came back in the last game of the season.
The Warriors are the deepest team in the league… Strength in Numbers.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.
#2 Spurs vs #7 Grizzlies
The Spurs and Grizzlies split the season series 2-2. This will be a great series as both teams will try their best to impose their will on each other. The Grizzlies are the grind-it-out team while the Spurs play with precision and simply know how to win. Marc Gasol and Z-Bo Randolph are beasts while Mike Conley is the most under-rated guard in the league. If the Grizzlies can control the boards (especially offensively) and get 2nd chance points, they have a shot. But the Spurs have Kawhi and a very deep bench. Both teams are great defensively so every game will come down to the wire. The Spurs’ bench will be the difference.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.
#3 Rockets vs #6 Thunder
The Rockets won the season series 3-1. This will have very high national viewing ratings as it pits Harden vs Westbrook, the dual of the MVP candidates. Westbrook will out-point Harden but the Rockets have other 3 point weapons that the Thunder lack. The difference is that the Rockets have a much deeper bench. Additionally, Harden can draw defenders to him and he can dish to his other weapons. Westbrook will draw defenders, also, but his other weapons are bb-guns.
Prediction: Rockets in 5.
#4 Clipper vs #5 Jazz
Clippers won the season series 3-1. This will be the best of the 1st round match-ups. The Jazz are the “coming” team while the Clippers are the “going” team. What I mean by that is that the Jazz are the upstarts while the Clippers have been a playoff team for years without many playoff successes. This is their final try as Paul, Griffin and Reddick will be free agents after this year. If Hayward and Hill have a great series, then they will be the difference. Gobert will outplay Jordan. Paul and Griffin have to have monster games in order for the Clipper to win.
Prediction: Jazz in 7.