The NBA season stinks. We all know it, but the playoffs is a different level of intensity. We actually see the best players in the world play at their highest level. With the playoffs starting Saturday night let’s make our picks.
(1)Houston Rockets vs. (8)Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season. The Rockets come in as heavy favorites coming off of a historic season. Mike D’Antoni’s up tempo style has been massively effective with the addition of Chris Paul. Veterans like PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon have provided grittiness to a style that historically has been looked at as a more of a finesse approach.
The Wolves have to have Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns carry the load on both ends of the court. The defense as a whole must step up big time to have any chance to pull off an upset in this series. The Timberwolves have allowed 108.4 points per 100 possessions, 23rd in the league and smack in the neighborhood of such defensive juggernauts as the Grizzlies and Knicks. Jimmy Butler is good enough to contain James Harden during this series but Jeff Teague matching up with Chris Paul is a nightmare to Minnesota fans. The Wolves would be wise to have Wiggins matchup with Paul and use his length to try and disrupt Paul. But honestly I am reaching to think that the Wolves will make a series of this. Rockets have the players to matchup Towns and Butler.
Rockets in 5
(2)Golden State Warriors vs. (7)San Antonio Spurs
This series two years ago would be a headliner of the first round, but with the injuries to marquee names Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard this series feels more like a warmup for the Warriors. The Spurs will need an MVP like effort to carry the Spurs to a victory in this series. This is the least intimidating Spurs team in the last two decades. Tony Parker and Manu are not half they players they used to be so the Spurs are relying so much on their young unproven players.
The Warriors are no longer the overall favorites in the west, I think Durant, Thompson, Green and company come out with a chip on their shoulder. Durant will face different combinations of Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gay, and he should find ways to exploit anyone San Antonio has to offer. The Spurs will put up a fight after they go down 2-0 but they just don’t have the firepower to match the Warriors even without Steph.
Warriors in 4
(3) Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
By far the most fun series to watch. Damion Lillard and Anthony Davis are about to claim their spot in the NBA elite, the winner of this series will take the first step in that direction.
The Pelicans addition of Nikola Mirotic has given them a stretch four that has opened up the middle for Anthony Davis to work. If Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo can at least limit Lillard and McCollum, they can make this an extremely difficult match-up for Portland. The Pelicans will need leadership from Rondo in this series as he is the only one with real playoff experience. Rondo has flashed signs of early Celtics Rondo this season, if that guy shows up the Pelicans can pull of the upset.
The Blazers are going into this series as one of the surprises of the West. While they were a projected playoff team no one could have seen them as high as the 3 seed coming into 2018. Portland’s improvement has come mainly on the defensive end, jumping from 15th in team defense in 2016-2017 all the way to 7th in 2017-2018. The key for Portland will be to contain Anthony Davis. Stopping Anthony Davis is really not an option for Portland but if Josef Nurkic can make Davis work on both ends it can make a huge impact on the game.
Pelicans lack depth behind the starting 5 and I can’t see anyone on this team that will be able to hold down the terrific Blazer’s guard play. This series will be tight but I think the home team will take it.
Blazers in 6
(4)Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
The Jazz had a chance to win the number 3 seed on the final day of the season, but were unable to beat a determined Trailblazers team. The Jazz now have to face the biggest wildcard team of the playoffs the star driven Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz enter this series with one thing in mind. Stop Russell Westbrook! Mid-season addition Jae Crowder will play a huge role in that but not by being one one with Westbrook. If the Jazz utilize Crowder on Paul George and limit his impact, that will leave Westbrook to carry the load. We all know that may be how he wants it but has historically not lead to victories. Rudy Gobert will also be tasked with keeping the former MVP out of the paint or at least punishing him when he drives. If Gobert can be defensively strong while still supplying a secondary option to rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell the Jazz will be in good shape.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to have its two stars play at a high level to win this game. If George and Westbrook can play their games this series could be over in four, but the defense of the Jazz could smother them and force third option Carmelo Anthony into the mix. Anthony will have an immense amount of pressure on him entering this series. His legacy is on the line in this series, he will have to be more then he has been this season.
This series is a case of great individual stars meeting a much more team concept. I tend to take team over player unless Lebron James is the player.
Jazz in 7