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After a parity-filled regular season and one of the best MVP runs ever, the NBA playoffs are here. It’s time to go through all the first-round series that are set.
We know who the seventh seeds are after the first night of play-in, so we can break down the 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5 matchups in each conference.
In the East, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are expected to face the defense of the Boston Celtics juggernaut. The Chicago Bulls will face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champions. And the Joel Embiid-James Harden duo will get their first real test against the Toronto Raptors.
On the other side of the board, two of the most brash and talented teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, will face off. Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry will give us one of the best first-round superstar clashes. And Luka Doncic will try to bury the Utah Jazz in shock.
Predictions and analysis of all of the above can be found below.
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Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were phenomenal in the Brooklyn Nets’ 115-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They combined for 59 points (on 21-of-31 shooting) and 23 assists.
However, that amounted to a single-digit victory over a Cavs team without Jarrett Allen, underscoring Brooklyn’s problem as long as Ben Simmons remains out.
Is there enough firepower on the rest of the roster to overwhelm a truly dominant Celtics defense?
Durant is without a doubt one of the scariest players in the league playoffs. Kyrie had some legendary playoff moments. Robert Williams III is injured in the knee (although he is progressing towards a return).
But with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics still have more options against these stars than most teams. And while Al Horford may not have the mobility and athleticism of Time Lord, he is a heady and experienced presenter.
With that and the level of offense provided by Tatum (29.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 threes with 40.2 three-point percentage over his last 33 games) and Brown (27.1 points over its last 12), Boston should have enough to grind through.
This word is chosen with care, however. It’s hard to imagine Durant going down without a fight. And in at least two or three games, he and Kyrie should get enough help from Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown to pick up wins. Coming to four would not be surprising.
But the Celtics are progressing at a pace no one else can match. Since January 1, Boston plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions is first (and nearly three points ahead of the second-placed Phoenix Sun).
Prediction: Celtics in seven
2 out of 6
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There’s very little wind in the Chicago Bulls’ sails ahead of their first-round streak with the Bucks.
A strong start to the season all but secured their playoff berth, but they are 20-26 with a minus-4.1 clean rating since January 9. It’s even worse (7-15 with a minus-7.6 net rating) since Feb. 26.
And with Lonzo Ball already ruled outside for the entirety of the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine those trends changing against the defending champions.
There’s plenty of offensive firepower with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, but Lonzo is exactly the kind of connector a team like this needs. Also, his willingness to take on a tough perimeter defensive assignment like Jrue Holiday or Khris Middleton will be missed.
The Bucks, meanwhile, more or less hit a 51-win season. When Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were in the lineup, they were 37-10 (a pace of 65 wins over an entire season). And all three have a good state of health and plenty of rest before the first round.
We got an in-depth look at the Bucks’ peak in last year’s playoffs, and they’re about to reappear.
Prediction: Bucks in five
3 out of 6
Matt Slocum/Associated Press
On paper, the Harden-Embiid couple seems to be doing well. The two have played over 600 minutes together, and Philadelphia is plus-15.9 points per 100 possessions in those minutes.
However, the Sixers have suffered several high-profile losses in recent weeks, including two against the team they will face in the first round.
In those contests against the Raptors, Embiid shot 38.1% from the field while Harden averaged 15.0 points on 33.3% shooting. And against the creative defensive schemes of Toronto’s Nick Nurse, the supporting cast seemed bewildered.
Of course, there is some danger in drawing broad conclusions from two games. In terms of top-end talent, Philadelphia has the edge (over more than the Raptors). However, Toronto has the advantage of depth, connectivity and a team-oriented approach.
And throughout the season, they’ve had two stars of their own (though not necessarily at the same time).
From the start of the season to Jan. 9 (34 games), when Pascal Siakam was out or struggling to return to All-Star form, Fred VanVleet averaged 22.0 points, 6.7 assists and 3, 8 threes while shooting 40.9% from three.
He started to slow down then, but Siakam took off with 24.0 points, 5.7 assists and 1.1 threes.
Besides predicting Toronto will win this series, consider this a prediction that both will start to click this playoff at the same time.
Prediction: Raptors in seven
4 out of 6
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The entertainment potential of this series is as high as any in the first round.
Both teams are loaded with confident young talent who aren’t afraid to express that confidence, and there are several one-on-one clashes that will demand attention.
How will Ja Morant deal with Patrick Beverley’s antics? Can Desmond Bane or Dillon Brooks slow down Anthony Edwards, who looked more than ready for the challenge of playoff intensity in the play-in game? Will D’Angelo Russell have ice in his veins against the winger who doesn’t take Edwards? And can Karl-Anthony Towns bounce back from a terrible play-off night against Steven Adams?
At various points in the series, you can expect some form of fireworks as the answer to all of these questions.
What separates these teams is Memphis’ depth. The Grizzlies went 20-5 without Ja Morant in the lineup and were plus-7.8 points per 100 possessions when off the floor.
With a second unit that includes Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson, Memphis should dominate the minutes when Minnesota’s strong starting lineup is on the floor. And that will be enough to win the series.
Prediction: Grizzlies in six
5 out of 6
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Nikola Jokic getting a Denver Nuggets team that got nine total appearances from Michael Porter Jr. and zero from Jamal Murray to 48 wins is truly remarkable.
The Nuggets had a point differential around that of a 62 wins team when Jokic was on the pitch, but they played like an 18-win team without him. For context, the league-worst Houston Rockets went 20-62.
And as dependable as Kevon Looney has been for the Golden State Warriors this season, he’s unlikely to be able to slow down the eventual two times MVP down.
But even if Jokic maintains his current playoff averages of 25.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists, that may not be enough (assuming Murray and MPJ remain). outside).
Golden State is dealing with its own injury issues. Looks Like Warriors Are Playing Stephen Curry’s Status Close To The Vest, But They Said He Was Doing progress. And if he plays the bulk of the series, the hobbled Nuggets will be hard pressed to keep up.
When Curry and Draymond Green were on the floor this season, the Warriors were plus-14.7 points per 100 possessions. And that sample barely includes time with Klay Thompson.
These three obviously have years of high-level experience together, but now there’s a fourth weapon to worry about. Since Curry injured his foot, Jordan Poole has averaged 25.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.1 threes.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer, Aaron Gordon, averaged 15.0 points (the lowest rating of any NBA second-leading scorer). From night to night, the question was not: Who will join Jokic? It was rather: Will anyone join him?
Denver simply won’t be able to trade haymakers with the Warriors.
Prediction: Warriors in Six
6 out of 6
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It’s hard to overstate how disastrous the Utah Jazz’s season-ending slump was from the outside.
the probability of winning of ESPN’s box scores in each of Utah’s last five losses is shocking.
- Hornets: 74.6%
- Mavericks: 80.2%
- Mowers: 99.3%
- Warriors: 99.8%
- Suns: 98.3%
Again, they lost those five games, and the dramatic nature of the losses led to dozens of rumors on the future of the team, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
If the trend continues and Utah comes out of another playoff run, can the front office (which added Danny Ainge mid-season) revive it?
It took the John Stockton-Karl Malone Jazz 11 years to break through and advance to the NBA Finals. Gobert and Mitchell have only been together for five years. This is the age of player empowerment and social media, however, and if a team doesn’t get results yesterday, they risk being upset.
And with everything threatening the Jazz, it’s hard to imagine them being able to play freely against a Dallas Mavericks team coming together at the right time.
Dallas was the best in the league 19-6 since Spencer Dinwiddie entered the rotation, and in those 25 games, Luka Doncic has averaged 30.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 3.8 threes. Jalen Brunson and Dinwiddie combined for 32.5 more points. All three combined to shoot 39.7% from three.
All of this is backed by a defense that has been completely transformed under Jason Kidd.
The Mavs peak at the right time. And even though the Jazz are still loaded with talent and finished the season with the league third best simple scoring system (which combines point differential and schedule strength), they go in the opposite direction.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven