After a long season, the NBA Playoffs are starting today. There are so many stars this season that every game should be fun. Whether you root for playoff-tested players like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, or Lebron James (oh, wait…) or guys who have been to one or no postseasons like D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, these playoffs will be fun. As opposed to the fleeting March Madness, you can enjoy the playoffs all the way from now until June. So, here’s what to expect this postseason from basketball’s best.
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Western Conference First Round
1 Golden State Warriors vs. 8 Los Angeles Clippers
Series: 4-0, GSW
The Warriors will turn on playoff mode like they always do. The Clippers exceeded expectations this year, but they’re playoff journey will come to a close quickly.
4 Houston Rockets vs. 5 Utah Jazz
Series: 4-3, HOU
This should be a tightly contested rematch of last year. The Rockets won last year, though, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t again.
3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Series: 4-3, OKC
If Jusuf Nurkic wasn’t injured, I probably would’ve taken Portland. However, since they aren’t at full strength, I’ll take the Thunder to upset them.
2 Denver Nuggets vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs
Series: 4-2, DEN
The Nuggets should win this, but Gregg Popovich and his Spurs will put up a fight. The Nuggets have high-powered offense, while the Spurs bring staunch defense. This will be an interesting battle.
Eastern Conference First Round
1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. 8 Detroit Pistons
Series: 4-0, MIL
Detroit, who barely made it, should have a short stay in the postseason. The regular season Eastern Conference champs should easily prevail in Round 1.
4 Boston Celtics vs. 5 Indiana Pacers
Series: 4-3, BOS
Even though Victor Oladipo is out, Boston should have a tough time with these guys. Indiana has adapted without their star, so this will be a struggle.
3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
Series: 4-2, PHI
The story to watch here is whether Joel Embiid is healthy in time to play in the opening games or not. If the Nets jump out to an early lead without Joel on the court, Philly could be in trouble.
2 Toronto Raptors vs. 7 Orlando Magic
Series: 4-0, TOR
Orlando is talented, but the Raptors are so deep and experienced you can’t really bet against them here. Toronto should cruise through this round.
Western Conference Semifinals
1 Golden State Warriors vs. 4 Houston Rockets
Series: 4-2, GSW
The Rockets were the closest team to knocking off the Warriors in last year’s postseason. However, Demarcus Cousins is a better matchup for Clint Capela than what the Warriors had last year. Plus, the Warriors will have home-court advantage this time.
2 Denver Nuggets vs. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Series: 4-3, OKC
The Nuggets have been stellar all year, but I like the playoff-tested Thunder here. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have just been so dynamic this year. However, they’re seeded so low because of a shaky second half of the season, so if they have a rocky series against the home-court Nuggets, the outcome could be different.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. 4 Boston Celtics
Series: 4-3, BOS
The Celtics and Bucks played one of the most exciting series’ last season. However, both teams were shells of what they are now. Giannis (don’t make me write his last name) and Khris Middleton have improved, while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward didn’t play in last year’s postseason. I have to pick the Celtics to repeat against the Bucks this season, though because we haven’t seen them at full strength in the playoffs yet.
2 Toronto Raptors vs. 3 Philadelphia 76ers
Series: 4-3, PHI
The Sixers and the Raptors haven’t squared off since around 55 games into the season. That’s saying a lot since the Sixers hadn’t acquired Tobias Harris yet. Philly built themselves for playoff success this year through trades, and I see their moves paying off here (if Joel Embiid is healthy).
Western Conference Finals
1 Golden State Warriors vs. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Series: 4-1, GSW
The Thunder have a more formidable bench than the Warriors, but you can’t have a 6th seed upsetting the Warriors. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Demarcus Cousins form the NBA’s best starting 5. Russ and Paul George can matchup on Steph and KD, but the Warriors have so many options it’s scary. The Thunder don’t have the depth to pull off an upset here, and the Warriors roll to another Western Conference Championship.
Eastern Conference Finals
3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 4 Boston Celtics
Series: 4-2, BOS
If the Sixers have a Kryptonite, it’s the Celtics. Boston has lanky wings to match up with Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons. Al Horford does a pretty good job guarding Joel Embiid, despite the size advantage Joel has on him. These teams are very different from last year’s squads. As I wrote before, Hayward and Irving are in their first postseason in green, while the Sixers added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. I think this series will come down to depth. The Sixers sacrificed their depth for Harris and Butler, but the Celtics can play about 9 different guys who they should feel comfortable starting. In another rematch from last year, the Celtics prevail.
Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics
Series: 4-3, BOS
This would be a fun Finals. A matchup between the deepest team versus the squad with the most prolific starters. In the regular season series, the Warriors won 115-111 in their first matchup while the C’s crushed Golden State 128-95 in their next game. These games were very different for Boston. In the first match, the Celtics had 16 points from their bench, with 10 from Jaylen Brown. In the blowout, however, they tallied 68 points off the bench. 30 of those points came from Gordon Hayward, while 18 came from Jaylen Brown. So, as much as this game depends on the starters like Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Jayson Tatum, it will also depend on the bench. The Warriors will need their powerful starters to play at a high level to fend off Boston, but I don’t think Golden State can hold off Boston’s deep lineup for 7 games. After an up and down season, I’m betting on the Celtics to come up big this postseason.