The 2017-2018 season has finally come to an end, and the journey to the NBA Finals begins this Saturday. There’s a couple new faces in this years playoffs including a talented 76ers out the eastern conference, and a Timberwolves team viewed as an underdog. However the playing field is set, and here at “The Cover 3” we’ll be predicting round every first round matchup.
Eastern Conference First Round
1. Toronto Raptors vs. 8. Washington Wizards
The Raptors finished the last ten games of the season with a 6-4 record, considered as a cool off end to many experts around the league. However the Raptors were in sole possession of the No. 1 seed for a few weeks now and they look to make a deep run in this years post season. With DeMar DeRozan and his counter partner Kyle Lower leading the team, the duo in particular look to redeem themselves from past postseason inconsistency.
Moving on to the Wizards. The season didn’t go as planned mostly due to injuries, however the team has chance to redeem themselves in this years postseason. Led by one of the best back courts in the east, John Wall and Bradley Beal look to give the opposing backcourts trouble.
This series will come down to the secondary units from each team. The Raptors have one of the best benches in the league where the Wizards have one of the worst. However the playoff demons still haunt the Raptors so this won’t be play out as a “cake walk”.
Prediction: Toronto in six.
2. Boston Celtics vs. 7. Milwaukee Bucks
For the last few season head coach Brad Stevens has been viewed as one of the great young coaches in today’s game, and this season didn’t show any different. The first game of the season the team faced adversity losing all-star player Gordon Hayward to a season ending ankle injury. As the season went on the team faced injuries from many players most importantly their best player Kyrie Irving. However that didn’t stop Brad Stevens and his team, the team finished with 55 wins this season and look to continue their great play during the postseason.
The Milwaukee Bucks had a hot start to the season, including a dominating start from the young phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo. However the Bucks fired their former head coach (Jason Kidd) and their season concluded with inconsistent, and undisciplined play. Since March the Bucks offensive efficiency has played beyond standards, although their defensive efficiency is at a league low.
This series will come down to coaching. Even though the Boston Celtics roster is depleted, head coach Stevens knows the game to well and will be able to configure a game plan around this talented Bucks team.
Prediction: Boston in six.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs 6. Miami Heat
“Trust the Process” has been the saying of Joel Embiid since entering the league, and well he’s been right all along. It’s been a tough few years for Philly sports fans but recently everything seems to be going their way. The Eagles brought back home the Lombardi Trophy, and Villanova crushed the big dance and destroyed ever team in its presence. Now it’s the 76ers turn, arguably one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the 76ers ended the season on 15 game winning streak. The last time the 76ers won 14 or more games in a row during a season they won the 1983 Finals. However it’s a long journey to the finals and it all starts with the Miami Heat. The team is stacked from sharpshooter JJ Reddick to an all-star player in Joel Embiid, and to top it off with a ROY candidate Ben Simmons. This team is the real deal, however they’re facing another brilliant coach in the east in Erik Spoelstra.
The Miami Heat had another impressive end to their season, led by Goran Dragic, and Hassan Whiteside the Heat are still viewed as an underdog in this matchup. The starting five from the Heat could give the 76ers a little trouble, but when it comes to their reserves the rotation seems to get thin at times. Spoelstra should be able to scheme a few good games and could make it competitive at times, however the 76ers have too much talent.
This series will come down to talent and consistency. Currently the 76ers have both, although Joel Embiid has been ruled out game one the 76ers should still be fine.
Prediction: Philadelphia in five.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs 5. Indiana Pacers
The Cleveland Cavaliers came in to this season with cloudy expectations. Yes, many thought the team could make it to a fourth consecutive finals but the roster looked a lot different. Most importantly the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas. The plan failed and right before the trade deadline the Cavs seemed to get younger by picking up Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance. However the true talent doesn’t seem to be there. Realistically speaking, does that even matter though? The team still has it’s most important piece, LeBron James. LeBron is entering his 13th consecutive postseason and is statistically playing some of the best ball of is his career. Yes, the Cavs have the best player in today’s game but it won’t be easy, the Indiana Pacers had a phenomenal season and were a few games shy of having home-court advantage during the first round.
When the Pacers traded away their former franchise player in Paul George it seemed like the organization ended up with scrapes. However the scrape has turned into gold. Victor Oladipo had one of the best seasons of his young career and should absolutely be awarded Most Improved Player. With Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, and himself this team should cause the Cavs some fits.
This series will come down to experience. The Cavs aren’t as talented in years past but they still have Lebron James, Kevin Love, and a decent supporting cast around them. This series could face a potential game seven, and this Pacers team could possible beat the Cavs. However during King James’s postseason career he’s never gone to a game seven during the opening round of the playoffs, which leads to James never losing a first round series as well.
Prediction: Cleveland in six.
Western Conference First Round
1. Houston Rockets vs. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Houston Rockets finished the season with the best record in the league. Led by MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets high-powered offense torched just about every opposing team this season. Coming into the season the Rockets had high expectations, and they exceeded all of those. However Harden and Paul both enter the postseason with a lot to prove. Neither player seemed to have had the ability to lead its team to a deep post season run, but both players are together now and have great chance of making this years NBA Finals.
The Minnesota Timberwolves clinched a playoff birth the first time since the 2003-2004 season. The Timberwolves are a young talented team featuring Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and have a few savvy veterans in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. With head coach Tom Thibodeu leading the team its a surprise that they’re statistically one of the leagues worse defensive teams. With a offensive juggernaut in James Harden and company it could spell trouble for this Timberwolves team.
This series is a match made in heaven for the Houston Rockets, the Rockets excel with their offensive game while the Timberwolves have trouble consistently stopping their opponents.
Prediction: Houston in four.
2. Golden State Warriors vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs
The Warriors ended the season on shaky note, which leads to a few experts believing the “Dynasty” is finally coming to an end. As cliché as it sounds “Don’t ever under estimate the heart of champion” holds true to the Warriors in this years road to another finals wins. The Warriors are still lethal and when at full strength they’re the team to beat. Yes, Stephen Curry will be out round one of the playoffs due to injury, but there’s no need to worry. The team still has Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and a plethora of other players who can contribute. The team obviously isn’t the same without Curry, but its time for Kevin Durant to lead for now.
The San Antonio Spurs are battling a injury as well with their super star player in Kawhi Leonard, he has missed the entire season and could possibly missed the entire playoffs as well. This only goes to show how great of a coach Gregg Popovich truly is, he schemed the team to fit the needs of LaMarcus Aldridge and it paid off. However when it comes to facing the Warriors the team is still lacking one key substance, overall talent. The Warriors have too much talent top to bottom over the Spurs. Unless Kawhi returns sooner than expected, I don’t believe the Spurs stand a chance even with their future hall of fame coach.
This is a matchup the Warriors needed. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a warm up, but to rebuild their consistency and to gain their mojo back the team needed this.
Prediction: Golden St in five.
3. Portland Trail Blazers vs. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
After the Pelicans lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season many experts thought it would be tough for the team to clinch a postseason birth. Those experts forgot about the greatness in Anthony Davis. Davis played at an MVP-caliber level and almost led his team to having home court advantage during the first round. There’s also another player who improved its play, Jrue Holiday. Holiday turned his game up another notch and is also a reason why the Pelicans are where they are. Since Cousins injuries, Holiday doubled his average on points per game, increased his assist and rebound averages, also increased his defensive efficiency as well.
With all that being said the Pelicans face a tough Trail Blazers team led by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Trail Blazers had an impressive season, finishing top in offense and defense. However during the season Lillard and McCollum had some of their worst plus/minus games against the Pelicans this year which could be interesting to watch.
This is a tough matchup to predict. The Pelicans have a top five player in today’s game on their team in Anthony Davis, but the Trail Blazers have one of the best back courts in todays game as well. Even though the two guards from Portland struggled against the Pelicans this season, I believe they can redeem themselves during this years post season.
Prediction: Portland in seven.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs 5. Utah Jazz
The walking triple-double (Russell Westbrook) and the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the postseason with a chip on their shoulder. The team is still out to prove that its new big three can consistently work effectively. With Westbrook, Melo, Paul George, and Steven Adams leading the way the teams starting rotation can compete with anybody in the league. However it isn’t all about them, the team is still looking to replace a defensive presence in Roberson, and are still looking for consistency from the role players.
The Utah Jazz this season have been known for their smothering defense, led by defensive anchor Rudy Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell the Jazz look to spoil any championship hopes for the Thunder. Even though the Jazz are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs they have a few concerns, their No. 1 scorer is a rookie who struggles with his shot efficiency at times, and their tall lineup could struggle with the Thunders small ball line up at times.
This series could go down as being a all time classic. Yes, the Jazz are a young disciplined team that does everything correct on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively. With that being said they don’t have a player like Russell Westbrook. It’ll be a tough series but Westbrook will be able to find a way and prevail his team to a series victory.
Prediction: Thunder in seven.