(1) Golden State Warriors Vs (8) New Orleans Pelicans
Harry Breitner: It’s a mistake to think that Golden State is in some way overrated headed into the playoffs. The Dubs margin of victory this season was 10.1. That doesn’t go away just because it’s April. Having said that, the Pellies have a top-5 NBA player, and that’ll push this to six games.
Connor McGrath: I’m pretty much in agreement with what Pujol Junkie/insert CXF writer name inserted here. I think Golden State is the team this year and will win this series but I also think the New Orleans Pellies are a tougher match up than most people estimate. Anthony Davis has had an extraordinary season and Jrue Holiday’s healthy. I think the Pellies have enough to make it an interesting series but not enough to win. Golden State in 6
(4) Portland Trailblazers Vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Harry Breitner: Without Wesley Matthews, the offensive burden for LaMarcus Aldridge gets quite a bit heavier. That’s going to be a problem in a series against a team that employs Marc Gasol. Having said that, Lillard can put the ball in the basket himself, and so this series should be pretty close. I’m taking Memphis in 7.
Connor McGrath: If the Trailblazers didn’t have bad luck, they probably wouldn’t have any luck at all. The Grizzlies are a tough first round draw regardless of injuries but with Portland as banged up as it is, I’m going to say Memphis wins in a 4 game sweep.
(2) Houston Rockets Vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
Harry Breitner: A big part of the Rockets offense this year has been the ability to grab offensive boards, which is great news for the Rockets, because the Mavs are terrible about giving up offensive rebounds. Plus, the Mavs have just been a mess post-Rondo trade. Rockets in 4.
Connor McGrath: I think it’s easy to underestimate the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs given their regular season struggles but we did the same thing last year and the Mavericks *almost* won a series then. I’m genuinely curious to see how the playoff savvy Dirk Nowitzki and Rajon Rondo do this year. I could see it being a sweep like Harry but I think it’ll be one of the more competitive series of the first round. Ultimately, I think James Harden will solidify his MVP candidate status and I’m going to go with Houston in 7
(3) Los Angeles Clippers Vs (6) San Antonio Spurs
Harry Breitner: This series is going to be very close, which, to me, is advantage San Antonio. Do you trust DeAndre Jordan to make free throws when he has to? Do you trust Blake Griffin to defend Boris Diaw? No? Well, do you trust Gregg Poppovich to capitalize on those potential problems? Thought so. Spurs in 7.
Connor McGrath: This has potential to be one of the greatest first round series in the history of the NBA Playoffs.. I think that if the Spurs win one of the first two games in Los Angeles, they will ultimately win the series in seven games. If Los Angeles manages to win the first two then I think it’s a sweep. Given the playoff history of both franchises, I’m going to go with San Antonio in 7.
(1) Atlanta Hawks Vs (8) Brooklyn Nets
Harry Breitner: Atlanta plays very pretty basketball, and Brooklyn is not a playoff team. What’s important here is that Kyle Korver, one of the most likable players in the NBA, is going to get really meaningful minutes on a team that should make a deep run. Hawks in 4.
Connor McGrath: I think the only advantage that the Brooklyn Nets have is that they have no advantage and with no expectations, they’ve got really nothing to lose. And while they aren’t the San Antonio Spurs, they do have some vets with playoff experience. I think they’ll take one game in the series—and then get routed in the other four. Is this entire series gonna be on NBATV? Atlanta’s the only team with any chance at beating the Cavs in the East and are an absolute joy to watch. I’d love a Spurs-Hawks Finals but it’d probably lead to ratings so low that ABC would cancel the NBA Finals. Atlanta in 5
(4) Toronto Raptors Vs (5) Washington Wizards
Harry Breitner: This series is going to be a lot of fun. Watching this Wizards backcourt in a close playoff series should be a blast. Having said that, the Raptors haven’t played great down the stretch, and John Wall’s defense should give Kyle Lowry some trouble. Wizards in 6.
Connor McGrath: This is one of the most evenly matched series of the first round and I think it’s ultimately going to come down to who’s the better coach — or I guess, in this case, who is the least worst coach and I think Dwane Casey is slightly less incompetent than Randy Wittman. I think the Raps will get to the second round for the first time since the days of Vince Carter. Toronto in 7.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers Vs (7) Boston Celtics
Harry Breitner: We’re talking about LeBron James in the first round against a team that would have finished 5 games out of the playoffs if it played in the Western Conference. I think the best thing that you can say about the C’s is that they’re fun. For that, I’ll give ’em a game at home. Cavs in 5.
Connor McGrath: LeBron James, like any of the true greats, doesn’t forget the past. And even though he’s stomped them several times since then, I think memories of the Celtics eliminating Cleveland in ’08 and ’10 still linger in his mind. I think he’ll want to prove a point even though the Celtics are almost an entirely different team now. So one of the things to watch is potential for a pissed off, angry LBJ., #2 is to see how Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love fare in their playoff debut. The only advantage that the Celtics have is the better coach and maybe a better second unit (and that’s a HUGE maybe). I think Brad Stevens and potential Sixth Man of the Year Isaiah Thomas will make a few of the games competitive. My heart wants to the Celtics to at least push LeBron & Co to 6 or 7 games but my head picks Cleveland in 5.
(3) Chicago Bulls Vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Harry Breitner: I don’t think there’s any reason to have faith in this Bulls team. It’s difficult to get excited about a team so dependent on 34 year old defensive liability Pau Gasol. They’re matched up here with an emerging superstar in Giannis, and the superstars tend to come up big this time of year. I’ll take the Bucks in a very ugly 7.
Connor McGrath: I’m not sure if there’s a team in the Eastern Conference with more question marks than the Chicago Bulls. I could just as easily see them making a surprise run to the Finals as I could see them getting upset in this series. I’ve got a weird gut feeling that the Chicago Bulls will look markedly different next year and I think this is the last run for the Tom Thibedoux/Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah era. I think this will be a fun crossroads series between a team on its way up in Milwaukee and a team on its way out in Chicago. In particular, looking forward to seeing how Derrick Rose and Michael Carter-Williams match up. Plus you got the whole interstate rivalry aspect which should lead to some fun crowds. Jason Kidd has inexplicably turned Milwaukee into a team with an elite defense and I think if Jabari Parker returns to full health and Giannis Antentkoumpo become the superstar that we all think he’ll be, the Bucks will be a top team in the Eastern Conference in three years. But… right now, their offense is too anemic, I think, to win a series against the Bulls. Chicago in 6.