No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons
The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 60-22, while the Detroit Pistons clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season with a 115-89 victory over the New York Knicks.
The Detroit Pistons starting power forward, Blake Griffin, is dealing with a left knee injury. Griffin is the best player for the Pistons, as he averaged 24.5 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game in 75 games played this year.
It will be a major loss if Griffin is unable to go for the entire series (he missed game one) because no one can make up for his offensive production. Maker will likely replace Griffin if he is unable to play. He averaged 5.5 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, and 0.9 assists in 29 games played.
It will be nearly impossible for them to be competitive with Griffin dealing with a sore left knee.
I predict the Bucks will beat the Pistons in four games.
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic
The Toronto Raptors finished the regular season with second best record in the Eastern Conference at 58-24, while the Orlando Magic made the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Magic are one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs, as they finished the regular season winning 11 of their last 13 games. The Magic are in the playoffs because of the breakout year from their All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic averaged 20.8 points per game, 12.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 80 games.
These games will be very close, but the Raptors will win this series because of their depth off the bench. Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred Vanvleet can all give the Raptors instance offense off the bench if their starters are struggling.
The Raptors will win the series in six games.
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets
This series is an interesting one because of the questions surrounding Joel Embiid’s health, as he is dealing with left knee soreness.
The Nets will need All-Star D’Angelo Russell to have a terrific series to have any chance at winning the series. He averaged 21 points and 7 assists in 81 games played. The Nets run their entire offense through him, as he is the team’s primary ball handler. He has the ability to create open shots for others too.
Embiid is the difference maker if he is at full strength because of how dominant he has been vs the Nets this year. He averaged 30 points and 14.3 rebounds in their four meeting in the regular season, according to Bleacher Report.
With that being said, I think the 76ers will win in six games.
No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers have had a terrific season finishing 48-34 without having their All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo has missed more than half of the season due to him suffering a season-ending rupture of his quad tendon in his right knee.
The Indiana Pacers are a team that struggles to score as they average 108 points per game in the regular season, which ranks 22nd in the league, according to NBA.com.
Gordon Hayward is the x-factor in this series for the Celtics. In his last 14 games, he is averaging 14 points per game, shooting 60 percent from the field. The Celtics need Hayward to be efficient because they are 17-4 when he scores 15 or more points.
The Celtics will beat the Pacers in five games.
No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers exceeded expectations this year finishing 48-34. No one saw the Clippers making the playoffs because they decided to trade their best player Tobias Harris to the 76ers prior to the trade deadline.
The problem for the Clippers is they do not have an All-star. The Golden State Warriors have five with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Demarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson. The Clippers do not have the firepower to be competitive with the Warriors in this series.
The Warriors will win in four games.
No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
This series is about youth vs experience. Paul Millsap is the only player for the Denver Nuggets on their roster who has playoff experience. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has coached in 278 playoff games. All-stars DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge played a combined 116 playoff games prior to this postseason.
Jokic has to be the best player on the floor in this series at all times vs the Spurs if the Nuggets want to advance. Every time he takes the court, he has the potential of putting up a triple-double, as he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebound and 7.2 assists per game in 80 games played.
The team that is able to steal a road win will most likely win the series because both struggle away from home. The Nuggets finished with a 20-21 record on the road and the Spurs finished with a 16-25 record on the road.
The Spurs will win the series in seven games because of the experience of their two All-Stars.
No. 3 Portland Trailblazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
Each of these teams is coming into the playoffs with momentum. The Portland Trail Blazers have won eight of their last 10 games. The Oklahoma City Thunder are riding a five-game winning streak.
The Thunder beat the Blazers in each of their four meetingsduring the regular season. These two find themselves matched up again after the Blazers rested all of their starters but shockingly defeated the Sacramento Kings in the final game of the regular season.
The key matchup for me in this series is the point guard battle between Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. The Blazers can’t hide Lillard, as the Thunder have All-Star small forward Paul George, who is six inches taller than Lillard.
The Thunder will be able to focus more on shutting down Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum because the Blazers will be without their starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who is their third-leading scorer. This may cause both to be not as productive in this series.
That’s why Oklahoma City Thunder will win in six games.
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
The key matchup for me in this series is James Harden vs the Utah Jazz defense. Harden is having one of the best years in NBA history, as he is averaging 36.1 points, 7.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game.
No team has been able to figure out a method to stop Harden. The Jazz will not be able to solve that mystery. I expect Houston to shoot very well from three because the defense will collapse every time when Harden drives, giving Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon open looks.
The Jazz won’t make this a series because the only playmaker on the team is shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is having a great year, averaging 23.8 points, 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 77 games played, but the Jazz do not have a second option who can create their own shoot.
The Rockets have the luxury of having Paul run the offense to take the pressure off Harden so he doesn’t wear out.
The Jazz do not have the weapons to compete with the Rockets on offense, which is why I have the Rockets winning in five games.