It’s NBA playoffs time! As we look forward to an end of another thrilling and new look NBA season, the playoffs give us the last 16 teams standings, each for their quest of winning a title and getting into history books. The stakes are higher this time of the year and preparations have already begun for the last run. Everybody is locked in as we take a look at the 1st round matchups of NBA playoffs 2018.
●Toronto Raptors vs Washington Wizards:
The top seed in the east are taking on the Wizards in the 1st round. Wizards had a roller coaster season, are against the odds entering the playoffs 3-7 in their last 10. John Wall and Bradley Beal are criticized for not showing up in the clutch. This is their opportunity going against the top seed Toronto to prove their critics wrong as Toronto looked a bit low towards end too. But, this is playoffs time where everything starts at 0 and Toronto are well coached and well matched up against these Wizards. Beating them will be a tough ask, which is a rightful opportunity for a talent like John Wall to show his leadership! Toronto has better depth and coaching system them Wizards and certainly will go after the Wizards with their full firepower. Toronto, with DeMar DeRozan Kyle Lowry have certainly been the superior duo and a pick to win this round.
●Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat:
Both the teams are expected to make a deep run in the playoffs. Philadelphia ended their regular season on a 16 game winning streak. Although most wins weren’t with playoff teams but winning mindset and momentum is with them heading into this series, which is really important. Miami on the other hand, are going in with inspired group of guys. Their all-star underrated point-guard Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dwayne Wade will be key for them. Eric Spoelstra being a championship experienced coach will demand the bench to step up as they did in the regular season. 76ers will go in without their superstar center Joel Embid, who is expected to return in the middle of the series. But, with Simmons leading the pack and other players stepping up at the right moment, Sixers are edging out as favorites to win this series, which might go in to 7 games.
●Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks:
This has been a stressful season for the Celtics with all the injuries they faced this season. Their superstars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are not returning this playoffs. Marcus Smart is also not expected to play this round and most of their roster was banged up at some point of this season. Regardless of all setbacks, Coach Brad Stevens and the group has been greatly appreciated for their performance as they finished 2nd in the East. Celtics are now dependent on the lights of Brown, Horford, Tatum, Morris, Monroe, Rozier and every other guy on their roster to deliver so they can make a deep run. On the other hand, Milwaukee will look to take most of this opportunity and try to end this series early. Giannis and the crew had an under par season, so they would like to make a statement here. They have rebounding edge and more firepower in their offense and have the odds to win this series.
●Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
This will probably be the most watched series in the Eastern Conference as Zero Dark Thirty is activated. LeBron James will begin his quest for 8th straight finals and 4th ring as he faces Pacers, who were never expected to be here. LeBron would be surrounding himself with least talent in a long time this playoffs, but we have already witnessed the past season being his best of the career in 15th year! Although Pacers did take the season series from the Cavs, but the playoffs are different scenario. Pacers led by Victor Oladipo and guys like Lance Stephenson, Bogdanovic and Miles Turner will look to take resilient LeBron down, which would make their season more remarkable. It is a possibility but, we know how hard it is to take the King down in a best of 7 series. For the Cavs, Kevin Love’s production will be an x-factor and how well they improve their defense and rebounds. Cavs are edging out as favs to close this out in at least 6 games.
●Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs
The defending champions are going into playoffs without their most important player Steph Curry in the 1st round, as the Spurs who are without their best player, Kawhi Leonard. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knows this opponent really well and will like to take this opportunity as a revenge for last year, with Steph Curry out. He has to heavily rely on Aldridge to show up and not shrink like last year. Manu and Parker will also important with their championship experience against this heavy Warriors. No doubt Warriors with Kevin Durant, Klay Thomson and Draymond Green with a great bench and coaching staff are still a scary team to face. But, the absence of Curry has really hurt their system of play. They still can handle short-handed Spurs and are favs to edge out in this series.
Portland Trail Blazers vs New Orleans Pelicans
This is another series which could travel down to 7 games. Both the teams have showed promise in the loaded west that they can make noise in the playoffs. Anthony Davis has been without Cousins most of the season and production from Mirotic, Holiday and Rondo has boosted his confidence. He is coming out of an amazing season to face the deadly backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum. Portland has also performed as a team and have a slight edge over Pelicans. They also enjoy the home court advantage. This series will be pretty even as neither of the teams can be differentiated in particular departments. They have comparable offensive and defensive ratings and match up well against each other defensively. Portland will still start as favorites to take this series as they finished 3rd in the seeding.
●Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz
Thunder had a really underperforming season as far as talent of the roster is concerned. This would be a perfect matchup for them as we can evaluate if they are the real deal. Westbrook after averaging a triple double again would expect Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to step up and bring them the fire they need. Steven Adams’ production will play a vital role too as they are lacking the bench depth. They are already missing Roberson and Brewer who was fitting in nicely got banged up recently. He is expected to return in this series though. On the other hand, hot Jazz finished by winning 28 of their last 34 games and have all the momentum in the world. Rookie Mitchell, Gobert, Exum, Ingles, Rubio and Crowder have been resilient all year and defied all odds to snatch that 4th seed. This matchup can also go to 7 games with Thunder being the slightest favorites.
●Houston Rockets vs Minnesota :
Houston Rockets have been great this year with the best record in the NBA and probably are going against the best team anybody can hope for. Timberwolves play hard defense and Rockets are the team who have a great defensive system too, but they are pretty vulnerable in their offense. They take and make a lot of difficult shots which can reduce in the post season. The defense will be fiercer and the foul calls will be less. Leading the MVP ballot James Harden and Chris Paul have underachieved in the postseasons of their careers. They now have the best team and chance to make a case for themselves to win the title. They have great high IQ players of the bench and in the starting lineup who compliment them really well.
Timberwolves will need more production from Andrew Wiggins. Towns, Butler, Teague, Crawford and Derrick Rose of the bench are going to be the key. Jimmy Butler will have the defensive duties against Harden which could make things a little hard for Houston. If Houston will be able to execute their deadly offense consistently, then they are the clear favorites to win this series.