By Jason McDaniel, Assistant Sports Editor —
The NBA Playoffs are underway, and this year has some of the greatest competition yet.
The Golden State Warriors came into this season as the favorites to win the Championship with Vegas giving them an astounding 70% chance at repeating as National Champions. That’s more than any team has ever had at repeating in a season in any of the four major sports ever. What’s more surprising is that in the playoffs this year, they aren’t even a number one seed.
The NBA West was an absolute mess this season until the very last day of the regular season, when it was finally determined what teams were in the playoffs and what matchups we would see. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 112-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets secured them the last available spot in the playoffs and put them head-to-head with the Houston Rockets in the first round.
The NBA Eastern Conference was a little more manageable as the teams who were in the playoffs were set a couple of weeks in advance, the last thing to be determined was the seeding.
In the Western Conference, the seeding in order is the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
My predictions for the West are as follows, keeping in mind that all opening games and two extra games have been played at the time I am writing this; The Houston Rockets will beat the Timberwolves in the first round in five games, the Warriors will sweep the Spurs, the Pelicans will top the Trail Blazers in seven games, and the Oklahoma City Thunder will beat the Utah Jazz in five games.
The second round, if all goes like I’m expecting it to, will have matchups between Oklahoma City and Houston, and Golden State and the Pelicans. I think that the Rockets can and will beat Oklahoma City in six games, and the Warriors will beat the Pelicans in 5 games.
This will put Houston and Golden State against each other in the Western Conference Finals, and I believe that the Rockets will beat the Warriors after seven games, putting Houston in the Finals for the first time since 1995.
In the Eastern Conference, the seeding in order is the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Washington Wizards.
My prediction for the East are as follows; the Toronto Raptors will beat the Washington Wizards in six games, the Boston Celtics will lose to the Bucks in seven games, the Philadelphia 76ers will beat the Miami Heat in six games, and the Cavaliers will stave off the Pacers and win in seven games.
In the second round in the East, the Raptors will fall to Cleveland in six games and the Milwaukee Bucks will lose to the 76ers in five games.
This will put the Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers against each other in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Lebron James will lead the Cavaliers over the 76ers in seven games, putting them in the Finals for the fourth year in a row.
The Houston Rockets will have the home court advantage over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, and I believe that the Rockets will use that to their advantage, winning the first three games, two at home and one away, then lose the fourth game to the Cavaliers. I think that the Cavs could then win two games, one in Cleveland and one in Houston, but Houston will win the next game in Cleveland and end the Finals after six games.
Some key players that could easily shift the playoffs into their teams favor are Jimmy Butler on the Timberwolves, Paul George on the Thunder, CJ McCollum on the Trail Blazers, Anthony Davis on the Pelicans, John Wall on the Wizards, Victor Oladipo on the Pacers (who has definitely already made his presence felt after game one), Al Horford on the Celtics, and Dwyane Wade as the sixth man on the Heat. These are players that played smaller roles than many of their teammates during the regular season that can change the entire workings of the playoffs if they perform to the full extent of their abilities.
The 2017-18 NBA Playoffs have some of the closest matchups we’ve seen in years, now fans just have to wait for all the games to unfold.