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First Round NBA Playoff Predictions

ISH NBA Writers give you everything you need to know before the First Round Starts!

Western Conference

Golden State Warriors (1) Vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans

Photo via www.warriorsworld.net
Photo via http://www.warriorsworld.net

By: Daniel Zimmerman

Season Recaps:

The Warriors come in to the playoffs as the clear cut favorites and number one overall seed. They are coming off a historic season for the franchise, where they fell just three wins short of 70. Stephen Curry is a minor favorite for MVP, and the team averages the most points per game, the highest shooting percentage, and the highest three point percentage in the league.

Overall, this team is a juggernaut, and no first round opponent can stop them. They are healthy and hungry.

But if there was any 8 seed to give them any trouble at all, Anthony Davis’s Pelicans are the men for the job.

Davis has his Pelicans in the playoffs for the first time since switching to their new mascot, and the team is severely underrated. The starting lineup consists of stars like Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans. They also have the hyper-athletic Eric Gordon on the wing and the giant Omer Asik managing the middle.

The bench consists of solid players like Norris Cole, Ryan Anderson, and Quincy Pondexter. This team poses a lot of matchup issues with GSW when they are healthy, and this series will be an exciting one.

Health and Injuries:

Both teams are healthy for the playoffs.

Three keys to the series:

1) Golden State’s bigs containing Davis

Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green will have their hands full, as Anthony Davis is the most difficult big man to guard in the NBA. He will attack without mercy, and the Warriors will have to be exactly that: Warriors.

I think they will be able to do it eventually, as Davis may be fatigued from over usage early in the series.

2) Guarding GSW’s perimeter shooting

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can make it rain all day, and the defensive tandem of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans will have their hands full.

The splash brothers have been doing it all season against the most elite defenses, so I don’t expect New Orleans to cause any problems.

3) Bench play

The Pelicans have a great defensive starting lineup, but GSW has a great offensive team, both starting and on the bench. That means if the Pelicans want any chance at winning, their bench players will need to keep the rim protected when the starters take a rest. Davis and company cannot be playing catch up every time they check into the game again.

Prediction:

The Warriors will win the series, but it won’t be as easy as many may think. Golden State takes the first two at home, but New Orleans bounces back with two wins at home in games three and four. But Steph Curry takes over and puts game 5 and 6 into the bank, advancing the Warriors to the next round. Anthony Davis will blow people away in his first NBA playoffs performance, and both of these teams have some of the brightest futures around. This series could be the beginning of a clash that could last for the next 3 years or so.

Conclusion: Warriors 4-2

Portland Trail Blazers (4) Vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)

photo via solecollector.com
photo via solecollector.com

By: Korey Burdman

Season Recaps:

Trail Blazers: Like last season, the Blazers started off the season as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, going 30-8 in their first 38 games. Again, they looked like a legitimate championship contender out West, led by dynamic point guard Damian Lillard and versatile power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

Then, bad luck struck, and the Blazers were inflicted with a ton of injuries. First it was Robin Lopez, then Aldridge (who was expected to miss a significant amount of time with a thumb injury, but delayed surgery and has been playing with the injury ever since). Recently, Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles and will miss the remainder of the season, and his replacement in the starting lineup (Arron Afflalo) will likely be unavailable for at least round 1 with a strained shoulder.

As a result of all these injuries, the Blazers limped to the finish line, finishing just 21-23. Their 51-31 record was still good enough to win the lackluster Northwest division and get them the four seed, but they will not have home court advantage in the first round because they have a worse record than the…

Grizzlies: What a weird season for Memphis. Like Portland, they started the year on fire, going 21-4 to open the season. They leveled off a bit between mid-December and mid-February, but still sported a tidy 39-14 record going into the All-Star break.

Since then, injuries have struck the Grizzlies (albeit not as hard as Portland, but still pretty badly). After the All-Star break, Memphis went just 16-13 to finish with a 55-27 record for the season.After holding the 2 seed in the West for nearly the entire year, their late season struggles dropped them all the way to fifth.

Now, they will have to fight the Blazers with a hobbled Mike Conley, a hobbled Marc Gasol, and a hobbled Tony Allen (if he even plays at all).

Health and Injuries:

Portland: Wesley Matthews ruptured his Achilles last month and is out for the remainder of the season. Arron Afflalo may also miss time with his shoulder injury. Nic Batum (knee), Chris Kaman (back), and C.J. McCollum (ankle) should all be good to go.

Memphis: Mike Conley (foot) and Tony Allen (hamstring) both have missed action at the end of the regular season. They should both be able to go for the start of the playoffs, but still are question marks (particularly Allen). Marc Gasol (ankle) may be a bit hobbled, but should be good to go.

Three keys to the series:

1) Health

It’s a common theme, but health is vital in this series. Both teams have serious injury issues and have players that, if healthy, can swing the series in major ways. Arron Afflalo for Portland and Mike Conley and Tony Allen for Memphis are the players that come to mind here. Whoever has the advantage of health will probably win this series.

2) Memphis Offense vs. Portland Defense

Everyone knows Portland has a high-flying offensive attack led by two of the best scorers in the league in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Everyone knows Memphis has an incredibly stingy defense led by former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. But what happens on the other side of the floor, when Portland is defending Memphis’ offense, will determine the outcome of this series.

3) Superstars

In the playoffs, a common idiom is that superstars will win you games and that you need superstars to take over in crunch time. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldrigde for Portland and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph for Memphis have all proven that they can step up, but who will rise to occasion more? What supporting players will step up on each side? This will play a big part in determining the series.

Prediction:

As many 4/5 series are nowadays, this should be an incredibly evenly-matched, close series. Both teams have superstars and a style of play that works in the playoffs. In the end, I believe Memphis is too injured and does not have the offensive firepower to hang with Portland for seven games, especially if Jeff Green continues to struggle and Tony Allen cannot play to lock up Nic Batum. Despite not having home court, I’m going with Portland.

Conclusion: Portland, 4-3.

Los Angeles Clippers (3) Vs. San Antonio Spurs (6)

via clippers.topbuzz
via clippers.topbuzz

By: David Rosenthal

Season Recaps:

Spurs

The spurs went 55-27, and are somehow the 6th seed in the west. This shows how strong the west is this year, and also how weak the east is. It seems like the Spurs are finally going to roll over and die every year, and no one would blame them for doing so; They are coming off an amazing championship. But this ancient teams keeps fighting, and the younger players are leading the charge. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are playing just as well as future Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The team continues to be able to play great. I would say that this is their last great year, but who knows they might have one or even two left in the tank.

Clippers

The Clippers jumped up into the three seed, and some might say they’ve been a bit under the radar. The Donald Sterling scandal gave the team some media coverage, but they have quietly put up a 56-26 record, which is very competitive. Any team led by Chris Paul is one that has a chance to go far, but Paul himself has never made it to even a Conference final. This might be their year, but Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, and L.A.’s talented bench need to dominate their individual matchups to get far.

Health and Injuries:

For the Clippers their only injury is to Austin Rivers, however he is pretty much a non-factor in the game.

For the Spurs, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter both have minor calf injuries, which make them questionable for the game. The team has some older players who might get tired out if the series goes into 6 or 7 games.

Three keys to the series:

1) Fundamentals

The Spurs won last year’s championship using this tactic, and Popovich will have his team playing smart and efficient basketball. The Clippers will need to match this level of carefulness, especially everyone on the team not named Chris Paul.

2) Games

The Clippers have the youth advantage in the series. They would benefit from a 6 or 7 game series. The Spurs want 4 or 5 if they are seriously going for another Championship run. Game 7 would also be played in L.A.

3) Will

The Spurs core has all won championships, while the Clippers’ stars all lack rings. Chris Paul is getting older, and Jordan and Griffin are in their primes, their time to win is now, and they need to fight to victory if they want a shot at the Eastern Conference Champ.

Prediction:

I say the Spurs will win the series, because they have the experience and the depth. Duncan, Parker, Green, Leonard, and Ginobili are all hungry for a repeat, and will fight their way at least into the second round.

Conclusion: Spurs, 4-1

Houston Rockets (2) Vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)

photo via fantasy wired
photo via fantasy wired

By: Adam Leightman

Season Recaps:

Houston Rockets: The Rockets are one of the more compelling teams heading into the playoffs. They have the potential MVP in James Harden. Harden led a team that have had 3 starters miss significant time due to injuries, yet they still won the Southwest Division. And incase you did not know, every team in the division made the playoffs, the first time that has happened since 2006. Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones are healthy, and the bench is playing great basketball. The Rockets are ready for a long playoff run.

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs had an up and down year. They had a solid off-season, building a strong starting 5. They had a decent bench, but then sold the farm to get Rajon Rondo. That trade was a mistake in my opinion. The bench is weak at best, and the team appears to be in shambles every time something does not go to plan. Unfortunately for the Mavs, nothing goes to plan in the Playoffs.

Health and Injuries:

Houston: Pat Beverly and Donatas Motiejunas are both out for the year. Dwight Howard has played 10 games since his return and no longer has a strict minutes restriction.

Dallas: Chandler Parsons missed the final 6 games of the season because of a knee injury. He should be good to go for the playoffs.

Three keys to the series:

1) Bench Play

The Rockets have a much stronger bench than Dallas. It was evident in the 4 games that the teams played each other. Josh Smith and Corey Brewer will provide huge sparks off of the bench and the Mavs will have to find scoring off of the bench to match them.

2) Defense

Defensive match ups will be key in this series. Rajon Rondo will guard Harden, and Trevor Ariza will guard Monta Ellis. These players will be key, but the role players around them will need to get open and hit their shots when they get the ball. Corey Brewer might start and guard Parsons to match Dallas’ size in the front court.

3) Free Throws

Rick Carlisle will hack Josh Smith or Joey Dorsey. The Rockets’ big men will need to hit their free throws. Besides the San Antonio game, the Rockets have been able to hit the free throws, but the pressure will be on the players late in the game.

Prediction:

This is a rivalry with big story lines. The Rockets are focused in on a deep playoff run. They will take care of business at home and steal a game on the road.

Conclusion: Rockets, 4-1.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (1) Vs. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Via Al Horford's Official Twitter Account
Via Al Horford’s Official Twitter Account

By: Brian Duricy

Season Recaps:

The only series relegated to debuting on NBATV, the soaring under-the-radar Atlanta Hawks look to prove their worth against the token how-far-below-.500-can-the-east-send-a-playoff-team-this-year Brooklyn Nets. Atlanta’s market and lack of true star power dampened any substantial external hype outside of the devoted basketball community, but April is when the world takes notice. Sweeping the season series versus Brooklyn 4-0, little reason exists for why an eight-seed will win an opening round series for the sixth time, barring a clause in Jay-Z’s tidal contract allowing him to switch the Nets’ roster with Grammy-lauded artists.

Health and Injuries:

Both sides are healthy, that is if you exclude the fact that Thabo Sefolosha was shot.

Three keys to the series:

1) Contain Brook Lopez

The Brooklyn big man averaged 18 on the Hawks during the regular season, and his presence in the paint has been a big reason for why they went 17-13 past the all-star break.

2) Win quickly

The Hawks set a franchise record for road wins this season with 25, and a healthy squad for the second round and possibly further is crucial to their team-oriented basketball. Going longer than four will be a detriment, especially if they hope to contend with Cleveland.

3) Have fun!

Some analysts predicted 7 games, but the above-average momentum and a tepid atmosphere surrounding the team doesn’t bode well for a serious run in contention. Enjoy the playoffs while it lasts, and use this valuable experience for next season.

PREDICTION:

The Hawks have earned the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and they will show here how they got there by sweeping the Nets.

Conclusion: Hawks, 4-0

Toronto Raptors (4) Vs.  Washington Wizards (5)

Via kentuckysportsradio.com
Via kentuckysportsradio.com

By: Mitchell Koch

Season Recaps:

Raptors: Toronto had another moderately successful season, led by the same young core as last season. Young big man Jonas Valunciunas has been a solid contributor, and the forward role players of Patrick Patterson, Terrance Ross, and Amir Johnson, while far from stars, have held their own as valuable contributors. The dynamic backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, as well as the dynamic backcourt duo of Greivis Vasquez and Louis Williams off the bench, and every combination in between, has given opposing teams headaches on defense.

However, while Vasquez and Williams have both played over 80 games this season, Lowry and DeRozan have struggled to stay on the court, missing a combined 34 games.

At times, this team looks unstoppable, and at others, they look like a pushover. But after a bitter 1-point loss in game 7 of the first round of last year’s playoffs, this team looks ready for redemption.

Wizards: Washington has an equally impressive backcourt in young studs John Wall and Bradley Beal, though it also has some concerns with injuries with Beal’s health. Beal missed 19 games this season, but hasn’t missed a game since March 7th (excluding the season finale), so the Wizards should be able to trust his health in the postseason.

Washington’s offense has been very spread out, with 5 players averaging at least 11 points per game (Wall, Beal, Pierce, Gortat, and Nene), which is normally the recipe for success, though it does not have the luxury of a reliable hot hand off the bench like the Raptors have with Louis Williams.

The Wizards’ were able to upset the Bulls last year in the playoffs and made a serious push for the conference finals before falling to the Pacers.

Health and Injuries:

Toronto:

No players on the injury report. Clean bill of health heading into the playoffs.

Washington:

Otto Porter: Ankle, considered day to day. Porter was a full participant at the most recent practice, so his injury is no cause for concern.

Nene Hilario: Ankle + Shoulder + Foot, considered day to day. Nene has missed 5 of the last 7 games, but head coach Randy Whitman says he will play in the series opener.

Garrett Temple: Hamstring, considered day to day. Was sidelined at practice, will not be ready for the series, unknown if he will play at all this postseason.

Three keys to the series:

1) Bench play

The Raptors have a 6th man of the Year candidate in Louis Williams, while the Wizards have…eh hem…Kris Humphries. Enough said on that. The teams are relatively similar on paper with nearly identical success in records, but whichever team can safely rest its starters without concern of reserve production will most likely end up on top.

2) 4th Quarter/Overtime Play

The last 2 games for the Wizards have gone into overtime, and they have lost both of them. Wall and Beal are known to put up some clutch performances, but for a matchup that features two similar teams, it is very possible that these games will come down to the wire more than once. Kyle “Mr. 4th Quarter” Lowry has quite a few clutch shots under his belt as well. Which young star will come to his team’s aide as the clock winds down?

3) Veteran Play

Washington now has the veteran presence it lacked last year in Paul Pierce. No longer just another young team loaded with talent and no one to lead it on the court, they could use Pierce as a mentor and learn from a dominant playoff performer. Kyle Lowry is the oldest member of Toronto’s starting lineup at 29 years old, but unlike Pierce, he is the unquestioned star of his team, which could make it easier to lead.

Prediction:

Both teams match up well, but the Raptors are simply more balanced, healthier, and are able to rotate their players in and out without risking a loss of production. That’s not to say the Wizards won’t go down without a fight, but this appears to be Toronto’s series to lose.

Conclusion: Toronto, 4-2

Chicago Bulls (3) Vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls Power Forward, is a Montonegrin national who spent time in the Euroleague with Barcelona FC. Photo via www.rantsports.com
Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls Power Forward, is a Montonegrin national who spent time in the Euroleague with Barcelona FC. Photo via http://www.rantsports.com

By: Hank Stichter

Season Recaps:

Bulls: The Bulls’ season has been yet another season with Derrick Rose missing out on the majority of it; however this year served as a diamond in the rough for the team. They came in 2nd in the Central Division to the Cavaliers, with a record of 50-32. But what really stood out was the increased production of players most people would have considered role players at the beginning of the season. Players like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic performed better than anyone thought they would; both players are in the running for major season awards, Mirotic is in the running for Rookie of the Year, and Butler is in the running for Most Improved Player. Pau Gasol, although aged, played much better than most thought he would, averaging a double-double throughout the course of the season. Aaron Brooks was great in place of Derick Rose, and is potentially in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson had decent seasons down low; however they didn’t exceed anyone’s expectations. With Derrick Rose back healthy for the first time in a while the Bulls could make a playoff run, but it starts with playing a division opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks.

Bucks: There was little chance of the Bucks doing anything this season, yet they shocked the league after having the worst record in the NBA a season ago by making the playoffs. It was a roller coaster of a season however, as the Bucks traded away Brandon Knight who was arguably their best player, for reigning Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams was able to lead them this season though, and they needed him to; especially since their star rookie, Jabari Parker, only played 19 games before tearing his ACL. Kris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Carter-Williams as young pieces in the Bucks’ puzzle, as both were efficient scorers and could be moved around to different positions on the court. OJ Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova didn’t have quite the shooting exhibitions that they have had previously in their careers, however provided valuable minutes and depth to the youngsters on the roster. They finished with an even record of 41-41, and ended up 9 games behind the Bulls to come in 3rd in the Central Division. It will be interesting to see how the young players on this roster react to the spotlight of their first playoff appearances.

Health and Injuries:

With the Bulls there is never a time where everyone is truly healthy, especially with Derrick Rose and his glass knees; however they are about as healthy as they have been all season. Rose had a great showing at the end of the season, showing promise heading into the playoffs. Taj Gibson had a minor shoulder injury in the last game of the season, but it is nothing that will keep him out of the playoffs. As for the Bucks obviously Jabari Parker will not be in the lineup, however other than Parker all the other key players for Milwaukee should be gearing up come game time on Saturday.

Three keys to the series:

1) Derrick Rose’s health

As fragile as Rose has shown to be in the past few seasons, it will be very important for him to be cautious and stay healthy throughout the series. He has a tough matchup going against Michael Carter-Williams, and he may need to not play as aggressive as he sometimes is.

2) Michael Carter-Williams

If the Bucks have any chance of winning this series it is going to have to rely on the second year man, Michael Carter-Williams. Being extremely tall for a guard he is able to play lock down defense on Rose and not allow any easy shots. On the offensive end he has a knack for finding the open man and can put it in the basket with ease as well.

3) Big games from role players

This one applies for both sides. If either side can get production from someone other than Rose, Gasol, Butler, or Carter-Williams, then it could be a huge boost for their team. Nikola Mirotic for the Bulls, and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks are the next best guys on their given team, and could serve a crucial role to their team’s success. Last year Taj Gibson was the man who stepped up for the Bulls in crunch time, and it will be interesting if he shines in the midst of all the hype once again.

Prediction:

Although the Bucks have been the shocking team this season, they won’t be the ones shocking the Bulls in this series. The experience and talent of the Bulls is too much for the young and inexperienced talent of the Bucks. Gasol will be the star of this series, and as for the Bucks it will serve as a learning experience to hopefully prepare them for a future playoff run

Conclusion: Bulls, 4-1

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) Vs. Boston Celtics (7)

Photo via The Official Facebook Page Of The NBA
Photo via The Official Facebook Page Of The NBA

By: Korey Burdman

Season Recaps:

Cavaliers: By now, you probably know the narrative of the Cavs’ season. They started off slowly, falling below .500 at 19-20 for various reasons; the team didn’t respond to David Blatt, Dion Waiters was a problem child, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving didn’t get along, LeBron James and Kevin Love didn’t get along, and LeBron just wasn’t his old self anymore.

Then?

The Cavaliers made trades to acquire J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. After James returned from his two week hiatus, the Cavaliers have dominated the NBA, going 32-7 before clinching the #2 seed in the East. They are as hot and talented as any team in the NBA and will be a force in these playoffs.

Celtics: The Celtics are not a team that many expected to be in the playoffs. They have a promising young roster, but not one that many people would associate with a playoff team (yet).

After a February 1st loss to Miami, the Celtics sat at 16-30 and seemed destined for another lottery pick. Since then, the Celtics have had the second best record in the East, going 23-12 to climb into the playoff picture and grab the #7 seed.

The reasons for their turnaround are pretty simple; acquiring Isaiah Thomas, getting healthy, and the coaching of Brad Stevens paying off. Stevens is a fantastic coach who has a long future in the NBA and could be viewed as the next Boston legend one day.

Health and Injuries:

Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles in December and has been out for the season. Kevin Love has been dealing with back problems that have limited him all season, but he will play in the playoffs.

Celtics: Avery Bradley has been day-to-day with a quad injury, but should be good to go for the playoffs.

Three keys to the series:

1) Shooting

The Cavaliers and Celtics are two of the best shooting teams in the NBA. The Cavs are only the 11th team in NBA history to hit 800 3s as a team in a season, while the Celtics routinely sport lineups that have five men out who can shoot the three. If the Celtics want to pull an upset, they will have to be on fire all series long and limit shooters such as Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, and Kevin Love from getting hot.

2) Coaching 

David Blatt and Brad Stevens are both experiencing their first taste of the NBA playoffs. Blatt has had great success overseas, and Stevens is an NCAA tournament legend from his Butler days, but NBA playoff basketball is a different animal. Whichever coach has the tactical advantage will bring a huge boost to his team.

3) Experience

This will be brought up in Round 2 against the 3/6 winner no matter who wins this series, as these two teams both have many key players who will be playing in the playoffs for the first time. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson for Cleveland have never played past Tax Day; ditto for nearly everyone on the Celtics. However, Cleveland has the advantage here, because they have veterans who have been here before, such as Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, James Jones, and that LeBron James guy. If the Celtics can play “older” than they are, they have a chance.

Prediction:

This series shouldn’t go more than five games. While the Celtics have had a great season, they just don’t have the talent to compete with the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and the rest of the Cavaliers. I think Boston will steal game 3 or 4 at home just because Brad Stevens is too good of a coach to get swept, but that’s about as far as I’ll go for Boston.

Conclusion: Cleveland wins, 4-1. 

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