The NBA Playoffs finally start Saturday at 3 p.m. eastern.
We couldn’t be more excited.
Here are our official predictions are the first round. We only picked one upset (because we’re cowards), but we also only picked one sweep!
Miami Heat (1) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (8): Miami in 5
For a team that’s not very good, the Bucks play the Heat weirdly tough. Miami won 3 of 4 meetings this year, but one game went to overtime and Milwaukee won another by 20+ points.
They don’t turn the ball over, and Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings could randomly go off for 40+ points at any time
But, as we mentioned, Milwaukee is a pretty whomp team in general. They’re just average at three-point shooting and they get can pretty iso-heavy on offence, which is basically the opposite of what you need against Miami.
Miami (as a big a juggernaut as they are) has never swept a team in the Big-3 era, and they’ve have a tendency to sleepwalk through a game or two if they think they’ve got a series wrapped up.
Miami in 5.
New York Knicks (2) vs. Boston Celtics (7): New York in 6
The Celtics have a lot going against them.
They have the worst offence of any team in the playoffs, and their defence (while ranked in the 10) isn’t the sort of elite unit that can win a series by itself. Kevin Garnett is hurt and has only played three games in the past month. And the only guys who played on the team that pushed Miami to Game 7 last year are Paul Pierce and KG
So if you want to pick Boston to win this series, you have to accept one assumption — they have an extra gear that they’re saving for the playoffs.
It’s certainly possible. The Celtics have outperformed expectations in the playoffs going back to 2010.
But the Knicks are playing too well right now. They can score in a variety of ways, and they’ve shown that they can defend when they want to. Boston just doesn’t have the bigs to give them trouble.
Knicks in 6.
Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Atlanta Hawks (6): Indiana in 5
There’s just no way Atlanta can score enough to stay in this series. They already have trouble putting up points (12th among playoff teams in offensive efficiency), and now they’re going against the best defensive team in the East.
Yeah, Indiana has fallen off a bit in the last few weeks, and their bench is pretty suspect.
But they’re still an insanely good defensive team, and their unstoppable 5-man unit of George Hill-Lance Stephenson-Paul George-David West-Roy Hibbert should get even more minutes together in the playoffs.
Indiana in 5.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Brooklyn Nets (4) vs. Chicago (5): Brooklyn in 7
The Nets have quietly put things together in the last few weeks. They’re 15-7 since March 6th, rising to 8th in offensive efficiency and 17th in defensive efficiency, which is still weak but better than where it was in the fall.
In that time Deron Williams has morphed back into his former self, averaging 23.3 points and 8.3 assists per game. Before that he was averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 assists.
Brooklyn still doesn’t move the ball well or play too much defence.
But a shortened rotation and a revitalized D-Will should be enough against a Bulls teams that doesn’t have Joakim Noah.
Brooklyn in 7, just because one of these things has to go 7.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8): Oklahoma City in 5
Houston only has one guy who plays defence in Omer Asik, and their up-and-down style plays into exactly what Oklahoma City does well. So no, there’s no chance of an upset here unless Durant or Westbrook gets hurt.
But can they steal a game? Sure.
When you can score the way the Rockets can, you always have a puncher’s chance. They’ve scored 120 or more points in 13 games this year, going 12-1 in those games. It’s simply tough to lose when you go off for that many points.
So yeah, it’s reasonable to think Houston will have one random game where they shoot 58% and Harden drops 40 points on 18 shots.
But not four.
Oklahoma City in 5.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7): San Antonio in 4
We wrote about this at length yesterday.
In short: LA’s defenses weaknesses correspond to San Antonio’s offensive strengths. The Spurs can get into the paint at will and drain threes, while the Lakers can’t stop anyone from getting into the paint and let up the most threes per game in the league.
It’ll be a destruction if Tony Parker is healthy.
San Antonio in a sweep.
Denver Nuggets (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6): Denver in 7
This should be the most fun series of the first round.
Denver plays the 2nd-fastest pace in the league and Golden State plays the 4th-fastest. Denver is 5th in the league in points per possession while Golden State is 11th. And both are middling defensive teams.
So basically, points!
Still though, the Nuggets are the clear favourite. Golden State has been a .500 team since starting the year 15-7. Their defence has fallen off, they’re prone to stretches of offensive stagnation, and Jarrett Jack is their go-to guy in crunch time.
The only reason to question Denver’s chances here is injuries. Danilo Gallinari is out, Kenneth Faried tweaked an ankle, and Ty Lawson has been slowed by a foot injury. All of a sudden Evan Fournier — who scored 45 total points in October, November, and December combined — is a significant piece of the puzzle.
They should still be OK, but we’ll hedge and say this one goes the distance.
Denver in 7.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5): Memphis in 6
Here’s the thing with the Clippers — they tend to adapt to the style of whatever team they’re playing.
If you want to play fast, they’ll play fast. If you want to play slow, they’ll play slow. They scored 90 or less points 12 times this year, but 115 or more points 10 times.
You can put a positive spin on that by saying that can win in a variety of ways — they can beat you in the halfcourt with Chris Paul or out-run you in the open court with Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin.
But at the end of the day they tend to play however fast or slow their opponents want to play. And against Memphis, a team that wants to slow it down and grind you to death in the halfcourt, that is a huge disadvantage.
Transition baskets are a huge part of the recipe for beating Memphis. If you let them let their halfcourt defence get set, you’re just not going to be able to score against them.
Memphis wins if the Clippers let them play their style.
Memphis in 6.
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