After a regular season that was filled with records being broken, superstars emerging, and other teams disappointing, the 2016-2017 NBA regular season is in the books. The playoff teams this season were pretty much what was expected, which is the huge downfall of the NBA. Out West, seven out of the eight playoff teams also made it last year, with just the Utah Jazz replacing the rebuilding Dallas Mavericks. In the East, the Pistons, Heat, and Hornets could not repeat their success, as the Bucks, Wizards, and Bulls played their way back into the offseason. Let’s break down these matchups from least to most intriguing.
You can also check out our NBA Awards ballot here, where we break down each award and all the All-NBA teams.
8. (2) San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies (43-29)
The Grizzlies are kind of stuck in NBA no man’s land. This is their seventh straight playoff experience all under three different coaches (Hollins, Joerger, Fizdale) an odd feat. The Grizzlies and Spurs have playoff history, as they have faced off in three of the past seven years, most notably 2013 in a San Antonio sweep in the Western Conference Finals.
The Grizzlies are obviously a good team but it’s near impossible to see them taking down the Spurs in the first round. With Tony Allen likely missing the entire round, Kawhi Leonard doesn’t have to deal with the Grizzlies’ best defender. Maybe the Grizzlies can win a game or two, as the season series was split 2-2, but Popovich has only lost in the first round twice this century.
Series Prediction: Spurs in 5
7. (1) Boston Celtics (53-29) vs. (8) Chicago Bulls (41-41)
Danny Ainge’s rebuild plan is not even done yet and his Celtics are already the number one seed in the East. They probably have the deepest roster in the league and one of the best minds in basketball leading the way in head coach Brad Stevens. The Bulls have been a strange team all season, but you can make the case that Jimmy Butler is the best player in the series and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs is always must-watch TV. However, the Celtics are too good and the Bulls simply don’t have the depth to play with them throughout the game. Rajon Rondo will surely try his best to spoil his former team’s sensational regular season, but it won’t happen.
Series Prediction: Celtics Sweep 4-0
6. (1) Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
Last year’s Conference Semifinals between these two was very entertaining, but the Blazers still only managed to win one game. With Durant back, it’s hard to see the Blazers putting up much of a fight. They still have Damian Lillard, who averaged 31.8 points in last year’s matchup, as well as C.J. McCollum and head coach Terry Stotts. The Blazers were a little underwhelming this season so the Warriors shouldn’t have much problems this time around.
Series Prediction: Warriors in 5
5. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) vs. (7) Indiana Pacers (42-40)
The Cavs went 23-23 over their last 46 games of the season, yet no one really thinks is matters. The defending champions are built for the playoffs, as LeBron is attempting to make his amazing seventh straight NBA Finals. These two teams have bad blood in between them, as Lance is back and will for sure be back to his ways. Paul George is a game-changing player and can carry the Pacers to a win or two. This series is a little more interesting because of the Cavs’ lackluster performance in the second half the season, but we all know they can just turn it on. However, if the Pacers can steal a game in Cleveland, this series gets interesting very quickly. If the double-overtime game late in the season was any indicator for how this series will play out, it should be entertaining.
Series Prediction: Cavaliers in 6
4. (4) Washington Wizards (49-33) vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
The Wizards were definitely a feel good story this year, as Scott Brooks got the potential out of the Wizards’ most talented players. John Wall has shown he is one of the league’s best point guards, Bradley Beal is a top shooting guard when healthy, and Otto Porter Jr. made the case to get paid this summer. The Hawks are kind of “Memphis Grizzlies East” as they have put together a string of solid regular seasons, but are never a true threat in the playoffs. This is a way different Hawks team than previous seasons, with no Horford, Teague, or Korver. The Wizards continue their best season in almost 40 years while advancing to the next round.
Series Prediction: Wizards in 6
3. (4) Los Angeles Clippers (51-31) vs. (5) Utah Jazz (51-31)
Is this it for Doc? The Clippers have been one of the most hyped up teams since Rivers took the helm but have yet made a Conference Finals appearance. With the emergence of the Warriors, the consistency of the Spurs, and not being able to beat the likes of Damian Lillard, James Harden and Westbrook/Durant, the Clippers have been straight out choke artists in the postseason. The Jazz are just the team that will give the Clippers problems. Rudy Gobert may be seeing some hardware coming to him this season and may have the advantage of DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have no answer for Gordon Hayward, and George Hill is has played beautifully in Utah. Losing to the Jazz, who are no pushover with 51 wins, would sum up the Clippers playoff history perfectly.
Series Prediction: Jazz in 7
2. (3) Toronto Raptors (51-31) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks (42-40)
This season was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming out party, as he should be the favorite to win Most Improved Player, to land on the All-NBA Second Team, and showed his MVP potential. However, he is only one man. This is the Raptors’ window to win, as they have made all the moves this season to try and ensure their spot in at least the Conference Finals. Maybe the Bucks will take the next step next season with a healthy Jabari and a few more moves, as the Raptors’ explosive, veteran backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are going to be too much for the young Bucks to handle. I think these teams will play each other closely and Giannis will just take over at points, but if this series goes 7, I will take the home team.
Series Prediction: Raptors in 7
1. (3) Houston Rockets (55-27) vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35)
Honestly, I love the NBA playoffs (and hate the NCAA tournament, don’t @ me), but all seven other matchups are just background noise to this matchup. Unfortunately, the MVP award will not be announced and awarded in the first round, as the NBA has created an awards ceremony show just like the NFL, which will take place after the Finals. So we will not be able to witness Harden or Westbrook watch the MVP trophy being lifted up in front of their eyes. Can you imagine the rage Westbrook would play with if he had to see Harden lift up the trophy in Houston in Game 1?
I changed my MVP pick from Harden to Westbrook, but that doesn’t mean the Thunder are better than the Rockets. It is foolish to say “how much can Westbrook carry the Thunder?” because the man can go out and score 60 and no one would be shocked. Westbrook will for sure have his moments this series, but the Rockets are the better team with the better system, coach, and had an overall better season. Players like Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Taj Gibson are going to be x-factors, but I’m taking the shooting of Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, and Ryan Anderson.
Series Prediction: Rockets in 7