NBA Playoffs: First round preview

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The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) works off the dribble against the Memphis Grizzlies' Jordan Farmar in the third quarter at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Adam Reckamp

The 2015-2016 NBA regular season was one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. It had a plethora of storylines, from Kobe’s drawn out retirement tour, to the Spurs defensive dominance, to the historic rookie season of Karl Anthony-Towns. But everything was overshadowed by the Golden State Warriors breaking the 1996 Chicago Bulls regular season win record, cruising to an astounding 73-9 record. With such an entertaining regular season, the NBA playoffs should follow suit. Here are my predictions for the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Eastern Conference:

  • Cavaliers vs (8) Pistons

The Cavaliers have been a mess this year. They fired David Blatt mid-season and have not gelled as a unit all season (something LeBron’s subtweets certainly aren’t helping). But none of this will be an issue in this series. The Pistons have been a nice story this season; GM SVG has helped bring in a nice core of young players and the mid-season trade for Tobias Harris was an absolute steal. The Caveliers, for all their warts, just have too much talent for the Pistons to prove too big a challenge.

Cavs in 5

  • Raptors vs (7) Pacers

The Raptors have a history of getting upset in the first round of the playoffs, falling as a higher seed each of the past two seasons. But the Raptors have been solid all season and with the addition of DeMarre Carrol are a much deeper team than in years past. Paul George will be the best player on the floor but Indiana has a stagnant offense and are in a transition phase of their franchise.

Raptors in 6

  • Heat vs (6) Hornets

Steve Clifford is a coach of the year candidate after leading the Hornets to the playoffs even after the pre-season injury of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets have taken the leap mainly due to Kemba Walker’s improved three point shooting and the addition of Nick Batum. While the Hornets are a unique team that has played above expectations this year, they run into an experienced playoff team with more talent in the Miami Heat. Even with Chris Bosh out for the series, Miami has been a revelation in the second half of the season. The addition of Joe Johnson has helped them greatly and although their three point shooting isn’t stellar, the slashing of Dwayne Wade and Goran Dragic as well as the rim protection of Hassan Whiteside makes Miami too hard to stop.

Heat in 6

  • Hawks vs (5) Celtics

This series has been widely billed as the most exciting in the first round for good reason. Both teams are great because of the sum of their parts with little star power on either team. The key to this series will be Boston all-star point guard Isiah Thomas. Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague is often a poor defender and if Isiah Thomas can exploit him, he can easily take over the series. The Celtics should be able to disrupt the Hawks offensive flow with the pesky backcourt of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. But the Hawks will keep the series close. Their offense is a little 2013-14 Spurs like and Al Horford and Paul Millsap will be mismatches for the Celtics. This series feel like a coin flip to me, but I think the coaching of Brad Stevens will be the x-factor that pushes the Celtics over the top.

Celtics in 7

 

Western Conference:

  • Warriors vs (8) Rockets

73-9. ‘Nuff said

Warriors in 4

  • Spurs vs (7) Grizzlies

The Spurs actually beat opponents by a larger margin than the Warriors did during the season and have the best defense in the NBA. The Grizzlies have been a tough out in recent playoffs, but are one of the worst teams to ever make the playoffs this season. The Grizzlies have been plagued by injuries, their two stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are out for the season and the Grizzlies have been awful since their injuries. This should be a quick series for the Spurs; the talent gap is just too large.

Spurs in 4

  • Thunder vs (6) Mavericks

The Thunder have had an up and down regular season. New coach Billy Donovan has not created much change in the Thunder’s offense but it doesn’t really matter in the early rounds. The Mavericks have had a surprisingly good season but are banged up going into the playoffs, with Chandler Parsons out. Rick Carlisle will make good adjustments to make the series competitive but the Thunder have two of the top five players in the NBA and will be just too athletic for the Mavs to deal with.

Thunder in 5

  • Clippers vs (5) Blazers

The Clippers had an interesting season this year. They started off slow, but after Blake Griffin’s hand injury after he punched a member of Clippers staff, Chris Paul led the team to an improved record. With Blake Griffin coming back it will be interesting how the Clippers perform. The threesome of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan looks unstoppable at times but has a history of coming up short in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Blazers have been a Cinderella story all season. The Blazers lost 4 starters from last season, chief among them perennial all-star LaMarcus Aldridge.  But none of it mattered. The Blazers signed veteran free agents Ed Davis and Al-Faruq Aminu to large deals and allowed CJ McCollum to become the starting shooting guard. These players have formed a solid supporting cast around Damian Lillard, who has emerged as a true superstar this season. While the Blazers are a nice story they would need a historic performance from Lillard to pull the upset.

Clippers in 7