After 2,460 NBA regular season games, we are down to just 16 teams. Eight per Conference. For the next couple of months, these teams will look to eliminate each other in the hopes of becoming the 2018 NBA Champion.
I don’t know about you but I’m excited. Let’s take a closer look at the First Round match-ups grouped by the day their match-up begins.
San Antonio Spurs vs Golden State Warriors
This is a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals that unfortunately ended prematurely when Warriors center Zaza Pachulia allegedly cheap shotted Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. Leonard missed the rest of the playoffs, the Spurs went adios and Leonard hasn’t been the same since.
This series the Warriors are missing Stephen Curry and the Spurs most likely will be without Kawhi Leonard.
Golden State won the season series three games to one.
The Spurs have had herculean efforts this season from LaMarcus Aldridge and what seems to be a different player each and every night. As usual the Spurs strength is in their defense and their 102.4 Defensive Rating places them in the top five in the NBA. Their Offensive Rating of 105.5 is middle of the road for the NBA and they will need every trick Head Coach Gregg Popovich has up his sleeve if they are to hang with the Warriors.
Speaking of the Warriors; they are the number one offense (112.3) and the number nine defense (104.2). They lead the NBA in assist percentage (68.5), Effective Field Goal Percentage (56.9) and Player Impact Estimate (55.4). They also lead the NBA in ejections.
Prediction: I would love to see the Spurs knock them off but I don’t think it will happen. Warriors in seven.
Washington Wizards vs Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors went from an Isolation heavy offense that led to second round defeats to a more pass-friendly offense that sets up plenty of three-point attempts they made at a 35.8 percent rate that helped propel them to the number 1 seed in the East. They face a Wizards team that is probably much better than their record indicates due to John Wall missing 41 games because of knee surgery.
Their season series finished with each team winning two games and indicates to me this might be a difficult series.
As noted above the Raptors now are a three-point shooting team. In 2017 the Raptors made just 8.8 triples on 24.3 attempts. In 2018 they made 11.8 triples on 33 attempts. The backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan doubled their career three-point attempts and raised their shooting percentages dramatically. C.J Miles was brought in for the purpose of launching and knocking down threes and that he has done making 36 percent on 2.3 makes on 6.5 attempts. Defensively speaking the Raptors are a top-five team (103.4) and finished second in blocks (6.1).
Washington should have their hands full but they are a dangerous opponent. Like Toronto, they have a matching set of All-Stars in their backcourt but unlike Toronto, the Wizards have more playoff experience. The Raptors swept the Wizards in the first round of the 2017 playoffs so there is also that extra motivation. The Wizards don’t do one thing particularly well except they are a top ten team in points off of opponents turnovers.
Prediction: Toronto wins this in seven games.
Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have gone farther than even they thought they could. Everyone that is except for 76ers center Joel “the process” Embiid. The 76ers may not end the Cavaliers run but they are on a 16 game winning streak and playing tremendous basketball right now.
Miami is missing Dion Waiters and the 76ers are missing Embiid for at least part of the series.
They split their season series two games apiece so this could be a doozy of a battle.
This is going to be a good matchup between a young, hungry Philadelphia 76ers team with an inexperienced Head Coach in Brett Brown going up against a veteran Heat team featuring Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Hasan Whiteside, Josh Richardson not to mention one of the best Head Coaches in the game in Eric Spoelstra.
Let’s not forget everyone’s Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons and his 12 Triple Doubles of which the 76ers are 9-3. Throw in veteran SG J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric and you have the makings of an explosive series.
The 76ers play at the fourth highest pace in the NBA (102.20) while the Heat plays at the snail’s pace of 97.76.
The 76ers are number one in rebounding percentage (52.9) and have the second highest assist percentage (66.3) and Player Impact Estimate (54.2) plus top ten in Effective Field Goal Percentage (7th) and True Shooting Percentage (8th). They are formidable and have the numbers to back them up.
The Heat are seventh in defense (104.0), sixth in defensive rebounding (78.6) and ninth in opponents points in the paint (43.5).
Prediction: This is going to be closer than most think. Miami in six.
New Orleans Pelicans vs Portland Trail Blazers
The ninth best offense (New Orleans) takes on the eighth best defense (Portland) in what might possibly be the most entertaining matchup in the entire playoffs.
The season series is tied at two games apiece.
On January 28, Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins went out for the season with a torn Achilles; since then Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis has been the best player in the game averaging 30 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3.2 blocks, 2.1 steals and just 2.5 turnovers.
The Pelicans are also a top-five defense since Cousins went down rising up from number 22 with Cousins on the floor. In a league where defense wins Championships that is one dramatic jump.
Pelicans shooting guard Jrue Holiday is having a career year, veteran point guard Rajon Rondo is always a difficult matchup come playoff time and power forward Nikola Mirotic has brought an outside shooting presence as well as playing solid defense since his mid-season trade from the Chicago Bulls.
The Pelicans are 25th in the NBA in opponents three-point attempts. That could be a problem as Portland hoists 28 triples per night.
Portland has their dynamic backcourt duo of point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum. Neither are considered superstars outside of Portland but when they are on fire watch out. Lillard has scored 30 points or more in 26 games whereas McCollum has seven games of 30 points or more.
The rest if the Trail Blazers are a collection of castaways and has-beens that somehow Head Coach Terry Stotts turned into a top ten defensive unit.
Portland limits opponents to just 42.1 points in the paint per game. That’s good for fourth and more importantly, that’s where Davis does most of his damage.
Prediction: There is going to be plenty of points scored and the Trail Blazers will win in seven.