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 matchups grouped by the day their matchup begins.
Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks
Boston enters the playoffs down two All Stars; Gordon Hayward injured his leg five minutes into the season and Kyrie Irving is out for the remainder of the playoffs after knee surgery shortened his season. The Bucks appear healthy but struggling going just six and four down the stretch.
The two squads split their season series two games apiece.
The Celtics may be a wounded team but still boast the best defense in the NBA. They are a slow paced team with an offensive efficiency rating of 105.2 (18th). Terry Rozier has done a good job replacing Kyrie Irving, Jaylon Brown and Jason Tatum have been superb on both ends of the floor and they still have All Star center Al Horford. Like the Bucks the Celtics struggled down the stretch with a six and four record.
Milwaukee has been an interesting team this season. On January 28th they fired Head Coach Jason Kidd and finished the season with 19 wins and 16 losses. Considering the Bucks were 26-22 at the time of the firing I wonder if the Bucks saw any benefit from it? Giannis Antetokounmpo has been spectacular at times and so-so but always a threat to go off. Trading for Eric Bledsoe may have sounded like a good idea but Bledsoe seems uninterested in playing defense. Kris Middleton has been solid all season long. The Bucks don’t play much defense and are a terrible rebounding team.
Prediction: The Celtics in seven games.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
Cleveland is looking to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Final. The Cavaliers are essentially two teams with one common denominator; LeBron James. Their first-round opponent is the surprise of the East and if the Cavaliers take this Indiana Pacers team lightly their consecutive Finals appearance streak will end at three.
The Pacers won this year’s series three games to one.
This collection of Cavaliers are 19-10 and are fifth in offense and 19th in defense. At this point they are who they are; a two man LeBron James and Kevin Love show with a whole bunch of luck and zero defense. Since 2002 no NBA team has won the Championship being outside the top ten in defense. The Cavaliers rank fifth in turnover and shooting percentage and 12th in rebounding percentage. It’s amazing the Cavaliers won 50 games this season and they have James to thank for that.
Indiana over-achieved all season long. Trading away All-Star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis was considered a steal for the Thunder. Three weeks into the season that trade went from the “Paul George” trade to the “Oladipo” trade and there shouldn’t be any doubt who got the best end of that deal. Oladipo and Sabonis both have had career years; newcomer Darren Collison did a tremendous job running the point, newcomer Bojan Bogdanovic knocked down two triples a night and newcomer Cory Joseph brought stability off the bench. Thad Young was solid while Myles Turner battled injuries and was a huge disappointment on both ends of the floor.
Prediction: The Pacers were a great story but Cavaliers in five.
Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves
This is a horrible matchup for the Timberwolves that never would have happened if not for Jimmy Butler getting injured and missing so many games. Now they are stuck playing arguably the best team in the NBA without the home court. Yes NBA fan the Houston Rockets are the real deal.
The Rockets swept the season series four games to none.
The Rockets are first in three-point attempts (3470) and made (1256). That’s a whopping 42 of them per game. They are second in points (9213) and fifth in steals (699). The Rockets are second in offensive efficiency (112.2) and sixth in defensive efficiency (103.8). They can beat you with small lineups or big lineups. The amazing thing is they do this with less than 100 possessions per game. They're led by most likely League MVP James Harden and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. Center Clint Capela is averaging a double-double and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon is having a career year.
Minnesota was cruising along until Jimmy Butler hurt his knee. Then they played .500 ball and barely made the playoffs. The Timberwolves are a top five offense (110.8) and a bottom ten defense (108.4). That seems like a strange thing to say about a Tom Thibideau coached team but with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins on the floor, your defense will take a hit. The Timberwolves know how to take care of the basketball and are second in turnovers (12.5), sixth in steals (8.4) and eighth in points scored (109.5). Jimmy Butler is having a career year and if not for his knee injury would be an MVP candidate. Taj Gibson is also having the best season of his career and Jeff Teague has been a great addition to this basketball team.
Prediction: I really like the Timberwolves but without Butler at 100 percent I say the Rockets in five.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz lost key players George Hill and Gordon Hayward to Free Agency and finished three wins less than then 2017. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded away their bench depth for All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George and recorded just one more win than 2017.
Oklahoma City won the season series three games to one.
The Thunder Forest Gumped their way through the 2018 season and for as much talk of a “big three” they only produced one more win than 2017. Russell Westbrook finished the season averaging his second consecutive triple-double season and with each passing season, it’s become more obvious the Thunder will never win a Championship with Westbrook as their best player. Paul George had a career year while Carmelo Anthony had career lows in nearly every category except three-point attempts. Carmelo still loves to chuck. Steven Adams was really good when his Thunder buddies allowed him to be. The Thunder finished first in the NBA in steals (9.1) and tenth in offensive efficiency (107.6) and defensive efficiency (104.7)
The Utah Jazz received a wonderful surprise in Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell and solid play from new addition Ricky Rubio. Center Rudy Gobert missed plenty of time this season but when he’s on the floor the Jazz have the best defense in the NBA (97.7). Gobert should be the Defensive Player of the Year. Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors have been solid and newly acquired Jae Crowder has been very good on both ends of the floor. The Jazz are number two in defensive efficiency (101.6), fourth in steals (8.6) and ninth in blocks (5.1). The Jazz are also fourth in Player Impact Estimate and that has much to do with the job NBA Coach of the Year candidate Quin Snyder has done with this club this season.
Prediction: This will be a great defensive series with the Jazz winning in six games.
Enjoy the First Round!!