It took until the very last second of the regular season to decide the final standings of the conferences with as many as 6 teams in the west coming to the final day with their positions still not decided. East was slightly better with top-5 decided but bottom 3 again had to take their positions. But finally we are here and a long, long regular season has come to an end and we have our first round bracket to obsess over for the next week or two.
East remains extremely top heavy and the top-3 should stroll to the second round without dropping more than 2 games and I am being very optimistic in giving them the 2 game buffer. Bucks should sweep the Pistons, but they are new to the playoffs and Blake Griffin is having a season for the ages, so maybe Pistons sneak in a game and half, but the Bucks are way too talented and well coached to drop more than a game. Same goes for the Raptors with a fresh Kawhi against the young Orlando Magic who remain the prime sweep candidates across the playoffs.
Philly should also handle the Nets with ease given their 4 near all-star players. Celtics and Indiana shouldn’t be close on paper, but the Celtics have had a rough season with a penchant for imploding. Pacers lack a leader after the loss of Oladipo and even though they are very well coached, they shouldn’t be beating Celtics on paper. But the playoffs don’t happen on paper so we shall wait and see how this series turns out.
Out West, Golden State are primed for another sweep against the plucky Clippers who did really well to get into the playoffs with the rag tag crew, but no matter how well Montrez Harrell and Lou Williams play, I am not convinced they can take a game off play-off mode Warriors. So there remain 3 series’ and those are the most compelling match-ups the playoffs have to offer.
3. Portland Trailblazers vs Oklahoma City Thunder
If there is one opponent Trailblazers wanted to avoid, it was the OKC Thunder. Thunder match Portland’s 2 man punch of Lillard and McCollum with their own 2 man punch of Westbrook and Paul George. And while George and Westbrook are better defenders, CJ and Lillard are better scorers. So that is where they match up well. Portland have a really deep bench with much better role players than the Thunder but theres a significant problem for the Blazers. Steven Adams. This match-up would’ve leaned comfortably to the side of Portland if Jusuf Nurkic hadn’t gone down with his season ending injury a few weeks back.
Nurkic has all the tools to match-up with Adams and keep him honest on both sides of the ball. But with no Nurkic, not only do Blazers lose depth (with Kanter coming into the starting line-up) but they also have no defensive answer for Adams who will rule the paint on offense and defense. If the bench can play a big role for the Blazers they might get through but all of Seth Curry, Jake Layman, Mo Harkless, Evan Turner and Zach Collins will have to absolutely be on their A-game if Blazers want to get past the Thunder.
2. Denver Nuggets vs San Antonio Spurs
Any time you face Pop and his squad in the playoffs, you better be ready. It might be a recency bias, but I consider Pop to be the greatest coach of all time given how many versions of Spurs he has managed to over achieve with. You better believe Spurs will come prepared to play against these Nuggets and coming to them they have looked quite terrible over the past few games and it is a true testament to how competitive the West is, that they managed to stick with the 2nd seed despite the recent losses as all teams took games away from each other.
Nuggets have lost more than they have won in the last 12 games of the regular season and that is not a good sign for the team that has not been resting its players. They almost dropped down to the 3rd seed losing by double digits in the last 5 minutes of their final game against the Minnesota Timberwolves who were playing without Karl Anthony Towns. Denver only managed to pull a win out because Minnesota and Andrew Wiggins (surprise surprise) choked and their offense came to a grinding halt over the last 5 minutes of the game.
A Denver Thunder series would’ve been even better with Thunder having a proper big man to contain Jokic out of a pick and roll and the lack of such a traditional Center will hurt the Spurs, but in no way is it enough to guarantee a Denver victory over multiple games in the series.
1. Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz
Houston came into the final day looking for a Nugget loss to go 2nd instead two big comeback wins for the Nuggets and the Trailblazers means Rockets not only didn’t get their 2nd seed, but now end up 4th meaning they will face Warriors in the 2nd round itself instead of the Conference Finals if both team make it out of their 1st round. And while that is a given for the Warriors, it is not a thing of certainty for the Rockets.
Rockets will still be the fancied team in the match-up for sure, but we thought the same about Thunder last season against a Jazz team missing Ricky Rubio and they defeated the Thunder in 6 games. Jazz do not have the depth in star power to perform at the highest level for multiple series’ but you can be sure they can do it for the 1st round. Their 2 man game between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Robert almost seems unstoppable and their defense, when locked in can be one of the best in the league with DPOY Gobert guarding anyone and everyone the opposition tries to throw at him.
— 53-29 (@82and0Rockets) April 11, 2019
A Joe Ingles vs Chris Paul match-up is a dream come true for anyone that is a fan of WWE. Both players are extremely disliked outside of their own teams and I wouldn’t be surprised if either one of them can incite opponents into getting multiple techs throughout the series.
If James Harden and his team of referees bring in their top level then Rockets are capable of breezing through the series, but that hasn’t always been true in the playoffs for the Rockets. *cough 27 straight 3 point misses cough*