“Now that the first few games of each series has been played, its safe to say we’ve got another rematch in the NBA Finals on our hands! Isn’t that something, LeBron and Durant matching up again for the title, the new-look Cavs are right back at the top; man LeBron gets it done every year!”
Can you guess who said that? Here’s a hint: they aren’t as big of a fan of the NBA as they say they are. Don’t call it a bold prediction because the writing is on the wall- LeBron WILL NOT see the Warriors in the NBA Finals this year. “How could you say something like that? LeBron has been to 7 straight NBA Finals”. Yes that’s true, but things change. Much Like his impressive 21 game win streak in the first round of the playoffs which came to an end in a 98-80 loss to the Pacers. Well, not so much the Pacers but more like Victor Oladipo who carried this team to the postseason with an incredible “Most Improved Player” caliber season. Although LeBron has been the topic so far, he’s not the focal point of this article; this is a full 2018 playoff picture that will explain who I believe will be holding the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.
Before we begin, I will make it noted that this article was written on Wednesday April 18, 2018 (4-18-18) Prior to any of the games that night. Let’s start with the top of the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards series. As of right now Toronto leads the series 2-0 behind and impressive performances from DeMar DeRozan (37 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast) in the second game, and Serge Ibaka (23 pts, 12 reb, 1 ast) in the first. There’s no question they move on to the second round and I say Washington either wins 1 game or none. Moving on to the Celtics and Bucks, I’m going to say the Celtics just barely skate by. Keep in mind we’re talking about a team that’s suffered countless injuries throughout the entire season, most notably Gordon Hayward. As of right now the starting lineup is Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Baynes, and Horford- no Irving, and no help from Smart on the bench which to me makes their 2-0 lead on Milwaukee that much more impressive. If Bledsoe could start producing (or another man steps up) that could spell trouble for the C’s, but as of now there doesn’t seem to be a challenge standing in their way to the second round. As great as Antetokounmpo has been, (30 pts, 9 reb, 8 ast in game 2) they need more if they want to beat this team. Next we have the Philly and Miami series tied at one a piece, and the series moving to Miami on Thursday night. I can’t see the Heat advancing here when the 76ers have young stars like Simmons, Embiid, Fultz and some great role players on their roster, unless D-Wade can pull off another 28 point night off the bench. Bottom line is, Miami will put up a fight but keep dont forget that Joel Embiid didn’t play a minute in their 113-103 loss on Monday and with him on the court that gives Philly an edge over Miami. Lastly we have the Cavs and Pacers, and like I said before Indiana has this one all wrapped up. It’s simple; as great as LeBron is he just doesn’t have a strong enough supporting cast to get past them here. I see Cleveland winning a measly 2 games in the series and Oladipo (32 pts, 6 reb, 4 ast in game 1) continuing to shine all the way to the second round.
Now for the Western Conference, which I see many more predictable matchups in the first round. We’ll start with the Rockets and Timberwolves which is a matchup I think most people would jump the gun and count out Minnesota right away. It’s clear that Houston will advance to the second round as they are currently up 1-0 in the series, but I strongly believe Minnesota will put up a strong fight. They’ve got bonafide stars like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and the recent addition of Jimmy Butler, but it won’t be enough to steal 4 wins against the Rockets. The Beard (44 pts, 4 red, 8 ast in game 1) and CP3 (14 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast in game 1) are just too deadly of a combo for the young team to handle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a game or two. Give it a few years for these players to develop and CP3 to get older, and we’re looking at the Rockets falling short to the hands of Karl-Anthony Towns and company. Moving forward onto the Warriors and Spurs where I’ll keep it short and sweet. Warriors in 4. I mean come on, can you find me anyone to say otherwise? We’ve all been watching them for the past few years so I really don’t feel the need to explain this one. I will say this however, Popovich has been an outstanding coach (again) this year and managed to coach a Kawhi-less San Antonio team to the postseason as if we don’t need another reason to put him in Coaches HOF. With the 3rd seed in the West, we see Portland taking on New Orleans. New Orleans has taken a demanding 2-0 lead in Portland, and the series is going to the Pelicans home turf Thursday Night. As much as I would love to see Lillard in the second round, Anthony Davis (35 pts, 13 reb, 1 ast in game 1) is going to be too much for Portland and we’ll see him lead his team to what I’m guessing will be a 4-2 series win for New Orleans. In conclusion for the Western Conference, we have Oklahoma and Utah squaring off as the 4th and 5th seeds respectively. The series continues tonight (Wednesday) for game 2, but at the time of this article the Thunder have a 1-0 lead in the series. Though these teams are the 4th and 5th seeds, I see a massive gap in talent that separates them. Westbrook is coming off a two season streak of averaging a triple double, and has been an unstoppable force in the league for a few years now. Even if he somehow fails to produce, there’s still Paul George (36 pts, 7 reb in game 1) and Carmelo Anthony (15 pts, 7 reb, 2 ast in game 1) for backup. My prediction is Oklahoma wins the series 4-1, and Donovan Mitchell pleads his case for Rookie of the Year with an impressive performance in the series.
If all of the above comes true, the second round of the playoffs would look like this:
Toronto Raptors vs Indiana Pacers
Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers
Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors vs New Orleans Pelicans
Once again, I’ll start with the Eastern Conference, Raptors and Pacers. The Pacers would’ve had to use all they had to beat LeBron in the first round, meaning they are knocked up yet rested because they didn’t have to go all seven games. This should be a relatively easy win for Toronto if DeRozan stays healthy plays the way he has been all year, and help from Lowry will allow him to ease off the gas and save some energy for the Eastern Conference Finals. My guess is Toronto wins in either a sweep or 4-1, which would give them a massive gap for resting up and preparing for the next round. Next up, we have the Celtics and Sixers. First and foremost I would like to say that this is incredibly difficult for a C’s fan like myself to say, but I am picking Philly to advance. Boston has been through so much this year and I am incredibly happy with how far they’ve come, but without Kyrie they’re kinda screwed. Brown and Tatum have been unreal for the organization this year and definitely should be on everybody’s radar by now, but Philly has the star power and energy right now to go the distance. When Embiid returns to the court its game over and the same story goes for Simmons. This series will be tough because of Boston’s resiliency, so I can see it going to either game six or seven in Philly’s favor. Although I will bleed green until I die, I have to trust the Process here.
In the West we find the Rockets taking on the Thunder, which would be my favorite series of the second round. Both teams have the talent and roster to be championship-level teams, and they also collectively have 5 of the top 15 players in the league. For the most part this series is evenly balanced, so I would purchase your game seven tickets as soon as possible because this one is going for the long-haul. In the end James Harden will pull through and make the entire city of Oklahoma fear the beard; bringing his team to the Western Conference Finals. The Golden State and New Orleans matchup will be interesting, because it is probably that Steph Curry will return to the lineup for this round. Not that Golden State needs his help,but it will definitely kill any Pelicans fans dreams of making it to the Conference Finals. Anthony Davis will continue to be the monster on the court that he is, but it won’t be enough to beat the defending NBA Champions.
So here we are, in the Conference Finals with the Raptors taking on the 76ers, and the Rockets taking on the Warriors. The Raptors should end the 76ers dream season of making it to the Conference Finals after not even making the playoffs last season. Even though the 76ers lost, there is nothing to be ashamed of. The team has an incredibly talented young core that will undoubtedly challenge any team that steps on the court against them in the seasons to come. Toronto on the other hand will be looking for their first ever win in the NBA Finals, with a 4-2 series win over the 76ers. Moving on, I’ve been hoping for this next matchup since the beginning of the season, because Houston is the only team with the potential to knock-off the defending champs, The Golden State Warriors. Houston has worked hard all season to achieve the 1st seed in the West, as well as the best record in the NBA. It won’t be a cakewalk for either team in this series, so get ready folks we are in for a treat. When it’s all said and done, realistically I can’t see Golden State losing the whole series to the Rockets without a horrible injury to Durant, Draymond, Steph, or all of the above. Like I said before it’s going to be the most difficult matchup of the playoffs for both sides so it should go six or seven games but Houston will eventually fall to the Warriors, making it their 4th consecutive trip to the finals.
With only two teams left standing, The Toronto Raptors and The Golden State Warriors, we find this NBA season coming to an end with another championship for the Warriors. Toronto has the talent needed to beat the East, but no team in the league has the talent needed to beat the Warriors right now. With Steph, Klay, KD, and Draymond all in what seems to be their prime right now it’s going to take a lot of starpower to take them down. I predict that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will have a great series individually, but unless they can each drop 60+ per night they won’t stand a chance. As for The NBA Finals MVP, I think it will be Kevin Durant because Steph Curry will be recovering from his left MCL sprain and decide not to go too hard as it won’t be necessary to secure the team a win. Final stance, The Golden State Warriors will beat the Toronto Raptors 4-1 in the 2018 NBA Finals.
Stephen Mottram – Basketball Writer – WTF Sports Nation