NBA playoffs underway
Golden State Warriors hope to claw their way to the top once again
George Keene, Sports Editor for The Leonid.com
The NBA Playoffs have started , and Giannis and the Bucks will look to repeat as NBA champions while the Phoenix Suns look to get back to the promise land for another shot at an NBA title. Will the Golden State Warriors reclaim the throne? Who’s got the easiest path to the NBA finals and what does round one of the playoffs look like for the field? The Leonid writers sat down and picked their winners for round one of the NBA playoffs.
Easter Conference Playoffs:
- Miami Heat vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
The NBA’s supervillain, Trae Young looks to lead the Hawks back to the Eastern Conference Finals against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Miami finished with the best record in a very competitive Eastern Conference but will have their hands full with the Hawks’ offense. Young has been phenomenal this season, leading the NBA in total points and assists, which is a rarity. The Heat do have the defensive pieces to cope with Trae Young, though. PJ Tucker, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo are all All NBA defenders and can slow down Trae Young. If any team should be on upset alert, it is the Miami Heat.
My Prediction: Miami Heat 4 Atlanta Hawks 1
- Boston Celtics vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look to send Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s Celtics back home in the first round for the second straight season. Brooklyn beat Cleveland in the play-in game on Tuesday night, but this Celtics team is much better. The Celtics have been on an absolute tear, going 19-6 in their last 25 games of the season. Jayson Tatum has put himself in the Most Valuable Player Award conversation and has catapulted this defensive-minded juggernaut to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn, on the other hand, has had a turbulent season. They have been dominant with Kevin Durant on the floor, but have looked sub par when he has been injured or on the bench. Kevin Durant will need to be the Kevin Durant we are used to seeing in order for Brooklyn to pull off this upset. Boston’s Marcus Smart, the defensive player of the year, will have his hands full with New York’s finest point guard in Kyrie Irving, so Kevin Durant will likely do the majority of the scoring. I am expecting a long and tough series between these two title hopeful basketball clubs.
My prediction: Brooklyn Nets 4 Boston Celtics 2
- Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Chicago Bulls
The NBA Champions will start their title defense against the struggling Chicago Bulls. Giannis Antetokounmpo, a perennial MVP candidate, has led the Bucks to having the third best record in the Eastern Conference, despite a haul of injuries that this team has had to deal with. Luckily for Milwaukee, they are finally at full strength and their big 3, which includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday, has been nearly unstoppable while on the floor together. On the other side of things, the Bulls lost four of their last five games to close out the regular season. Despite an MVP caliber season from NBA All Star Demar Derozan, the Bulls have fallen apart. They had been the top seed in the Eastern Conference for weeks at a time this season, but haven’t been able to put it all together. The Bulls will need a huge series from their two all stars, Demar Derozan and Zach Lavine, if they want to pull off this near impossible upset.
My prediction: Milwaukee Bucks 4 Chicago Bulls 0
- Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Toronto Raptors
The city of brotherly love will have their hands full with the team from up north. The Philadelphia 76ers, led by MVP hopeful Joel Embiid, will look to quickly dispatch this hungry and scrappy Toronto Raptors squad. The Sixers made a blockbuster trade at the trade deadline, sending Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two draft picks to Brooklyn, for former MVP James Harden and Paul Millsap. However, after a hot start where things were looking good for Philly, James Harden’s underwhelming play as of late causes concern. Philadelphia’s chances for an NBA title lie in the hands of James Harden, who is shooting beneath 40% from the floor in his last five games. Not only is James Harden’s play a cause for concern for Philly fans, but so is the Toronto Raptors’ play. The Raptors won the season series 3-1 and have looked in control as of late. Nick Nurse is a defensive guru and will have a plan to limit the production of the Cameroonian superstar, Joel Embiid. Additionally, Toronto had five players average more than 15 points per game and their ability to get out on the fast break, plays right into Philadelphia’s weakness, their transition defense. Philadelphia’s defensive star Matisse Thybulle is ineligible to play in Toronto because of his vaccination status, so Philadelphia will have to have a next man up mentality on the road.
My Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers 4 Toronto Raptors 2
Western Conference Playoffs:
- Phoenix Suns vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
Devin Booker and Chris Paul have not disappointed once again, leading the Suns to the best record in the NBA. On the other end of the court, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum have been leading a young Pelicans team, who nobody thought would be in the playoffs. The Suns are heavy favorites in this series, as they should be, because their depth, offense, and defense are all phenomenal. Phoenix looks to return to the NBA finals, where they lost to Milwaukee last season. New Orleans has already exceeded expectations, especially considering that they have a new head coach in Willie Green and Zion Williamson has been hurt all season. Do I think the Pelicans can pull off the upset? Not a chance. Phoenix is simply too good and dominant, and they are in it for the long run.
My Prediction: Phoenix Suns 4 New Orleans Pelicans 0
- Memphis Grizzlies vs. (7) Minnesota Timberwolves
This is a matchup between two teams with bright futures ahead of them. The Memphis Grizzlies, led by NBA sensation Ja Morant, take on the rising Wolves team led by Karl-Anthony Towns. Young stars lead both teams, and this series should be filled with highlights. The Grizzlies have been unstoppable, with and without star point guard Ja Morant, which is a huge advantage, as they will be able to give him a proper amount of rest, because their bench unit is so deep. With Desmond Bane’s sharp shooting, Jaren Jackson Jr’s elite defense, and Ja Morant’s freakish athleticism, the Grizzlies are going to be a tough out. While they are set for a deep playoff run, they have to beat the Timberwolves first. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have been absolutely phenomenal this season. KAT is averaging a near double double this season on 52.9% shooting, but he will need to be even better in this series. In order for the Wolves to have a shot at winning this series, not only does KAT have to score, but he has to be a menace on the defensive end on the floor. Memphis attacks the paint as much as any team in the NBA, and so he will need to stand tall and make life difficult for the young Grizzlies.
My Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 4 Minnesota Timberwolves 2
- Golden State Warriors vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are back! After two years of disappointment, the Warriors hope to restart their dynasty. However, Steph Curry and the Warriors will have their hands full with the reigning MVP, center Nikola Jokic. With Jokic set to win his second MVP in just as many seasons, he will need to be remarkable this postseason for the Nuggets to have a chance to win. With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. out for the remainder of the season, Denver’s role players such as Bones Hyland, Aaron Gordon, and Will Barton will all need to step up and assist their MVP. The question is, can Denver slow down 3 point snipers Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole. The Warriors have been title favorites all season, and now is their chance to put it all together. It all depends on Steph Curry’s health. If he is healthy, the Warriors are winning this series, no questions asked.
My Prediction: Golden State Warriors 4 Denver Nuggets 0
- Dallas Mavericks vs. (5) Utah Jazz
The Mavericks will be short handed in games one and two, with Slovenian super star Luka Doncic out with a strained calf. This is a prime opportunity for Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz to take a commanding lead and get off to a good start this series. The Jazz have no business losing to the Mavericks without Luka Doncic. The Jazz have been absolutely abysmal in the playoffs in the past 5 seasons, and they need to make a Western Conference Finals appearance in order to retain the Mitchell-Gobert Tandem next year. The Mavericks will need a huge series from guard Jalen Brunson, who has had a great season averaging just over 16 points and just under five assists. With Doncic’s health in question, I am expecting the Jazz to take advantage of the opportunity and win this series.
My Prediction: Utah Jazz 4 Dallas Mavericks 2
All statistics received from ESPN.com retrieved April 15, 2022