NBA Playoff Predictions
by Derek Li
As this year’s exciting and dramatic NBA regular season comes to a close, basketball fans all around the world are anticipating arguably the most exciting time period for the sport: the intense, spirited, and exhilarating NBA playoffs. With the league’s new fast-paced, run-and-gun play style characterized by many fast break opportunities and transition three-pointers, the traditional defense-based NBA playoffs may see a significant change in the way teams approach the game. The regular season has already presented fans with countless unexpected occurrences, from the outstanding team performance by the Houston Rockets (and the MVP numbers that James Harden is putting up for them) to the rise of the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went from a laughing stock, number one lottery pick team just last year to a legitimate playoff contender this year in the east. Here are the most anticipated teams in the 2017-18 NBA playoffs.
Golden State Warriors:
With the Warriors’ big three (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant) all being injured recently, their chance for another championship may be in jeopardy, which every other playoff team this year is hoping to take advantage of. Although the Warriors are still the favorites, if its players can’t come back healthy once they go deep into the playoffs, other offensively talented teams in the west have a legitimate shot of making it to the finals. Nevertheless, the Warriors have shown countless times this season that they are just too good. The team is putting up a league best 115.3 points per game while still remaining an excellent defensive team (especially with Kevin Durant averaging nearly two blocks per game). Additionally, the Warriors’ bench is still by far the best in the NBA, primarily due to its completeness on both ends of the floor. Even with Curry’s recent ankle problems, the Warriors have proved that they can adapt quickly to lineup changes and utilize other prolific three-point shooters such as Nick Young or Omri Casspi to make up for it. Thus, as long as most of the Warriors’ key players can stay healthy during the playoffs, they are still the predicted champions.
After Chris Paul came joined the Rockets last offseason, the team has seemingly been unstoppable on offense at times, even beating the Warriors once and losing by only one point another time. Although Paul and James Harden are both ball-dominant players, they have complemented each other well, especially when one of them is not on the floor. In regards to Harden, he is having yet another unbelievable season; he possesses so many tricks in his bag and is so skillful at drawing fouls that no one has been able to consistently stop him. Add in sharpshooter Eric Gordon and rapidly improving center Clint Capela, and the Rockets have a great chance of advancing to the finals. If the Rockets can improve their on-ball and perimeter defense when the playoffs come around, they are no doubt a championship type team.
Portland Trail Blazers:
The Blazers have been very hot recently, winning 11 games in a row. Both Damian Lillard (5th in the NBA in scoring with 26 points per game) and CJ McCollum (21 points per game) are having great seasons, yet both are still being overlooked by many fans and analysts. However, the backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum is one of the best in the league. Plus, center Jusuf Nurkic has also been outstanding this season on both ends of the floor, and he always brings in extra energy into the game. This is the Blazers’ best team they have had in years, and if they can continue with the momentum they gained during the regular season through the playoffs, they are also a possible title contender.
At 33 years old, LeBron James has not even started to slow down. Sure, he may have lost a bit of his athleticism, but he has also improved his jump shot and remains the most complete player in the NBA. A once in a generation talent, James is still the backbone of the underperforming Cavs team so far this regular season. However, as the Cavs showed us when the came back from 3-1 down to the Warriors to win the championship back in 2016, they have the potential to outperform and outhustle any other team in the NBA if they just turn on their “playoff switch”. Most of the Cavs’ struggles so far this year can be attributed to the team’s lack of cohesiveness and determination. If they can get everything together and adopt the correct mindset by the time April comes around, the Cavs are still the favorites of the Eastern Conference.
The trades the Celtics made last offseason – in which they acquired Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward – immediately put them under the spotlight in the East. Even though Hayward suffered a horrific ankle injury at the beginning of the season (it’s still unclear whether he can return before the end of this season), Irving has really stepped up his game to lead the team. Additionally, the Celtics’ youngsters such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have all improved drastically over the course of the season and all-star center Al Horford remains a dominant force, providing the Celtics an incredibly stable roster. The main concern going into the playoffs for this young celtics team is whether they have enough experience; the average age of the squad is slightly under 25 years old. Thus, all eyes are on the young, 41 year old Celtics coach Brad Stevens to see how he can manage his team entering this tough stretch.