It’s done. 82 games of the NBA regular season, and we have our 16 teams representing in the postseason with the 1st round starting this weekend. Here’s a quick look at the opening games on Saturday and Sunday.
- Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers (2:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
- Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors (5 p.m. EST, ESPN)
- Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (8 p.m. EST, ABC)
- San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets (10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
- Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics (1 p.m. EST, TNT)
- Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC)
- Detroit Pistons at Milwaukee Bucks (7 p.m. EST, TNT)
- Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets (9:30 p.m. EST, TNT)
Some things are too easy to predict. The Warriors will face the Rockets in the next round. The Bucks are almost certainly advancing, if not sweeping, the Pistons.
However, where are the potential upsets brewing? Which lower seeds will advance to the next round? Let’s take a look at some possibilities (side note: a No. 5 seed beating a No. 4 seed doesn’t count as an upset. No Pacers over Celtics.)
Brooklyn Nets Over Philadelphia 76ers
This series could be the story of one team getting healthy just in time and the other having issues at the worst of them. The 3-seeded Sixers may be without their star center Joel Embiid in Game One on Saturday.
He’s been incredibly effective against the Brooklyn frontcourt. In the last meeting between the two teams, Embiid racked up 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 123-110 Sixers win on March 28. Even if he returns, there are concerns about his conditioning. Per Mike Sielski of Philly.com:
Someone brought up Embiid’s conditioning, about the easy-to-see 10-to-15 pounds that he has added over these last few weeks of intermittent action, and Brand instead offered a non-denial denial. He answered a question that no one had thought to ask.
“I’m optimistic,” Brand said. “I’ve seen him. He’s doing everything in his power to be ready for this weekend.”
Meanwhile, the Nets feature a burgeoning backcourt. D’Angelo Russell has averaged 27.3 points and 7.3 assists against the Sixers this season, while Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored a career-high 39 points Dec. 12 in Philadelphia, has averaged 23.8 points and 5.5 assists vs. the Sixers.
Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, the 3-point contest champion this season, leads the NBA in three-point percentage. Lastly, Caris LeVert, after suffering a gruesome dislocated ankle on Nov. 12, is back to scoring in double figures on the regular.
In addition, Brooklyn’s final 4 wins of the season came against Eastern Conference playoff teams, including a 133-128 victory over the Bucks. They are surging, and could continue that momentum into a deep playoff run.
Prediction: Nets in 6
San Antonio Spurs Over Denver Nuggets
As the Denver Post’s Sean Keeler said in his series preview, “The Nuggets have superior depth, superior talent, and home court.” Despite that, he still has the series going to 7 games with Denver eventually outlasting San Antonio.
Why the cautious optimism? Gregg Popovich. The 70-year old is entering his 278th NBA Playoff game, while the Denver roster combined doesn’t even come close to that. Another point from Keeler:
Both teams were so superb at home — the Nuggets had an NBA-best 34-7 home court mark, while the Spurs were 32-9 in their backyard — that the onus is going to fall on whomever can steal a tilt on the other guy’s hostile home floor.
The Nuggets lost 5 of their last 6 games away from Pepsi Center. In addition, Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge should be able to counter Denver’s All-Star center Nikola Jovic. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee do provide depth for the Nuggets.
The X-factor in the series may be the matchup between Denver’s backcourt and DeMar DeRozan. The teams split the season series, and in the Nuggets’ the two losses, both at the AT&T Center, DeRozan tallied 27.0 points and 6.0 dimes per contest.
Denver will have to grow up fast to withstand a San Antonio team that has superior coaching experience and an answer for all their strengths.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
Oklahoma City Thunder Over Portland Trail Blazers
John Canzano of the Oregonian is really downplaying Portland’s odds to advance, if even the Trail Blazers are the No. 3 seed versus the No. 6 Thunder.
It’s been more than 35 months since the Trail Blazers won an NBA playoff game.
They’re without center Jusuf Nurkic.
They also happen to be playing Oklahoma City, which swept Portland in the regular-season, 4-0.
You want me to play killjoy today? I could. Easily. They probably are toast.
One concern for the Thunder is Paul George’s sore shoulder. He has fought through it valiantly, though, including draining a game-winner Tuesday over the Rockets. He sneakily has become one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters, and figures to complement well with Russell Westbrook at this point of the year.
Additionally, Nurkic’s replacement will be Enes Kanter, who used to play for Oklahoma City. Expect Thunder head coach Billy Donovan to know exactly how to exploit his weaknesses, especially on pick-and-roll.
The Thunder won’t sweep, but it could be close.
Prediction: Thunder in 5 (with Portland sneaking out one single-digit win in the final seconds)