The NBA playoffs will start on Saturday, and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors enter as the favorites to win it all.
Although they each have bona fide superstars such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry, there are plenty of other teams who have enough firepower to make a run at snapping the San Antonio Spurs and LeBron’s NBA Finals streaks.
The Spurs will enter the playoffs being forced to play the majority of their games on the road in their opening series against the Los Angeles Clippers, but they are still a popular pick to win it all and repeat as NBA champions.
Here are predictions for how every series in the first round will turn out, with the amount of games played included.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans came out of nowhere at the end of the regular season and won eight of their last 11 games to stop the Oklahoma City Thunder from reaching the playoffs, and Anthony Davis finished off his MVP-caliber season with 31 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Pelicans to a shocking win over the San Antonio Spurs to snap their 11-game win streak.
However, the Pelicans’ playoff inexperience will come back to bite them as they inherit a first-round playoff matchup against the Warriors, who finished with the best record in the NBA. Guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson alone will be too much for the Pelicans. While the Pelicans have a bona fide defender in Davis, the Warriors can match him with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
(2) Houston Rockets vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
Like the Warriors, the Rockets have an MVP frontrunner in James Harden, and Dwight Howard is back healthy after missing extended time with a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Mavericks overcame their somewhat weak finish and ended their season with a convincing win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
However, their starting lineup is not at full force as Chandler Parsons is nursing a sore right knee. While he is expected to play, even a fully healthy Mavericks team would not be enough to overcome a Rockets team that has finished strongly. Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo will help the Mavericks give the Rockets a fight though.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs will have to get back to the NBA Finals by playing all of their series’ on the road, and their first test will be against a red-hot Clippers team, who won their last seven games of the season. Point guard Chris Paul averaged 20.6 points and 11.4 assists per game in April, and power forward Blake Griffin finished strongly too with 20.1 points a game while center DeAndre Jordan finished the season with 15 rebounds a game.
This is why it’s unfortunate for the Clippers that they will have to face the Spurs, who are also playing their best basketball at the right time. Although they let a determined New Orleans Pelicans team sneak into the playoffs, the Spurs had an 11-game win streak before that. Tim Duncan has shown no sign of slowing down while Kawhi Leonard has continued to be a solid scorer and rebounder.
The Spurs may be on the road, but their momentum and experience will ultimately be too much for the Clippers. They also have superior depth and a defense that can suffocate any team’s offense.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
The Trail Blazers have a dynamic duo in point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but their depth has been tested with a knee contusion to Nicolas Batum, but he is expected to return to the playoffs. However, they will have to tough it out without Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo, and they don’t have a strong bench.
Luckily for them, the Grizzlies have limped into the playoffs after being the second seed in the Western Conference for much of the season. They fell to fifth as point guard Mike Conley suffered a foot injury, and defensive mastermind Tony Allen may not be fully healthy either with a hamstring injury. Center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph will be around, but they will be tested by the Blazers offense.
Prediction: Blazers in 6
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs (8) Brooklyn Nets
The Hawks have not been the same team since losing Thabo Sefolosha to a season-ending tibia injury, and their defense has taken a big step back as a result. However, they still have a solid team with point guard Jeff Teague and center Al Horford.
Although the Hawks will be hard-pressed to make the NBA Finals, they will not receive much of a fight from the Nets, who are vulnerable on defense. If their lineup was five years younger, they may be an NBA title contender since they have Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. However, Williams and Johnson are well past their primes.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (7) Boston Celtics
The Cavaliers have become arguably the most dangerous team in the league since LeBron James and Kevin Love developed chemistry with Kyrie Irving, and they have acquired key role players such as Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert throughout the season.
The Celtics finished their season with six consecutive wins and reached the playoffs after missing them in the 2013-14 season. However, they are too inexperienced and lacking a superstar to compete with teams like the Cavaliers. The Celtics’ future is bright with young blood on their team and coaching staff with Brad Stevens, but the Cavaliers will come out with guns blazing and show no mercy.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 4
(3) Chicago Bulls vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
The Bulls have still managed to finish as the third seed in the Eastern Conference despite missing point guard Derrick Rose for an extended period of time. He has returned though and will play for the Bulls in the playoffs. Forwards Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler make up a solid starting lineup.
This, along with the coaching of Tom Thibodeau, will be too much for a young Bucks team who has persevered through the season without rookie Jabari Parker, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Michael Carter-Williams has helped the Bucks improve and have a well-rounded starting lineup, and their defense has been solid since the All-Star break. However, the Bulls are also a defensive force and have a better offense.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
(4) Toronto Raptors vs (5) Washington Wizards
This may be the most even matchup of the entire playoffs, as both teams have a solid starting guard duo. The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan manning their back court as the Wizards have John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Raptors will be tough to defend as Lowry and DeRozan are both capable of scoring 20 points a game, but their defense leaves a lot to be desired as they rank 19th in the NBA with 100.9 points allowed per game. Meanwhile, the Wizards rank 10th with 97.8 points per game.
The Wizards may not have the best offense, but the Raptors will still have plenty of difficulty defending Wall as Beal will enter the playoffs after returning from an ankle injury. Look for this series to be epic and show how evenly matched these two teams are.
Prediction: Wizards in 7