ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???
The NBA Playoffs will get underway on Saturday, and hot off the press after last night’s action, we have a full slate of first round match-ups to sink our teeth into. While this particular writer is shedding a tear because the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t even come close to making it (again), this season’s playoffs promise to be one of the more entertaining ones in recent memory. The Boston Celtics were able to snag the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2008 title run; a huge milestone in the Brad Stevens era and one that will likely raise the expectations of Boston fans as the playoffs get underway.
There are four teams in this year’s playoffs that didn’t make it in 2016: The Wizards, Bucks, Bulls and Jazz. The Wizards, Bucks and Bulls all made it back in 2015, but the Jazz haven’t made it since 2012 when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round. With all of the changes that happened last off-season, we’re in for one insane playoff stretch, and it all starts with the first round on Saturday. We took a look at all of the matchups and ranked them by interest level, so when you sit down in front of your T.V. on Saturday, you’ll know what to turn on. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NBA Playoffs first round match-ups, ranked from worst to first.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
The Toronto Raptors did pretty much what you’d expect them to during the 2017 season. They kept up with the Celtics and Cavaliers and contended for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, eventually finishing third and drawing a matchup with the Bucks. The Raptors do have some new faces this season that they can use to their advantage in this series; primarily Serge Ibaka.
The key for Toronto is going to be their ability to shut down the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The bigger guys on the Raptors’ roster are going to have a handful trying to defend Giannis, but if they’re able to slow him down and Kyle Lowry has a good series, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t win this in 6 games. It could be one of the more competitive series in the first round, but aside from Antetokounmpo, there’s just not enough star power to make this an interesting series.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
This feels like a movie we’ve seen before. These two teams have squared off in a playoff series four out of the last seven seasons, and the tread on the old tire of interest is wearing a little thin.
The highlight in this match-up is the battle of the brothers. While Marc and Pau Gasol may have both passed their prime by a few years, it adds a little bit of intrigue to a series that will otherwise be overshadowed by a great Western Conference series that we’ll get into later. The Grizzlies upset the Spurs as the 8 seed back in 2011, however, and it would take a shocker like that to get us to turn our heads away from some of the other great action going on around the NBA.
Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)
Well, here we are again. Another year, another Hawks team that hovers in the middle of the playoff race and will be gone by the Conference Finals. Of course, the big difference this year is that they have Dwight Howard. I don’t see many people out there pushing the idea that Dwight Howard (of all people) is somehow going to push Atlanta over the hump, and this is a Wizards team that could be poised to knock them out early. After missing the playoffs last season, Washington is the four seed this year, earning home court advantage and a chance to knock off a very beatable Hawks team.
The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks during the regular season, the most recent of those being a thrilling 104-100 victory back on March 22. If Dwight Howard can somehow wake up from the five year nap he’s been taking and make a meaningful impact for this team in the playoffs, we might have something to talk about here for the Hawks. If not, it will be business as usual, and they can start making their tee times by the end of the month.
Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)
The Chicago Bulls’ motley crew of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did enough to squeak in to the playoffs at the last second as the 8 seed. At different points in their career, all of these guys were dynamic players who could shift a playoff series just by stepping on the court. Butler is still that player, Rondo can impress occasionally, and Wade, when he’s not battling injuries, is a serviceable veteran player who can hit big shots when it matters.
The end result of all of these things is a team that is often inconsistent and frustrating, but if everything were to click at once, they could make this a series. That is going to mean slowing down Isaiah Thomas, however, and that is no easy task to say the least. Thomas is averaging 28.3 PPG in his last ten games, and the Celtics have a renewed sense of confidence after claiming the 1 seed in the east. Although it is a 1 vs. 8 matchup, these two teams split the regular season 2-2, so we could be in for at least a six game series if all goes well for the Bulls.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)
If the Cavaliers had drawn a first-round match-up with the Bulls, this might be a little bit higher on the list. Of course, we’re always up for watching a great duel between LeBron James and Paul George, but this doesn’t appear to be more than a small roadblock for the Cavaliers. An interesting side note here, however, is that Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers, and the last time he was in the playoffs, he was whispering sweet-nothings into LeBron’s ear. With that in mind, we ask Lance Stephenson please, give us more great theater like this. I want to turn on SportsCenter and see more of Stephenson trying to get under LeBron’s skin. Yes.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)
For the casual NBA fan, the name Jusuf Nurkic might not ring a bell. Nurkic was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 2014, then traded to the Nuggets on draft night. Now, standing at 7ft 0in, he is the second tallest player on Portland’s roster, and he could play just enough of a role to make this more than a four game sweep for the Warriors. If Damian Lillard can also put the team on his back, we could be talking about a five or six game series, but don’t hold your breath. Golden State is just getting warmed up.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
The Los Angeles Clippers are in a weird spot. They have largely underachieved the past few seasons, but in a conference dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, it’s not like they ever had much of a chance. They’ve been playing very well lately, however, and their starting five are as good as anybody’s in the top of the conference (ok, maybe not the Warriors, but who cares).
The Jazz, on the other hand, are a new product. They last made the playoffs in 2012, and the only holdovers from that team are Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. The Jazz were sneaky good this season, finishing with a record of 51-31. For comparison, that is the same record the Cavs and Raptors finished with this season. They might not be much compared to the powerhouses of the West, but they could become the little engine that could if they’re able to advance to the second round and steal a few games from the Warriors. Don’t sleep on the Utah Jazz, you heard it here first.
Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
Now here is the juiciest of juicy match-ups. Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden in what amounts to the MVP-Bowl of playoff series. It’s fun enough watching these two go at it for one game, but the possibility of 4,5,6, or perhaps even 7 make this must-see television for the first round. This is what everyone is going to be talking about. During the regular season series, Houston went 3-1, with both teams averaging well over 100 points in each of the four games (Houston averaged 115, while the Thunder averaged 111).
The fireworks, however, came in their final match-up of the regular season, when the two teams combined for 262 points in a 137-125 Houston victory. The interesting stat in that game? James Harden was Houston’s fourth leading scorer, while Westbrook dropped 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. If they’re able to beat the Thunder and the ever-bucket-draining Westbrook in this series when Harden has a quiet night like they did on March 26th, there just isn’t much wiggle room for the Thunder to be able to take this series. Russ will have to play like a madman, and we’re assuming he will. Will it be enough? Who knows. That’s why they play the games.