Honorable Mention: Playoff Predictions
It’s finally here: the NBA playoffs — and along with them, a set of predictions you never wanted. Here’s “Honorable Mention”’s picks, informed by brief Google searches, fantasy basketball and tuning in to the last two minutes of close games.
Houston Rockets (1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
The Timberwolves outlasted the Denver Nuggets in a thrilling 112-106 overtime victory last Wednesday that determined the eighth seed in the West and earned Minnesota the honor of playing the 65-win Rockets in the first round. Under the leadership of James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets took the league by storm throughout the regular season. Clint Capela holds down the paint, while wing players like Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green all average more than nine points per game. The loss of defensive stalwart Luc Mbah a Moute for at least the first round stings, but it shouldn’t prove to be a game changer against the Timberwolves.
Prediction: HOU over MIN, 4-0
Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
The Jazz barely lost out on the three-seed, losing their regular season finale to the Portland Trail Blazers 102-93. Unfortunately, as the five-seed, the Jazz draw Russell “If people could … they would” Westbrook and the Thunder. Paul George has somehow become one of the most meme-able players this season, especially given the versatility of “No OT tonight.” George played us all this past week when he mentioned that “shooting the ball [felt] funny” before dropping 40 points and eight three-pointers in his final game of the regular season. I’m as big a fan of Donovan Mitchell as anybody, but don’t get in Brodie’s way.
Prediction: OKC over UTA, 4-1
Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (6)
We’re at the point in the NBA season where severe injuries seem to have been forgotten. In a victory against the Rockets on Jan. 26, DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon, leaving Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to fend for themselves. It’s worth considering where the Pelicans would be if Cousins were still healthy — this seeding may as well have been flipped. On paper, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are a formidable duo, but this matchup comes down to Jusuf Nurkic and his ability to take on the Brow. Don’t count out these Pelicans, but the Blazers still take it in the end.
Prediction: POR over NOP, 4-2
Golden State Warriors (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
I’m waiting for Gregg Popovich to send Kawhi Leonard into the game, completely healthy and well-rested after a nice regular season break. The mysterious Spurs keep everything under wraps, but Leonard does seem to be actually injured. Even without their superstar, the Spurs miraculously kept their 21-season playoff streak alive. Thanks in large part to the resurgence of LaMarcus Aldridge at age 32 and the consistency of the same host of role players (Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Tony Parker, etc.), the Spurs stumbled in just ahead of the Timberwolves to match up with the Warriors. Steph Curry isn’t expected to play in the first round, which really shows the urgency that the Warriors have in this matchup. I almost expect them to take a laidback approach to the series, letting some of their banged-up guys get healthy. The Spurs sneak in a game as a result.
Prediction: GSW over SAS, 4-1
Toronto Raptors (1) vs. Washington Wizards (8)
It feels like the difference between the one-seed and the eight-seed isn’t that wide in this matchup. A lot of that can be attributed to the recent playoff failures of the Raptors, who have been bounced from the postseason by Lebron James the past two years. I may be underrating the power of the Six, but the Raptors just don’t seem all that scary. Granted, neither do the Wizards, but their collection of young talent at least makes them a little bit of a wild card.
Prediction: TOR over WAS, 4-1
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)
Here we go again. Another year of the NBA playoffs. Another season of Lebron James tearing up the league going into the postseason. I have no idea how the Indiana Pacers are the five-seed in the East. The improved play of Victor Oladipo and sheer will has brought this team to an unfortunate first-round matchup. I’m the biggest Myles Turner fan (hook ‘em), but this team is nowhere near competitive. Consider this a warm-up for the Cavaliers.
Prediction: CLE over IND, 4-0
Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Miami Heat (6)
This is a hard matchup to gauge. On one end, the Philadelphia 76ers are winners of 16 straight games and Ben Simmons is ballin’. On the other end, the Miami Heat have nine players averaging more than 10 points per game and have one of the deepest rosters in the league, not to mention the magic of a midseason reunion with Dwyane Wade and those sweet, sweet Miami Vice jerseys. Joel Embiid is reportedly out for the first game, but Embiid with a face mask is scary. The 76ers team is almost too green, but they sneak by.
Prediction: PHI over MIA, 4-3
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7)
Another difficult prediction: the banged-up Celtics versus the return of playoff-Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics are without their leading scoring and facilitator Kyrie Irving. The collection of Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum is not exactly fear-inspiring, but head coach Brad Stevens has proven time and again he will find a way. The Bucks, on the other hand, are getting healthier as they enter the postseason, with Jabari Parker finding his legs and Malcolm Brogdon playing in the final two regular season games after being out since February. Granted, this young Bucks team has no post presence, which may prove costly against a crafty veteran center like Al Horford. With Stevens’ ability to game-plan, the Celtics take this one, but it’s close.
Prediction: BOS over MIL, 4-2