NBA Playoff First Round Predictions

Updated: May 28


The first round of the NBA playoffs is here after an exciting play-in tournament. The field is set and The Villain is ready to give his picks for the first round.


Eastern Conference


#1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards


Summary

The top seed 76ers open as heavy favorites against the emerging Wizards. The 76ers are rested and with first year Coach Doc Rivers, are ready to make a deep playoff run. MVP candidate Joel Embiid looks to get over the playoff disappointment of the past and lead the 76ers back to the Finals for the first time since 2001. The Wizards pulled themselves from the bottom of the conference to deal into the playoffs led by Russell Westbrook. Injuries and poor play had them at 17-32 with 6 weeks left in the season. The Wizards went 17-6 to will themselves into the 8th seed.


Key Matchup

Ben Simmons vs Russell Westbrook


Will the DOPY candidate Simmons matchup on Mr Triple Double Westbrook? I believe it's a matchup we will see as the Sixers should look to contain the Wizards elite guard with bigger, more physical player to guard him.


X-Factor

Is Bradley Beal healthy enough to contribute?


Break labored through the play-in games, but they will need his offense (second leading scorer in the league) to stand a puncher's chance. I would ask who can slow down the MVP candidate Joel Embiid, but with the Wizards poor team defense is meanless.


Prediction

76ers win series 4-0


#2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics


Summary

The first series in the Brooklyn Nets class for league title. The big three, (James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving) we'll have to figure it out on the fly as they go up against the Boston Celtics. The Nets at one point were the top seed, but late injuries to Harden and Irving had them at the #2 seed at the end of the season. The Celtics have been to 3 Conference Finals in the last 4 years led by coach Brad Stevens in Superstar Jayson Tatum. Tatum coming off a monster 50 point play-in game has the Celtics believing they have one more run in them. The Celtics injury management plan for Kemba Walker will see him be a full-go for the playoffs.


Key Matchup

Jayson Tatum vs. Kevin Durant


This should be a fun matchup of two elite scores in the league. Durant has shown signs of his former MVP self. Jason Tatum after a 50-point performance in the playing game, has put the league on notice that he's coming.


X-Factor

Can Kemba Walker play the Robin roll to Jason Tatum's Batman?


Without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics are without their 1-2 punch. But Kemba Walker's knee injury has left them without their own version of a big three. Kemba looked good in the playing game, scoring 29 points in a victory versus the Wizards. They will need that elite scoring and thread off the dribble to have a chance against Nets.


Prediction

Nets win series 4-1


#3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat


Summary

A rematch of last year's bubble first round playoff series, the Milwaukee Bucks try to get over their past demons against the Miami Heat. The Bucks have improved their team from last year around two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. However the Miami Heat, who hasn't played great basketball for majority of the season, are getting hot at the right time heading into their matchup against the Bucks. This is one of the few matchups that pit two of the hotter teams in the league head-to-head. The Heat have won 12 of its last 16 games heading into the playoffs, while Milwaukee winning 11 of its last 14 games.


Key Matchup

Jrue Holiday vs Jimmy Butler


This is a matchup we haven't seen in the regular season due to Butler's injury at the time. But this is probably the most intriguing head-to-head matchup because it features one of the better defensive guards versus a dominant score. Can holiday contain Jimmy buckets enforce the other players like Tyler Herro in Duncan Robinson to step up?


X-Factor

Who will the Bucks pick to guard Bam Adebayo?


Giannis Antetokounmpo send like the likely candidate down the stretch of games, but I suspect Brooke Lopez will open on bam. Can Lopez stay out of foul trouble and keep the relentless Bam, a defensive player of the year candidate, off the glass and from controlling the game?


Prediction

Bucks win series 4-3


#4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

Summary

Nothing but orange and blue and skies as the New York Knicks are back in the playoffs after a four year absence. The Garden will be buzzing as their defensive-minded team has electrified fans and given them hope. Coach of the Year candidate Tom Thibodeau has led a remarkable turnaround and has this team a head of schedule. Julius Randle is an All-Star and Most Improved Player candidate that has led this team all year. The Hawks are back in the playoffs after a four year absence led by talented point guard Trae Young. Coach Nate McMillan, 27-11 since taking over, has the Atlanta Hawks firing on all cylinders ready for a playoff run. The Hawks core of John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanović, and Clint Capella are a handful to deal with. Both teams are young sprinkled with a little veteran leadership, but the next might have a little bit more veteran leadership for a playoff series.


Key Matchup

Trae Young vs. Derrick Rose


Derrick Rose is coming off of an ankle injury that kept them out of a few games down the stretch. But Rose is having a resurgent season, and is a finalist for 6th Man of the Year. But can he guard Trey Young, who he had trouble guarding in a few games in the regular season(during the ankle injury)? Look for Rose to match up with Young down the stretch of games, but Frank Nilikina/Elfrid Payton to share duties on trying to slow down the guard. Frank Nilikina guard Young well and has the wing span to bother him. Expect Peyton to have a short leash if he continues his poorest played down the stretch.


X-Factor

Can the Knicks slow down Clint Capella?


Knicks boast one of the elite team defenses in the league but Capella is a load to handle down low. They will need to keep him off the boards as he is active all the time on both ends of the floor. Centers Taj Gibson and Norlens Noel will need to stay out of foul trouble to contain Capella.


Prediction

Knicks win series 4-3


Western Conference


#1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies



Summary

Which team is more of a surprise, the top seeded Utah Jazz who experts thought were maybe a five to six seed? Or the Memphis Grizzlies who won both play-in games, one against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, to get to the 8th seed? Utah boasts one of the deepest teams in the playoffs 1 to 12, and an elite coach in Quin Snyder, who is a coach of the year candidate. The Jazz are as complete as any team: excellent 3-point shooting, most improved candidate PG Mike Conley, a healthly Bojan Bogdanovic, a lock for 6th Man of the Year in Jordan Clarkson, 2-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and All-Star by Donovan Mitchell. Memphis is young and exciting and plays hard, led by Ja Morant. The 2nd year guard is the cornerstone to build a future championship team around, and the Grizzlies are right now schedule with their young team.


Key Matchup

Jonas Valanciunas vs. Rudy Gobert


Golbert is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and a two-time winner. His play down low is almost unrivaled in today's game, but Jonas can have big games himself. The opening play in game vs. The Spurs, he boasted a 20/20 line. But against the warriors, foul trouble haunted Valanciunas. Can he stay out of foul trouble and keep Golbert off the boards?


X-Factor

How much can Donovan Mitchell contribute?


Mitchell hasn't played since April with an injury, but they will need his offense to make a deep run in the playoffs. Also his defense on the perimeter will help slow down Morant. But he has to be healthy and he must contribute.


Prediction

Jazz win series 4-1


#2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers

Summary

Defending champion Los Angeles Lakers head back to the playoffs and defend their crown against the other surprising team in the West, the Phoenix Suns. LeBron James and Anthony Davis hobbled most of the year are as healthy as they're going to be as they head into this first round matchup. The Lakers have the best defense in the league and two of the top players in the league. But it's the other starters and bench that will need to step up for this team to make a run. Chris Paul looks to exercise his playoff demons and get to the Finals with first-year playoff player, sharpshooter Devin Booker. Phoenix got a full week to rest up and prepare for this series. Coach of the Year Monty Williams has pushed all the right buttons all year and has this team overachieving as a #2 seed.


Key Matchup

DeAndre Ayton vs Anthony Davis


Anthony Davis looks pretty healthy in the main knife matchup against the suns, as he scored 42 points in a dominant performance. The Lakers will need to ride Davis throughout the playoffs and I'll start against a very good Suns team. Can Ayton match up against Davis and try to slow him down?


X-Factor

Can LeBron James gimpy ankle hold up?


James did not look like the explosive player were used to seeing in the play in game against the Golden State Warriors. However James' late game heroics reminded everybody while he is one of the best players on the planet. But playoff series are long and grueling, and his ankle just does not look right. I expect him to get through this series but as the playoffs wear on will he be able to hold up?


Prediction

Lakers win series 4-3


#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers



Summary

The Nuggets and the Blazers meet in the playoffs for the 2nd time in 3 years. In 2019, the Blazers beat the Nuggets in a super thrilling series that even included a triple overtime game. This year's version of the Nuggets boast MVP candidate Nicola Jokic they're down without Jamal Murray. THe Aaron Gordon trade seemed to be the final piece of getting to the NBA Finals, but the Murray injury may have stopped that. The Blazers are led by one of the best guards in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Portland’s defense toward the end of the season was much better than attempts earlier in the year. But this remains a big concern heading into a series with one of the top offenses in the league.


Key Matchup

Michael Porter Jr vs. Camelo Anthony


Porter Jr is the most improved player of the year candidate and his stepped in to fill the void of the Nuggets not having Jamal Murray. The Nuggets will need his offense to make a deep run in the playoffs. On the flip side Carmelo Anthony needs to show flashes of the past and be it a lethal score off the bench for the blazers to make a deep run. Which one of these players can tip the balances in their team's favor?


X-Factor

Can the Blazers slow down Jokic?


The Blazers defense is not something to bank on for playoff run. However in the playoffs, you need to make stops. Do they have anyone to match up against the MVP Front Runner in Jokic? In my opinion they don't, it'll be by committee to try to contain Jokic.


Prediction

Nuggets win series 4-2


#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 Dallas Mavericks



Summary

A rematch of last year's first round series the Clippers and the Mavericks match up again. The Mavericks finished the regular season with a 42-30 record after a slow start due to new pieces and multiple injuries. The Mavericks are one of the hotter teams in the league, winning 11 of their last 15 games down the stretch. The Clippers on the other hand have lost four of their last 10 games down the stretch. This includes the last two games of the season where they chose to rest Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to get ready for the playoffs. The Clippers have multiple defensive possibilities to matchup with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingus.


Key Matchup

Rajon Rondo vs. Luka Doncic


Playoff Rondo is set to make his debut for the Clippers against one of the most dominant players in the league. Luka would be an MVP candidate if not for Jokic, Embiid, and Curry. Rondo can't stop Luka, but he's one of the smartest point guards in the league and should be able to play him pretty well. But can Luka contain Rondo and stop him from controlling the pace of the game?


X-Factor

Will Porzingis play the full series?


Kristaps Porzingis clearly is the Robin to Luka's Batman. Doncic needs KP on the court and at his best to make a deep playoff run. Kristaps Porzingis doesn't have much playoff experience and last year was ineffective and eventually not playing in the first round with a knee injury. With Luka and KP on the court, they have a chance against the any team in the West.


Prediction

Clippers win series 4-2

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