In this edition of Ballers Don’t Lie, our crew talks PLAYOFFS! We look at big first-round matchups, crucial players throughout, possible sleepers, and who wins it all.
J Arsenio D’Amato:
The Jazz/Clippers series looks to be the most competitive one in the first round. With the Clippers gaining the crucial home court [advantage], look for them to pull it out in seven.
The Wizards will be a tough draw and have a decent shot to upset the Celtics in the second round if they get past Atlanta.
Inevitably, nothing is going to stop Cavs-Warriors III from going down.
Although the Cavs have really struggled over the last month of the season, LeBron will get his crew into playoff mode.
That game in Boston [on April 5] was more indicative of how they will perform in the playoffs as it wasn’t even competitive. Cleveland dominated from the initial jump ball in Boston as they work on solidifying their rotation. They have gotten away from what won the title by bringing in too many guys that don’t play any defense like Deron Williams and Derrick Williams.
The Rockets and Thunder is going to be a fun series. It’s going to be exciting to see Harden and Westbrook gun for 50 points every night.
I see the Jazz defeating the Clippers in the first round. It’s impossible to trust the Clippers and they have been banged up with injuries all year. I have the Jazz winning in five games.
The Wizards are my sleeper team. I can see them potentially taking out the Celtics in round two.
I view the key players as guys that need to play well for their team to have any chance. Those would be James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard.
Hate to be a homer, but going a repeat of last year. Cavs in Seven!
Best first-round matchup(s) – While maybe not the best matchup from a team perspective, as a fan, you’ve got to love Westbrook and Harden going at it head-to-head in round one. I think OKC will keep it closer than most, but ultimately Harden’s supporting cast will carry the series.
I’m also really looking forward to Washington/Atlanta. On paper, the Wizards certainly have a bit more talent but I love the way Atlanta has been playing lately.
I think the No. 4-5 [seed] series in the West is a sweep. The Clippers just own the Jazz (18-2 in last 20 games) and are peaking at the right time.
Biggest potential for first-round upset – For the first time in awhile, we could have some real drama in the 1/8 series in the East. The Bulls have played the Celtics tough all year and Wade gives them a playoff-tested guy who has more experience in these situations than the whole Celtics roster combined. With that said, I like the Celts in seven.
I think we will only see one upset in round one [and] I like the Hawks over the Wizards. Keep an eye on Memphis and Chicago as well as I think they each have a puncher’s chance.
Biggest overall sleeper (longest surprise run) – I really like the way the Clippers have been playing, but they have the toughest draw in the second round in the Warriors. It is impossible to pick them to win that series, but I think they will put up more of a fight than most expect.
The aforementioned Hawks are the best chance for a surprise run. If they can get by the Wizards, they match up very well with both the Celtics and Bulls. Howard and Millsap are a huge problem for both of those teams. Taurean Prince has been a revelation in the last few weeks and if he can take his game to another level, especially defensively, I think they have a real shot to make the conference finals.
The best first-round matchup to me is Rockets/Thunder. Anytime you get Harden vs. Westbrook in the first round you are in for some exciting basketball.
As a Celtics fan, it pains me to say that the Bulls have a very good chance at an upset. The Celtics are just not built for the playoffs and if Isaiah has an off night they are just not capable of picking up the slack. Despite the fact I think Fred Hoiberg is a terrible NBA head coach, his team does match up well against the C’s.
The biggest sleeper team to me is Chicago–and not that I think they are great–but they have a relatively easy path to the Eastern Conference finals for the No. 8 seed.
The Celtics will only go as far as Isaiah Thomas takes them. Same with Westbrook and the Thunder. The Cavs need LeBron to dominate more too. He is good enough to win the East by himself.
I really do not see anything but a Cavs vs. Warriors finals and I have the Warriors winning in six games.
Key players (just a few from main teams) – Obviously, Kevin Durant is the first name that comes to mind. If he is close to 100%, the Warriors probably walk to the title. Another guy to watch is Kyle Lowry. The Raptors have been a trendy pick to take out the Cavs in round two, and for them to have a chance to do that, Lowry will have to be huge.
Toronto’s history suggests they will fold against elite competition in the playoffs, but Cleveland really does look vulnerable. If Lowry can exorcise the demons from last year’s no-show, they have a real shot.
Lastly, Kawhi Leonard. If anyone is going to take out the Warriors, you have to think it’s the Spurs. To do that, Leonard will be tasked with guarding everyone from Curry to Durant and also being the go-to guy on offense. He’s proven before that he’s capable of taking his game to a higher level in these spots and he will have to do so again for the Spurs to slay the giant.
I would be a bit worried if I were a Raptors fan. This seems like it could be their year with the Cavs struggling down the stretch and having no D and the C’s being one of the weakest #1 seeds ever, but they have always been a little snakebitten and it wouldn’t shock me if Giannis just goes next level and nukes them in round one.
What is your finals matchup and who wins the whole damn thing? – I’m going to zag here and say Warriors vs Raptors with the Warriors winning in five. Cleveland has just looked too lost to me the last month to think they will just flip the on switch for the playoffs. I know Toronto lost game one, but that doesn’t concern me too much. They always lose game one. I think their guard play and the addition of Serge Ibaka will carry them to the Finals.
As for the Warriors, I think Durant is close enough to 100% that they run through the playoffs without playing a game six … leading to one of the more dominant championship runs in history.
That should be the expectation as they added the second-best player in the world to a 73-win team.