It’s been a long and gruelling season but we’ve finally come to the business end of the NBA campaign. With the playoffs set, we take a glance at each matchup (or mismatch in some cases) and make a prediction on the outcomes.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards
Toronto now needs to take their next step as a franchise and put together a deep playoff run.
The Wizards are a very top-heavy team, relying on the efforts of Bradley Beal, John Wall and to a lesser extent Otto Porter Jr. The Raptors will be wary of the Wizards after splitting the regular season games 2 apiece.
Expect the Raptors to have too many scoring options for this mediocre Washington franchise. The Raptors rank 3rd in attack and 6th in defence compared to Washington's 13th and 14th in those categories respectively.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors 4-1
Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks
Boston enters the postseason without its two marquee acquisitions, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The Celtics will also be without key defender Marcus Smart till late April.
With the team's current line-ups the closest comparison we can draw was the Bucks four-point win in early April. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has yet to get passed the first round registering a 0-2 record in the playoffs thus far.
The Celtics probably have a weaker line-up than the Bucks but have the style of play that suits playoff basketball. Coach Stevens will have enough defence in and around Giannis to stifle his production and keep the Celtics ahead of the Bucks.
The Bucks will need Giannis to play like a man possessed in every game to get the victory and I just can't see that happening.
Prediction: Boston Celtics 4-2
Philadelphia 76ers v Miami Heat
Those rebuilding Sixers are now the hottest team in the NBA. Philadelphia has won 16 in a row, how long will their unbeaten run last?
Embiid will likely be out for the start of this tie however Philadelphia's faithful hopes the big man will return against a sneakily talented Heat team.
Miami will shock many casual NBA fans in this matchup. I would not be surprised if Miami pulled an upset but the Simmons led Sixers should find their way through this tough first round match up.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers 4-3
Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers
The Pacers young stars have an unfortunate first round match up in LeBron and his Cavaliers.
Young stud Victor Oladipo leads the Pacers. Oladipo, along with ex-Thunder teammate Domantas Sabonis have been instrumental in the team surpassing expectations.
LeBron is raring to go after playing every game in his 15th season in the league and taking the coaching mantle after Tyronn Lue fell ill at the end of the regular season.
There’s something to be said for playoff experience and with Kevin Love by his side against a young Pacers outfit, LeBron should be able to make a statement in this matchup.
Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1
Western Conference Playoffs
Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves rallied to get into the playoffs on the final day of regular season action, their reward, facing the Houston Rockets who swept them, four games to zip in the regular season.
The Rockets will be without key defender Luc Mbah a Moute for the first round. This will give the Wolves some hope. Besides that, this team was an absolute machine throughout the regular season. Harden, Paul and Capela have arguably been the best trio in the NBA this season and now they get the opportunity to show it on the big stage.
The Wolves have a bevy of stars that can step up and take over a game. Expect them to make each game exciting, but they just haven't been able to put it together in a consistent manner this season.
Prediction: Houston Rockets 4-0
Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
This matchup is a repeat of last year's Western Conference Finals. Golden State is without two-time MVP Steph Curry and the Spurs without All-Star Kawhi Leonard.
The Warriors enter this matchup in quite poor form losing 10 of their last 17 games. Everyone expects the Warriors to flip a switch, but that won't be easy against the Spurs who hold the best defence in the NBA.
If the Warriors figure it out they've proven they can blow the Spurs off the court with relative ease. I'm putting my faith that the likes of Durant and Coach Kerr can get this team back to their dominant ways
Golden State Warriors 4-1
Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans
Portland was a team that surpassed expectations but have their own issues of late, only recording five wins in their last 12 games.
Portland will put its ninth best defensive rating to the test against Pelicans franchise man Anthony Davis. Davis has notched a league leading 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game since Cousins was ruled out for the season in late January.
We've seen these teams play before and both Davis and Lillard are unstoppable against each other. The winner will come down to who can guard the opposition’s key player more effectively.
I think the upset is brewing here and expect the Pelicans to find mismatches on the court to exploit.
New Orleans Pelicans 4-3
Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz
The Jazz held the title of best defensive team in the league if you were only counting the last four months. They now face a star-studded Thunder line up who underperformed against preseason expectations.
The regular season record between the two saw the Thunder win three of four.
Utah will be leaning heavily on highly rated rookie Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell has been a beast this season and is truly a future all-star if he can maintain his quality of play.
Westbrook is a polarizing star but George, Anthony and himself have extensive playoff experience. Experience counts a lot in the playoffs and there's no reason why it shouldn't again here.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, I can't trust Westbrook in the clutch. His shooting is quite poor and Anthony has been a shell of his former self. Going with the gut on this one, Utah shocks the world.
Utah Jazz 4-3