Graphic Illustration by Matt Shiffler

Playoff breakdown: Opening round of the NBA

Can any team stand in the way of the back to back champions Golden State Warriors?

Can any team stand in the way of the back to back champions Golden State Warriors?

Although Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t in, there is plenty of high profile firepower across the NBA. The last time the four-time MVP James missed the playoffs was 2005. For reference, 2005 was the year Youtube launched. No worries though, the NBA is still in good hands with emerging young talent and superstars driving the league. Let’s take a look at the postseason landscape of the 2019 first round.

1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. Los Angeles Clippers (West)

This series might be one-sided, with the best starting lineup in the NBA residing in Oakland. Steph Curry leads the way for the Warriors as the NBA’s best point guard averaging 27.3 points a game. Kevin Durant is unstoppable and will be a force to reckon with during this series and the playoffs. He might have the best mid-range game in the league along with his ability to drive to the basket averaging 26 points a game. Klay Thompson rounds out the big three as the deadly sharpshooter averaging 21.5 points a game. The Clippers, led by guard Lou Williams, is one of the league’s best players off the bench. His 20 points a game easily makes him a top three nomination for the sixth man of the year award. Clippers will need a significant team effort, especially from their bench if they want even to pull a one game upset. Prediction: Warriors win 4-1

1. Milwaukee Bucks vs. 8. Detroit Pistons (East)

The Bucks dominated the NBA this season with a record of 60-22. A huge reason for that is MVP leading candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo who is averaging 28 points a game and 12.5 rebounds. His build and athletic ability are unmatched in the league. He can shoot it in the defenders face while also being able to drive and deliver posterizing dunks. Pistons should be fired up and ready to go after making the playoffs, led by Blake Griffin who averages 24.5 points a game. Andre Drummond adds 17.3 points a game while piling together a league-high 15.6 rebounds. Prediction: Bucks win 4-0

2. Denver Nuggets vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs (West)

A lot of people are surprised by the Nuggets performance this season earning the two seed. Nikola Jokic averages 20 points a game with 10.8 rebounds. Jamal Murray adds 18 points a game; this team understands floor spacing and plays together as a unit. They could be a real threat in the playoffs especially getting home court in Denver for the first two rounds. Spurs will play hard in this series as long as Coach Popovich leads them. LaMarcus Aldridge who averages 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds is a force inside. Along with Demar DeRozan being an offensive monster at 21.2 points a game, DeRozan shoots well, drives to the basket, and this Spurs team can make the challenging offensive plays. They just might be overwhelmed by the Nuggets. Prediction: Nuggets win 4-1

2. Toronto Raptors vs. 7. Orlando Magic (East)

Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the Raptors, and he has a great ability to close out games. Leonard averages 26 points per game while being a lethal shooter. The Raptors will be a threat thanks to him. Raptors look to go on a playoff run after a disappointing postseason last year. Nikola Vucevic leads the Magic, averaging 20.8 points per game and 12.0 rebounds. Aaron Gordan averages 16.0 points per game and delivers in the paint with flashy dunks. This Magic will need to play sound basketball to make a run in the playoffs. Prediction: Raptors win 4-0

3. Portland Trail Blazers vs. 6. Oklahoma City Thunder (West)

This matchup is a fan favorite. The higher seeds usually win the first round seven-game series, but anything can happen with four offensive superstars on the same court. The Trail Blazers have one of the best home courts in the league. Damian Lillard is the leading player on the Trail Blazers averaging 25.8 points per game. Lillard is not afraid to put the team on his back hitting big time jumpers in games along with adding 6.9 assists per game. C.J. McCollum scores from anywhere on the floor. He averages 21.0 points a game. This team is aiming big this season. Russell Westbrook leads the Thunder and is a walking triple-double, he averages 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game. Paul George averages 28.0 points per game and is not afraid to take over games late. The Thunder arguably has the two best players on one team in the league. Prediction: Thunder win 4-3

3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Brooklyn Nets (East)

The 76ers made strides in the process this year, playing better than a lot of people thought. This team has a good group of players and a bench that delivers when needed. Joel Embiid averages 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game being a force down low. Jimmy Butler at 18.2 points per game is a terrific shooter, as is J.J. Reddick and Tobias Harris. The 76ers are finally ready to continue their regular season accomplishments and make waves in the postseason. The Nets surprised everyone this year with the rejuvenation of Deangelo Russell who averages 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game. He brings a spark and a swag to each game. The energy is something we didn’t see with him in previous seasons in L.A., due to team chemistry or just lack of wins. The 76ers “trust the process” motto might be gelling together in this year’s playoffs and might be too much for the Nets to handle. Prediction: 76ers win 4-2

4. Houston Rockets vs. 5. Utah Jazz (West)

The reigning MVP and leader in points in the NBA, James Harden, may have the deadliest shot in the league. He averages 36.1 points and 7.5 assists per game, he is lethal from all areas of the court. He led this Rockets team from a slow start to the season to home court in the first round. Clint Capela averages 16.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, he is a threat from under the basket. Eric Gordon and Chris Paul provide big-time play as well. The Jazz also command a great home court, in Salt Lake City. Last year the Jazz turned some heads meanwhile they’re trying to do even more this year. Donovon Mitchell 23.8 points per game lead this team and is dangerous. He can make the clutch shot if needed and has great handles. This team plays well and can jump on a run at any time. Rudy Gobert under the rim is a force at 15.9 points per game and 12.9 rebounds. Joe Ingles brings an underrated game as does Jae Crowder off the bench. Prediction: Rockets win 4-2

4. Boston Celtics vs. 5. Indiana Pacers (East)

The Celtics have been somewhat disappointing this season but still managed to secure home court in the first round. Kyrie Irving is always dangerous with the ball and clutch in the fourth quarter. Coming off an injury Irving is averaging 23.8 points and 6.9 assists per game. Jayson Tatum at 15.7 points per game can make big-time shots. The Pacers dealt with their best player Victor Oladipo injured for the season, despite this they stayed competitive. This group plays together and surprisingly led by Bojan Bogdanovic who averages 18.0 points per game. Domantis Sabonis delivers a boost off the bench with 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young also were vital to the season and will need to play at their top form to have a shot at upsetting the Celtics. Prediction: Celtics win 4-2

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