2018 NBA Western Conference Playoffs Round 1 Preview and Predictions
Will the Golden State Warriors get back to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season?
Will it be Cleveland-Golden State once again for a fourth straight year?
Injuries, stiff Western Conference competition and the rise of the Houston Rockets may very well snap the three year streak, spelling the end of the Warriors dynasty aspirations. The main question out in the West is can the Warriors overcome all of the trials and tribulations and reach the pinnacle of the NBA world yet again.
But if they are to fail, who will ultimately take their spot in this year’s NBA Finals?
Until we get to ahead of ourselves, let’s start off with breaking down the first round of the Western Conference playoffs!
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Houston Rockets pushing the Golden State Warriors as the favourites to come out of the West and the Minnesota Timberwolves will be their first test.
Barely squeezing into the playoffs all together, the Timberwolves will need a lot of things to go their way to at the very least compete on the same level as the Rockets. The Rockets are an elite offensive team that has strengthened their defensive play with additions of P.J. Tucker, Chris Paul, and Luc Mbah A Moute. They will be going up against a team that they swept in-season and a team that struggles on the defensive side of the ball.
More over, the Clint Capela factor is huge as he can do just enough to make things difficult for Karl-Anthony Towns. If Capela and Tucker can simply keep things difficult for Minnesota’s two star, combined with the Houston Rockets firepower on the offensive side of the ball, the Rockets should have no issues with laying waste to their first round opponents.
Prediction: Rockets Win Series 4-1
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
Stephen Curry or not, the real season for the Golden State Warriors starts now.
They are energized, focused, and ready to the defend their NBA championship crown.
The first team standing in their way are the San Antonio Spurs, a shell of their once powerful self, without a Kawhi Leonard in the mix. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are all back and healthy, while former Duke alum Quinn Cook has played remarkably in the absence of the former two-time league MVP.
While the Warriors have not looked as dominant as they usual have heading into the playoffs, the fact that Leonard will more than likely miss the series spells a matchup nightmare for the Spurs as there isn’t a single player on their side who can remotely create any sort of difficulties for Durant.
Head Coach Gregg Popovich will have to pull all the right strings just to get a game and due to his greatness, that is all he will be able to get.
Prediction: Warrior Win Series 4-1
(3) Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
An interesting series between two teams that no one pays enough attention to, the Blazers and Pelicans split their season series and now DeMarcus Cousins will be taken completely out of the equation.
Nevertheless, the New Orleans Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis, while Portland has a dynamic backcourt in C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard.
The key will be the help. If the Pelicans can provide Davis with adequate back-up from the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore. Of course it would also be nice for Davis to consistently put up 30-point, 15-rebound efforts. A complete team effort for four of seven games will provide the Pelicans with what it takes to take down the favourited Blazers.
On the Portland side, Jusuf Nurkic’s ability to slow down Davis will be the difference-maker. The Pelicans will also struggle mightily to control Lillard in a seven-game series which may ultimately become the deciding factor.
Prediction: Blazers Win Series 4-3
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Quite possibly the most intriguing series in the Western Conference, the Thunder will take on a steady, defensive minded Utah Jazz team.
Intriguing series yet the keys for both teams are really quite simple. For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook will have to absolutely go off and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will need to provide him with enough help to take down one of the better coached teams in the entire league. For the Jazz, it’s all about staying consistent. Rudy Gobert must continue to defend the painted area and remain the anchor of the Utah defense, while the Jazz cannot afford Donovan Mitchell to hit a rookie wall.
The Thunder too are still a solid defensive unit, but often struggle on the offensive end. That being said, if the Jazz can continue to play the style of basketball that they have run the final couple months of the season, the Thunder will be in for a battle, but ultimately will not pull out the series victory.
Prediction: Jazz Win Series 4-3