Playoffs Tip-Off

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BallnRoll’s Preview & Predictions for the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs

As the Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the Golden State Warriors in the final game of the league’s play-in tournament, the postseason field has officially been set.

We are bringing out the BallnRoll crystal ball as this year’s postseason has a good half-dozen teams with a legitimate chance to really make some noise over the next couple of months. Everything begins on May 22nd as the Los Angeles Lakers will officially kick off their title defense.

Let’s not waste anymore time and jump right into our playoff predictions!

Eastern Conference 

(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (8) Washington Wizards

Against all odds, the Washington Wizards have somehow willed their way into the NBA playoffs on the backs of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.

Now, the real test begins in the form of the number-one seeded Philadelphia 76ers.

Overcoming the Indiana Pacers in one thing, but the Wizards will now take on one of the strongest defensive units in the entire NBA, ranking in the top-10 in defensive rating, opponent’s effective field goal percentage, and opponent’s three-point percentage. Pair that with the monster that is MVP finalist Joel Embiid and the Wizards may be in quite a pickle going up against the second best home court team in the entire league.

The Wizard top-ranked pace may create some trouble for the Sixers, but with the likes of Defensive Player of the Year finalist Ben Simmons and savvy veteran Danny Green, the Sixers should have no problem moving onto the second round.

Prediction: Sixers in 5

(2) Brooklyn Nets vs. (7) Boston Celtics

The Brooklyn Nets ‘Big-3’ has barely had a chance to play with each other this season and it is no secret that they struggle mightily against size.

Is that enough to give the Celtics any sort of chance in this series? Probably not.

With Jaylen Brown sidelined, the Celtics will rely heavily on Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. But no matter how you slice it, the story here is that the Celtics are an inconsistent team on both ends of the court, going up against an offensive juggernaut. There isn’t one thing the Celtics do especially well other than get on the offensive glass and ultimately that is just not enough against the Nets.

Prediction: Nets in 5

(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Miami Heat

How far can Jimmy Butler take the Miami Heat this year?

His first test comes in the form of a new-look Milwaukee Bucks team that has its sights set on revenge.

With Victor Oladipo out for the remainder of the season, the Heat will need to find a way to stay consistent on a game-to-game basis. Staying consistent has not been a strength for Miami this year who appear to not be the same team they were last year inside of the bubble, while the Bucks look – dare I say – much improved.

No team scores more points per game than the Bucks. They are a top-5 offensive with the second highest effective field goal percentage in the league, they have the second highest pace, and they also happen to be a top-10 defense as well. If Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo are able to overcome their playoff demons, they can very well be a legitimate title contender.

Prediction: Bucks in 6

(4) New York Knicks vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks

Julius Randle has transformed into a star and alongside RJ Barrett and new head coach Tom Thibodeau, has brought the Knicks back to the promised land.

Now the question is how long can they last?

Their first opponent are the Atlanta Hawks, a deep and high-octane offensive team that leave much to be desired on the defensive side of the court. The Knicks struggle mightily on the offensive end, which will eventually come back to the bite them when opponents enter the playoffs better prepared for each series. That being said, the defensive side of the ball is what has made the Knicks successful all year and it will be up to Coach Thibs to find a scheme to get the ball out of Trae Young’s hands.

While the Knicks do struggle offensively, they are a good three-point shooting team and Randle has averaged 37 points and 12 rebounds per game against the Hawks this season. This one can go either way but the Knicks do appear well equipped to edge out the young Hawks.

Prediction: Knicks in 7

***

Western Conference 

(1) Utah Jazz vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies survived the Golden State Warriors, but will now be running into the buzzsaw that is the Utah Jazz.

This is not the same Jazz team as year’s past either.

They are a top-5 offensive and defensive team. They are well-coached, they are well-balanced, and the Grizzlies simply have no shot in this one. Behind All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley leading the way on offense, the defensive presence of All-Star big Rudy Gobert, and both the shooting and secondary scoring from the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz have too much fire power for the Grizz to handle.

This one won’t take too long as the Jazz will surely move on quick fashion.

Prediction: Jazz in 5

(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers

The Phoenix Suns are back in the playoffs after a fabulous campaign and their first opponent right out of the gate are the Los Angeles Lakers.

That absolutely sucks.

It really is terrible luck as behind Chris Paul, the Suns transformed into a top-five offense and defensive, but now are forced to take on a healthy Los Angeles Lakers team. The Lakers slipped down the standings in the absence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but the superstar duo is back and ready to go.

Outside of Paul, the Suns are young and surely their best days are ahead of them, but this is a Lakers team with experience and simply put, James doesn’t lose in the first round. If the Suns have any chance to take out the King, I’m going to have to see it with my own two eyes, but until then…

Prediction: Lakers in 6

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers

The loss of Jamal Murray will come back to haunt the Denver Nuggets who seemed poised to make some noise in the postseason after an incredible run inside the Orlando bubble in 2020.

They will now take on an elite offense led by a star-studded backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but also a defense with many holes – holes that MVP favourite Nikola Jokic can as the series goes on. Add in Michael Porter Jr, and the Nuggets could potentially find a method of escaping the first round with a victory.

That being said, the Blazers are finally healthy and may have too much firepower for the under-manned Nuggets to handle. Jokic will need to play like the presumptive MVP for the Nuggets to have a chance and to expect him to maintain such a high level of play in the postseason is an incredible amount of pressure.

Prediction: Blazers in 6

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Dallas Mavericks

After avoiding the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers will once again take on the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, but this time, the Mavs hope to have Kristaps Porzingis available from start to end.

Nevertheless, the Mavericks will struggle with the same issues as in 2020.

The Clippers are simply too deep and too talented on both ends of the floor. A top-10 offensive and defensive team, the Clippers will be led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, both of whom are healthy and coming off remarkable seasons. Luka Doncic and Porzingis will need to play out of their minds to even stand a chance.

Also, keep an eye on playoff Rajon Rondo, just a suggestion.

Prediction: Clippers in 5

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