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First Round NBA Playoff Predictions and X-Factors

NBA Playoffs

After the long NBA season, we are finally here, the NBA Playoffs. We’ve seen epic comebacks, outstanding performances, lights out shooting, and massive dunks. However, when it comes to the playoffs, all of those moments mean nothing. This is a whole new season. This is the time where stars shine, and teams show just exactly what they are made of or exactly how far they are from truly contending. This season came with just as many surprises as it did disappointments. And I expect the same out of these playoffs.

Although the NBA Playoffs are usually exciting, they are also predictable. With the top four seeds in each conference usually advancing, I’m not so sure if we will see upsets or more of the same. No matter what the is the case is, I expect most of these series to be extremely close and exhilarating. Look at how the Western Conference finished, every team was barely separated from each other except the Rockets and Warriors. The Eastern Conference was a bit more spread out, but you could say that each higher seeded team is actually facing a quality opponent. Enough of the intro let’s get to the fun part.

Eastern Conference

Credit: Getty Images

(1) Toronto Raptors vs (8) Washington Wizards

As many people believe this series is a wash for the Raptors, I think the series could be slightly competitive. Not because of the Wizards, but because of the “Playoff Raptors”. Toronto always starts its postseason awful and sluggish with poor shooting and little energy. The last four playoff runs by the Raptors have all started with a loss in the very first game. These Raptors seem more composed and collected than years past, but old habits die hard. Toronto’s stars have come out with great performances and should close out this series as quickly as possible.

The Wizards, on the other hand, are coming in with a ridiculous loss to the Orlando Magic. Although it was a game where they didn’t play John Wall or Otto Porter at all, is that excusable? After all, they are still playing the Orlando Magic and had the chance to jump over the Milwaukee Bucks and face the depleted Celtics. The motivation should have been there, but it wasn’t enough apparently. The Wizards failed to win with shooting so bad you would think that Orlando was a top 10 team in opponent shooting percentage. They must improve that if they want to have a chance.


Toronto X-Factor: Kyle Lowry getting off to a hot start

Washington X-Factor: Role players making an impact scoring

Prediction: Toronto in 5

Credit: Matt West/Boston Herald

(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Milwaukee Bucks

This matchup is one of the more intriguing series this postseason. On one side you’ve got great young talent that plays defense as well as anyone in this league, and a great coach to go with them. On the other side, you’ve got a team that has more experience in the playoffs and has arguably a top 5 player in the league. This series will ultimately be about Brad Stevens vs Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Brad Stevens knows how to beat the Bucks’ defense that is known for being over aggressive and hectic. The Bucks are one of the worst teams in the paint and opponent three-point percentage. With Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have enough firepower to beat Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker. Most NBA Playoff series go to the team with the most talent. This would be the Milwaukee Bucks. However, this series may go to the better-coached team instead, which would be the Boston Celtics. These teams split the season series 2-2. Brad Stevens will have his hands full on the defensive end with Playoff Giannis who already averages just over 33 points and 10 rebounds against the Celtics this year. This series could very well be a coin toss. I expect most games between these opponents to come down to the wire.


Boston X-Factor: Paint defense

Milwaukee X-Factors: Three-point shooting and creating turnovers

Prediction: Celtics in 7


Ben Simmons

Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Miami Heat

The season series between these two teams was split and each game was basically down to the last couple minutes or even seconds. Many people think the 76ers will fly by the Heat for an easy series, but I wouldn’t think that’s the case. This Miami team is well coached and can be very tough on defense. Miami has some shooters but is missing a key offensive weapon. They are one of the few teams in this league that has a more of a collective effort on offense than multiple key weapons. They also have Hassan Whiteside to match with Joel Embiid. I think Embiid is better than Whiteside but not many teams have someone at Whiteside’s level to match with the 76ers.

One of the most important things for the 76ers is going to be the play of Markelle Fultz. If he can provide some extra scoring and ball movement, it would create an even more difficult task for the Miami defense. 76ers are one of, if not, the hottest team in the NBA going into the playoffs, having won their last 16 games. Ben Simmons has been a flash of Magic Johnson of late and if he can continue that into these playoffs then the 76ers very well could make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Each one of these games should be close, even if the series doesn’t say so.


Philadelphia X-Factors: Markelle Fultz and how soon Joel Embiid is back

Miami X-Factor: Who will prevail as the best scoring option and clutch shooter

Prediction: 76ers in 6

Credit: David Zalubowski/AP

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Indiana Pacers

All we’ve been hearing this week is how the Pacers won the season series 3-1. Throw that stat out the window because it literally means nothing. The Cavs lost those games before the trade deadline which means they are quite literally a whole new team. This team has more chemistry and a will to win. They want to and feel the need to be successful and I’m not sure if the Cavs of old felt that same way. The Cavaliers will need to start playing some defense this series because Indiana can get hot from three quickly.

Indiana is a tough team who plays well in the clutch. They have easily been considered one of the biggest surprises this season and have the probable Most Improved Player of the Year in Victor Oladipo. I’m looking for Myles Turner to get going. I feel all we heard this past offseason was how good he was going to be and yet all I hear out of Indiana is Oladipo. His presence both offensively and defensively needs to be felt or the Cavs may have a cake walk. Also, the more threes the Pacers can hit the better because the Cavs’ dismal defense could be highly exploited if Indiana gets hot.


Cleveland X-Factor: Defensive consistency

Indiana X-Factors: Myles Turner and three-point percentage

Prediction: Cleveland in 5

Western Conference

Credit: USA Today Images

(1) Houston Rockets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

This is a pretty simple series to predict. Minnesota is a team that does not play well defensively and doesn’t have a deep bench either. Houston has been the best team in the league so far and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. The Houston Rockets just need to stick to their formula of success which is shooting threes and shooting more threes. Houston is extremely efficient offensively and defensively.

Minnesota doesn’t play defense and against the best offense in the league, it will show. Their lack of quality rotational players will kill them as well. Jimmy Butler will have his hands full with James Harden and although the Wolves have Karl Anthony-Town, an elite center, the Rockets have a quality big man in Clint Capela. A lot of things will need to go wrong for the Rockets in order for the Wolves to win.


Houston X-Factor: Be themselves

Minnesota X-Factor: Be the Rockets

Prediction: Houston in 4

Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

(2) Golden State Warriors vs (7) San Antonio Spurs

If only Kawhi Leonard was playing. That’s how this series feels because with how awful the Warriors have been playing of late, the Spurs might have been able to knock them out, especially because of Steph Curry’s injury. It will be interesting to see if Golden State will immediately start playing like we are used to seeing or if they will continue to be the poor team we saw get destroyed by Utah not even a week ago.

San Antonio has no choice but to play as hard as possible. With Steph Curry out, the Spurs might have a chance even if it is slim. If they play annoying and disruptive defense, then the regular season Warriors may be here to stay after all. The Spurs are veterans that know the Warriors well which is a huge advantage to them that I wouldn’t give to most other teams. Although I sound high on the Spurs, they are not the same without Kawhi Leonard. I want this series to be good but I’m afraid it won’t be.


Golden State X-Factor: Play with passion and look to destroy

San Antonio X-Factor: Slow down Kevin Durant

Prediction: Warriors in 5


Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports

(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs New Orleans Pelicans

This may be the best series of them all. Another split regular season series in which all games were close and each team won on the road as well. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are going to need to be the stars they’ve proven to be if they want the series to go their way. Perhaps the biggest thing going for the Blazers in this series is that they have the home court advantage. This matchup could very well come down to the last game. If I’m Portland I need Jusuf Nurkic to have a terrific series. His stat line may be the most important of all. It will take the pressure off of the Blazers’ two guards and if he can be a great defensive anchor then things will be looking up for Portland.

It all starts and ends with Anthony Davis for New Orleans. He needs to be a monster like he has been all season. He is the best player in this series, but he doesn’t have his co-star DeMarcus Cousins any longer. Both wins that the Pelicans had against the Blazers were when Cousins was still healthy. I hope this series is still close without him. Role players for the Pelicans need to step up big if they want to come away with an upset. If they can match the shooting of Portland than they may pull off the upset.


Portland X-Factor: Defensive anchor Jusuf Nurkic

New Orleans X-Factor: Role players’ efficiency

Prediction: Blazers in 7

Credit: Bleacher Report

(4) Utah Jazz vs (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

Utah has home court advantage, potential Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and most likely Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell. Utah is a hard place to play and with their overall depth, you can’t sleep on many possessions if you want a win. It’s simply amazing how Mitchell has brought this team all the way to the playoffs, and with home-court advantage after this team lost their star player Gordon Hayward. This is Donovan’s team now. However, he may not be enough.

This series will come down to overall talent on each side of the ball. That advantage goes to the Thunder. With triple-double machine Russel Westbrook, defensive powerhouse Paul George, knock down shooter Carmelo Anthony, and the man in the middle Steven Adams, this team is set up for success. This Thunder team will refuse to lose to a rookie and defensive stud because that would be utterly embarrassing. I know this Jazz team is nothing to mess with but when you have the amount of talent that Oklahoma City has, there is no excuse.


Utah X-Factor: Ending the series as soon as possible

Oklahoma City X-Factor: Killer mentality

Prediction: Oklahoma City in 6


Come back to FlurrySports after the First Round to see the next predictions article on who will make the Conference Finals!

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