The two eight seeds are finally locked down, as the Atlanta Hawks and all their experience from last year rallied from an early to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 107-101, followed by the New Orleans Pelicans rallying with a 31-point fourth quarter to upset the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-101.
Of course, the two teams that locked down the eight seeds will face the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns, respectively. So with that being said, I will blog my predictions of both those First Round series and the other six First Round series via the bullet points below:
- West #5 Utah Jazz Vs. West #4 Dallas Mavericks-Luca Doncic is out for Game 1 of this series with a calf injury, so I look for the Jazz to steal that game in Dallas. Plus, whenever Doncic comes back, there’s no telling how effective that he’ll be for the duration of this series. So with both those factors considered, I like the Jazz in 5.
- West #7 Minnesota Timberwolves Vs. West #2 Memphis Grizzlies-The Timberwolves are coming off three days rest, following their defeat of the Clippers in Tuesday’s seven-seed Play-In Game, while the Grizzlies both won their first division title in franchise history and have their highest playoff seeding in franchise history. The team that was once in Vancouver has been one of the hottest since December 26, as they have gone 37-12. They are also a deep, talented and complete team that’s led by 2019-20 Rookie Of The Year Ja Morant, who knocked the rust off last Saturday via playing the Pelicans. He had 21 points and 9 assists in the 27 minutes that he logged in the 141-114 Memphis victory. The Timberwolves are no slouches, so the Grizzlies won’t make quick work of them. It’s going to be a competitive series that will go six, with Taylor Jenkins’ bunch advancing.
- East #5 Toronto Raptors Vs. East #4 Philadelphia Sixers-Since March 20, the Raptors are 9-3, with two of those wins coming against the Sixers. However, they have no player that’s taller than 6-9 and that could be a problem going against a 7-foot beast in Joel Embiid. The Raptors will give them a fight, but I like the Sixers in six.
- West #6 Denver Nuggets Vs. West #3 Golden State Warriors-Hanging onto leads has been an issue for the Nuggets, as they blew a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of their eventual 146-141 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on the final day of the regular season. Plus, their record over the eight games (including that Lakers game) following that 140-130 loss against the Suns on March 24 is 5-3, so they don’t exactly inspire confidence for me. The Warriors, on the other hand, closed the season on a five-game winning streak and are likely to have Stephen Curry back for the first game of this series. However, who knows how effective that he’ll be after being out since March 20 with that foot injury, along with the fact that the Warriors lack of size could hurt against Nikola “The Joker” Jokic. History says to pick Steve Kerr’s bunch, but Jokic is the best and biggest player in this series. And despite Denver’s issues, The Joker will make the West bracket wild, so I’m taking him and his team to upset the Warriors in six.
- East #8 Atlanta Hawks Vs. East #1 Miami Heat-It’s a Southeast Division showdown, with last season’s Eastern Conference runner-up taking on a team that was the runner-up in that bubble NBA Finals of 2020. The Heat are 6-1 in their last seven games, including a 113-109 victory against these Hawks just eight days ago. It’s going to be a series for sure. As a matter of fact, it will go the full seven, with Erik Spoelstra’s bunch winning it.
- East #7 Brooklyn Nets Vs. East #2 Boston Celtics-The Nets are on a roll, as they have won five straight games to get the seventh seed in the East. As for the Celtics, they are 4-1 in their last five games, with that one loss being a close and hard-fought game against the Milwaukee Bucks. And that loss was without their defensive anchor in Robert Williams, who has been out since March 28 with a knee injury, so imagine what their seeding could have been had he played all those games that he missed. Williams probably won’t be available in this series, but the Celtics have another lockdown defender in Marcus Smart, who will make Kyrie Irving’s life miserable in this series. Plus, look for the Celtics high-scoring tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to light up Brooklyn’s defense like a Christmas tree. Kevin Durant will get his numbers in this series, but the Celtics, even without Williams, are the more complete team. The Nets won’t go down without a fight, but Boston’s completeness will prevail in six games.
- East #6 Chicago Bulls Vs. East #3 Milwaukee Bucks-This is a bad matchup for the Bulls, who were swept 4-0 by the Bucks in the regular season series. Especially when the defending NBA champions outscored them, 253-204, in the last two meetings. The Bulls are also without Lonzo Ball for the remainder of this season, and he could have been a perfect counter against the likes of Jrue Holiday. The Bulls do have DeMar DeRozan, but that might not be enough against a team that has a target on their back hitting into this postseason. The Bulls will show some fight, by winning one game in this series. But one is all they’ll get, as I see the Bucks winning this series in five.
- West #8 New Orleans Pelicans Vs. West #1 Phoenix Suns-The Pelicans are back in the postseason after a four-year absence. And of course, they proved me wrong twice, by defeating both the San Antonio Spurs and Clippers to get here. But the third time won’t be a charm, as they will be running into a totally motivated Suns team. The Pelicans have been a nice story this season, but they will be the first (and probably not the last) opponent to be knocked down by Chris Paul & Company. As a matter of fact, the defending Western Conference champions will sweep this series.
So yeah, the East matchups in Round 2 will be the Sixers vs. the Heat and the Bucks vs. the Celtics, while the West matchups in Round 2 will be the Jazz vs. the Suns and the Nuggets vs. the Grizzlies.
Tune in either later this month or early next month to A) Find out how I did with my First Round predictions and B) Find out which four teams will be advancing to the Conference Finals.