NBA Playoffs shootaround: opening round preview and predictions

A basketball player has his mouth open in exclamation.
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Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

The Bucks may have the best record in the NBA, but the team has been bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons since Giannis Antetokounmpo became a starter, with the exception being the 2015-16 season when they didn’t even make playoffs. This time around, Milwaukee is finally the team with home-court advantage and is facing the Pistons, who barely reached the .500 mark on the last day of the season. I think the Bucks’ improvement this season will show in the first round and, in the words of Bucks legend Brandon Jennings, “Bucks in six.”

— Jack Whaley


No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic

The Raptors have a history of choking in the playoffs, but this year seems different. With the arrival of Kawhi Leonard, and now Marc Gasol, along with the emergence of Pascal Siakam, this is an entirely new team heading into the postseason. The Raptors shouldn’t have an issue toppling the Magic, but this is a much better Orlando than in years past. The Magic have gone 11-2 in their last 13 games to surge into the seventh seed. Jonathan Isaac is finally coming into his own as a defensive savant, Nikola Vucevic is one of the best offensive centers in the league, and budding star Aaron Gordon is about to play in his first playoffs. Expect the Raptors to win, but don’t expect the Magic to fold too easily.

— Harshil Desai


No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets

While the Sixers’ current roster is not exactly teeming with playoff experience, it surely has the young Nets beat in that department. With all five starters capable of pouring in buckets on any given night, Philadelphia clearly has the advantage in terms of pure star talent. But if D’Angelo Russell can carry his incredible year into the postseason, Kenny Atkinson’s Nets could make some noise in this series. Brooklyn has guard Caris LeVert seemingly getting back to form at the perfect time, while center Jarrett Allen has the athleticism to possibly limit Joel Embiid inside.

— Shailin Singh


No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers

This matchup might as well be called “Battle of the most disappointing teams in the East.” The Celtics have floundered all season, struggling to establish locker room chemistry, shoot the three ball and incorporate players such as Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown. Likewise, the Pacers have struggled offensively since the loss of Victor Oladipo, but Myles Turner anchors a defense ranked third in efficiency. Ultimately, the Pacers will need better spacing to complement their paint-dominated style, while the Celtics need to find consistent outside shooting to win. Luckily for Boston, its roster has historically stepped it up during the playoffs. Celtics in 7.

— Michael Brust



Shailin Singh: Bucks in 6, Raptors in 5, 76ers in 6, Celtics in 6

Jack Whaley: Bucks in 6, Raptors in 6, 76ers in 5, Celtics in 5

Harshil Desai: Bucks in 5, Raptors in 7, 76ers in 6, Pacers in 7

Can Sariöz: Bucks in 5, Raptors in 4, 76ers in 6, Celtics in 7

Michael Brust: Bucks in 4, Raptors in 5, 76ers in 7, Celtics in 7


Western Conference

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers

This matchup is a certified snoozer. To give credit where credit is due, the Clippers deserve to be commended for making the playoffs despite trading away Tobias Harris and being the far less popular LA-based team. But all of that pales in comparison to the Warriors juggernaut that boasts a starting lineup of five all-stars and a surprisingly deep bench rotation. Since their dynasty first began in 2014, the Warriors have dropped a total of two games in four first-round playoff series. They are simply too skilled and too focused to lose.

— Michael Brust


No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

The cities of Denver and San Antonio will witness a battle of two well-constructed teams. It’s going to be rare to see dope highlights full of alley-oops and crossovers, but this matchup is anything but short of excitement. The Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokić, will try to prove they can stay competitive in the postseason to silence the doubters, while DeMar DeRozan will try to counter his own critics with his individual playoff performance. Also, what’s better than Pop’s postgame press conferences? Just the postgame interview of the last Spurs-Nuggets game should be enough of a preview.

— Can Sariöz


No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder and the Blazers may provide one of the most intense series in the first round, as top-tier competitors Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook will be sure to leave it all on the floor. Jusuf Nurkić’s injury is a huge blow to Portland, and the team’s 7-2 record after his injury is deceiving, as the Blazers actually went 1-2 against playoff teams in that time. I’m taking the duo of Paul George and Russ over Lillard and C.J. McCollum any day, and now you have Steven Adams able to help on defense without worrying about Nurkić.

— Jack Whaley


No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

This is going to be one of the most interesting matchups in the first round. The Rockets shoot threes at an unprecedented rate, while Utah is the best in the league at limiting 3-point attempts. But behind a historic scoring season by James Harden, Houston still has one of the strongest defenses in the league, anchored by a switchable Clint Capela and an extremely versatile P.J. Tucker. While Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are stars in their own right, Harden is on another tier, and I don’t see him going down in the first round during his legendary season.

— Harshil Desai



SS: Warriors in 4, Nuggets in 6, Thunder in 7, Rockets in 6

JW: Warriors in 4, Spurs in 7, Thunder in 6, Rockets in 6

HD: Warriors in 5, Nuggets in 7, Thunder in 6, Rockets in 5

CS: Warriors in 5, Nuggets in 6, Thunder in 6, Rockets in 6

MB: Warriors in 5, Spurs in 7, Thunder in 7, Rockets in 6

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