The 2015 NBA Playoffs kicks off tomorrow and I know you are just as excited for it as I am. We have a tale of two conferences with a very deep Western Conference on one end and a very top-heavy Eastern Conference on the other. Who will advance out of the opening round and get to the conference semifinals? Here are my predictions.
1 Atlanta Hawks vs. 8 Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn barely sneaked into the playoffs by defeating the Magic as the Pacers lost to the Grizzlies. However, regardless of who got the final seed in a great Eastern Conference, I think they would be in for a tough time with the Hawks. After all, Atlanta swept Brooklyn this season and none of the games were that close.
Hawks in 4
2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7 Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens deserves all the pub he can get for the job he has done this season in getting the Celtics to the playoffs and build a decent defense. After all, not many folks were thinking that this would be a playoff team before the season and here they are. But the two times these two played with their whole lineup, Cleveland won by 31 and 39. I think a pesky Boston club can steal a game but not much else.
Cavaliers in 5
3 Chicago Bulls vs. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
With how both teams play defense, I may not be surprised if nobody cracks 100 in this series. Milwaukee, a team that may have been the most surprising of all the playoff teams, is fun to watch thanks to their athleticism and how they get after it defensively, and they can give it to a Chicago team that lets teams hang around in the playoffs. That said, they don't score enough to pull off the upset.
Bulls in 6
4 Toronto Raptors vs. 5 Washington Wizards
Given how mediocre each team has been since the calendar hit 2015, this should be the most competitive of any of the series in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are relatively even and feature both size and a talented backcourt. And if we get another Matt Devlin-Wale incident, everyone will go home happy. In such an even series, I think the difference will be with the team that has the home-court advantage, especially since that team won all three contests of the two this year.
Raptors in 6
With how good Anthony Davis is, perhaps anything could happen in this series. But even if he does go off in this series, New Orleans still looks to be in trouble considering they are still a relatively inexperienced club with nowhere near the depth that the Warriors have. Golden State should sail to the conference semifinals.
Warriors in 4
2 Houston Rockets vs. 7 Dallas Mavericks
Like much of the matchups in the West, this should be a fun matchup. Houston has been powered all season long by a truly brilliant season by James Harden that could very well end up with him being league MVP. Meanwhile, Dallas has been a bit of an oddball team after the Rajon Rondo trade as their offense has been less efficient and their defense has only been a hair better. Dallas is the deeper team and they have a wizard operating the machine in Rick Carlisle but can they find a way to slow down Harden? I think Rondo, who has excelled in the playoffs before, can help slow Harden down just enough to tip this series to Dallas.
Mavericks in 7
3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6 San Antonio Spurs
For San Antonio, they seem to have been under-the-radar all season long and that's definitely how Gregg Popovich likes it. Some of their key guys struggled with injuries but they have excelled since the All-Star break and Tim Duncan has been terrific once again. Meanwhile for the Clips, Chris Paul has turned in an MVP-caliber season and now they've got Blake Griffin healthy again as well as DeAndre Jordan turning in a career year. This is a tough call as both teams have a combined four losses in the last month but I think the Spurs, who have done this before, have the slightest of edges.
Spurs in 7
4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
Any series that should be fun and pretty competitive to boot. Portland was looking like a strong championship contender before Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in early March and since, the team has declined defensively. And they also have a handful of guys with some injury issues now to boot. Meanwhile, Memphis has undergone some issues of their own as they have declined a little in performance for the past month and they also have some injury issues to deal with. I do think that having the home-court advantage will be key for Memphis and their slightly-better health can't hurt either.
Grizzlies in 7