The overly long regular season is finally over, putting an end to the collective suffering of Brooklyn Nets fans and giving the Cleveland Cavaliers the signal to wake up from their drawn-out haze.
Despite the justified resting of players and three or four teams tanking, it was a pretty good stretch of 82 games. In order to better understand which teams disappointed or overachieved, let’s take a look at my pre-season predictions:
Washington’s shattering of expectations is one of the feel-good stories of 2016-2017, after being ignored by hometown hero Kevin Durant in free agency and dealing with a rocky beginning under Scott Brooks’ guidance.
Unable to survive the race in the underrated Eastern Conference were the Detroit Pistons and my beloved Orlando Magic, who just parted ways with Rob Hennigan, GM for the last five seasons.
Russell Westbrook was able to turn his predictable tour de force into playoff basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder, taking Dallas’ spot in my spreadsheet.
With the first batch of games concluded, we can adjust our preconceived notions and I’ve divided each teams’ playoff hopes into the following tiers:
We can win the title even if our opponents don’t miss any players
Golden State Warriors
We can get to the finals, but we’d need some injury luck to win the title
San Antonio Spurs
We would need injury luck to get to the finals
Winning 1 series would be great, but surprising
Oklahoma City Thunder
Winning 3 games is our ceiling
Winning 2 games is our ceiling
Portland Trail Blazers
Houston vs Oklahoma City is easily the most exciting first round matchup, featuring the two most viable (and only?) MVP contenders. The Rockets are widely regarded as the better team, but they are still a collection of outcasts improbably maximizing their talent as a unit. In fact, they are the only team that wouldn’t surprise me to witness as 2017 champions, or as first round losers.
The NBA’s puzzling decision to announce the regular season MVP after the playoffs and draft are concluded could blow up in their face, depending on how this series goes. Letting Harden and Westbrook play for the award would have actually been a better idea.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
The Cavs and Pacers went to double overtime late in the season, giving us a nice appetizer for the playoffs and reminding us of how good those Heat (LeBron) vs Pacers (George) series were.
Indiana doesn’t really have a chance, but Paul George has been phenomenal and Myles Turner is a prime candidate to have a breakout series, using his modern bigman skills to bother the doughy Cavs.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 6
Even if there are more compelling series to be played, the Clippers and the Jazz have the closest one and hardest to predict.
LA has been a chemistry mess all year, but had a strong finish to the season, recuperating home court advantage against the young Utah group led by Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward.
With the Warriors looming in the second round, maybe a single series win would be considered successful. For the Clippers, it could mean keeping the Doc-CP3-Griffin-Jordan core intact.
Prediction: Clippers in 7
The Raptors’ struggles in the playoffs are well documented, and this Bucks team would be a dangerous one to come out sluggish against.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a historic season, being the first player ever to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The adequately nicknamed “Greek Freak” would have to establish himself as the best player in the series over DeRozan and Lowry to give the Bucks a chance at advancing.
Raptors GM, Masai Ujiri, was aggressive at the trade deadline and brought in Serge Ibaka, who will have to step up his fading defensive game to contain the Bucks’ rotating cast of bigs.
Prediction: Bucks in 7
Complete first round predictions
Golden State over Portland in 4
San Antonio over Memphis in 5
Houston over Oklahoma City in 6
LA Clippers over Utah in 7
Boston over Chicago in 6
Cleveland over Indiana in 6
Milwaukee over Toronto in 7
Washington over Atlanta in 5