In ESNY’s 2018 NBA playoffs preview we take a look at whether or not this postseason will be more of the same, or if there will be a new champion to emerge.

For the past three years, the NBA finals have lacked diversity. The Golden State Warriors stranglehold on the West has resulted in two championships sandwiching a legendary Cleveland Cavaliers upset.

But this year looks different. The Warriors are sputtering into the playoffs amid uninspiring play and an injury-riddled superstar in Stephen Curry. While they still look to be the favorite out West, they are as vulnerable as they have been since the start of their dynasty.

Much like the Warriors, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are in uncharted territory. They are the four seed in the East and have dealt with insane roster turnover, awful defense, and inconsistent play from their role players. But they still have the best player on the planet in LeBron James so they’ve got that going for them.

Despite some serious issues, the Warriors and Cavs are still the presumptive favorites to make the Finals. That’s what was expected at the start of the 2017-18 season—and it’s still very likely.


What was wholly unexpected was the meteoric rise of their competition around the league. The Houston Rockets seemed to have found something special with James Harden and Chris Paul playing alongside one another. The Toronto Raptors are out to prove that they aren’t going to be Cleveland’s punching bag forever. The Philadelphia 76ers are well ahead of schedule and their two budding superstars are trusting the process.

One of the biggest criticisms of the NBA is that only a handful of teams have a chance to win the championship. That is a valid criticism, but at the same time, it is more of a validation of the system. In the NBA, the best team wins the championship more than in any other sport. Isn’t that what you want as a fan?

Without further ado, here is your playoff preview with predictions.

Western Conference

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Overview: The Houston Rockets and James Harden dominated the NBA regular season. Harden is likely going to be taking home the MVP after putting up astronomical numbers. The Beard led the league with 30.4 points per game to go along with 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds. After acquiring Chris Paul in the offseason, many questioned whether or not Mike D’Antoni‘s system could accommodate two ball-dominant guards. Well, it worked pretty well during the regular season.

But with this team, there is still a big question mark surrounding whether or not Harden, Paul, and D’Antoni can produce in the playoffs. They’ll have to overcome their demons if they want to make it out of the playoffs with a title.

While the Rockets cruised into the playoffs with a league-leading 65 wins, the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get their 47th win of the season on the last day of the season just to secure the eighth seed.

But don’t let Minnesota’s seeding fool you. Jimmy Butler is the straw that stirs the drink on this team and Tom Thibodeau’s squad floundered without him in the lineup. The T-Wolves were in third place in the West when Butler underwent knee surgery after going down on February 23rd. Minnesota went 8-9 in their next 17 games. They won their final three games of the season following Butler’s return and snuck into the playoffs. They may be the eighth seed, but they play much better than their record with Butler in the lineup.

X-Factor: Karl-Anthony Towns can be a game changer in this series. KAT shouldered the load while Butler was out with injury and without him, Minnesota would be at home watching the postseason once again.

Butler should be able to offset Harden’s production to a certain extent, so if the Timberwolves have any hope of winning this series they will need Towns to win his battle against Clint Capela. Capela and the Rockets dominated Towns and the Timberwolves en route to a 4-0 season series sweep, but regular season games are rarely an indication of how a playoff series will play out.

Towns’ defense has improved this season, but he’s far from where Thibodeau would like him to be. Look for the Rockets to give him a steady diet of high pick and rolls where he will be forced into action against Harden and Paul. If Towns can hold his own on defense, they might have a shot at making this thing interesting.

Biggest Storyline: Mike D’Antoni and Tom Thibodeau attempting to outduel one another will be the biggest storyline of this series. These big name coaches have different reputations when it comes to the postseason. D’Antoni is known as a great regular season coach who regularly underachieves come playoff time, while Thibs was the coach of Chicago Bulls teams that were notoriously tough outs once upon a time.

The T-Wolves were thoroughly dominated by Houston this season, but the playoffs are a whole different animal. If Minnesota is going to have a chance in this one, you can bet that Thibs will be a huge part of that

Prediction: The Rockets will take this one in five games. The Wolves caught a tough break this year with Butler going down at a really bad time. They’re probably capable of making it into the second round against most teams—but the Rockets aren’t most teams.

While this series won’t be enough for Houston to shed their reputation of underachieving in the playoffs, it will be a start. I expect Minnesota to win one game at home, but they will ultimately fall short of where they want to be.

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

(Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Overview: This is the NBA playoffs’ version of the Spider-Man pointing meme. The Golden State Warriors will be without their superstar Stephen Curry—at least for the first round. Curry is dealing with a sprained MCL that is holding him out of action. On the other side, the San Antonio Spurs won’t have former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been dealing with a mysterious quadriceps injury and if he were to play in this series it would truly be a Wrestlemania-type moment.

The difference between the Warriors and Spurs lies in the other guys. Golden State still has three of the best players on the planet in Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. San Antonio has All-NBA worthy LaMarcus Aldridge among an amalgamation of Gregg Popovich-style role players. If the Spurs are going to have any chance in this series, they are going to need big performances out of role players like Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili, and Dejounte Murray.

X-Factor: Kevin Durant needs to step up in Curry’s absence and lead the Warriors. Durant is a matchup nightmare for the Spurs and if he can have a good series, Golden State will win this one going away. Without Leonard, Popovich doesn’t really have anyone who matches up well with Durant.

Biggest Storyline: At least to start the series the biggest storyline will be the injured superstars, but after the first game or two, the focus will shift to the coaching matchup. Popovich and Steve Kerr are two of the best coaches in the league in very different positions.

Kerr is trying to motivate a team that has effectively been in cruise control all season long. Although they are still the presumptive favorite to win it all, there is definitely some concern in the Bay Area.

Conversely, this has maybe been Gregg Popovich’s best coaching performance of his career. He’s gotten the most out of his players and pushed the right buttons when he needed to. If the Spurs can somehow manage to steal an early road game, things will get a little hairy for the defending champs. If there is anyone who can pull off the impossible, it’s Pop.

Prediction: Warriors will take this one home in six games. Pop and the Spurs will manage to win two games against all odds, but in the end, the Warriors will have too much firepower for a Kawhi-less Spurs to overcome.

(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Overview: This may not be the most interesting matchup in the West at first glance, but there is enough star power in this series to make things interesting. Both teams had players that put in MVP-caliber seasons, but will ultimately fall short due to Harden and LeBron’s incredible performances.

Portland’s Damian Lillard and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis are worth the price of admission. While they will play pivotal roles in this series, this series will likely be decided by the other guys on their respective rosters.

Can C.J. McCollum find a rhythm and torch the Pelicans from deep? Will Rajon Rondo come out and be a game-changer in the playoffs just as he’s done his whole career? Which Jusuf Nurkic will show up for Portland.

This series looks like a complete toss-up and it should go to at least six games.

X-Factor: Jrue Holiday might not be the name you were expecting to hear, but he’s been crucial to the Pelicans’ success this season. He gives Alvin Gentry a certain level of flexibility in his lineups. Holiday can run the point, but he can also slide off the ball when Rondo is in the game. These two didn’t see a ton of success when they were on the floor together this season, but everything changes in the playoffs. If they can find a way to coexist, watch out Portland.

Biggest Storyline: This is an easy one. The aforementioned young stars, Lillard and Davis will garner all of the attention. They are both looking to take that next step towards superstardom and a playoff series win would go a long way for both.

On the other hand, a loss for either team will undoubtedly lead to questions. Do they have enough to ever contend for a championship? Will the team’s star player look to get out of town and chase a championship elsewhere?

Prediction: This could very well end up being the most entertaining series of the first round—maybe even the entire playoffs. Lillard and Davis are sure to light it up, but this series will be decided by the other guys. Rondo’s playoff grit, Holiday’s steadiness, and Nikola Mirotic’s ability to stretch the floor will ultimately be the difference.

Dame will probably hit a game-winner at some point, but Davis and the Pelican’s edge out Portland in seven games.

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

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Overview: This is a very interesting matchup between two teams that may not have expected to be where they are right now. The Thunder expected to compete with the Rockets and Warriors at the top of the West, but they struggled at times. The Jazz were five games back of the eighth seed at 19-28 in January before winning 29 of their final 35 games.

The Jazz are the hottest Western Conference team coming into the playoffs and they are looking to continue their hot streak, led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell. After losing Gordon Hayward in free agency no one expected the Jazz to be where they are.

But they’ll be facing a superstar-laden team. Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George have a lot to prove in what may be their only playoff run together.

X-Factor: The Jazz may be led offensively by Mitchell, but they will go as far as Rudy Gobert takes them. Gobert is a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year despite missing a good chunk of the year. But he’s going to have his work cut out for him with the big Australian, Steven Adams. Gobert will need to keep Adams off of the offensive glass as Adams averages five offensive boards per game.

If Gobert gets the better of Adams, the Jazz will have a good shot at winning this series—but if Adams can control the paint on both ends, the Jazz will be facing an uphill battle.

Biggest Storyline: Russell Westbrook. This is a complete no-brainer. Westbrook moves the needle whether you love him or hate him. If the Thunder lose this series it’s because Westbrook is the most selfish player of all time and he’s stealing rebounds and he was the reason KD left and Paul George probably hates him and and and…

Westbrook is a polarizing figure and he will be getting the lion’s share of attention for better or worse. If they’re winning and he’s getting triple-doubles you can bet that a large portion of people will still argue that OKC is winning in spite of him and not because of him.

The guy really can’t win with the public perception—unless of course, he leads the Thunder on a deep playoff run and well, crazier things have happened.

Prediction: The NBA is a star-driven league for a reason. Stars win come playoff time. Despite Westbrook’s flaws, Melo’s decline, and the scintillating play of Spida Mitchell, the Thunder are going to be too much for the Jazz to overcome. I think the Thunder will jump out with two quick victories at home and steal one in Utah. They seal the deal in game five and gear up for a rematch with the team that sent them home in the first round last season.

ESNY’s Colin Krauss contributed the Eastern Conference portion of the preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Overview: The Toronto Raptors finished the season 59-23, while the Wizards finished it out at 43-39. The Raptors turned around their franchise this season, committing to space-and-pace basketball behind the offensive transformation of DeMar DeRozan and their unbelievable bench. The Raptors turned into one of the deepest teams in the league, but the postseason will see reduced minutes for the bench squad that has lit up opponents. Also, Jonas Valanciunas will probably have a smaller role, allowing switchy defenders like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to take over small ball.

The Wizards have had a very strange season. John Wall, the superstar who signed a maximum contract over the summer, missed exactly half of the season. Surprisingly, the Wizards fared well without him, as the offense went from iso-heavy offense driven by Wall to an “everybody eats” mentality. While it was effective with Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky at the helm, the offense clearly needed a boost that Beal couldn’t offer by himself. John Wall has returned for a little over a week of action in the regular season and looked solid, but the team resorted back to more isolation.

The challenge for the Wizards will be finding a way to incorporate a superstar in Wall while remaining a motion offense so that Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr., Markieff Morris, and Mike Scott aren’t marginalized.

X-Factor: John Wall. The superstar point guard needs to buy into the team mentality that helped the Wizards remain afloat when he was out for 41 games. If he is able to limit poor shot selection and move the ball, the series could go seven games, even if they are the eighth seed.

The Raptors defense has fallen off the last month or so, along with weaker offensive dominance. If the Wizards play too much iso, the series will swing towards the regular season death machine that is the 12-deep roster of the Raptors.

Biggest Storyline: The Wizards Chemistry. All season long, the Wizards have had internal turmoil, between John Wall and starting center Marcin Gortat, and between the backcourt duo Wall and Beal. Having negative feelings about teammates off the court, even publicly calling each other out, will bleed into the on-court activity. The Wizards’ margin for error against the Raptors is very slim, and they seem to continue shooting themselves in the foot. It’s also very concerning for Washington that he is the source of most of the negativity.

Prediction: Raptors in five.

Playing in Canada gives the Raptors a great advantage at home, and their squad has been nearly unstoppable this regular season. Combine the reformed games of DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, and the Raptors are similar to the Rockets and Warriors in the way they can morph into any specialty that is needed on the court.

Playing super-big? Play Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Siakam, DeRozan, and Delon Wright. Going small-ball? Play the three-guard lineup with Fred VanVleet, Lowry, DeRozan, OG Anunoby, and Jakob Poltl. The Wizards are deeper than last year, and the staggered minutes between Wall and Beal could help, but this team looks to be scrambling for answers and the clock has wound down. 

NBA

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Overview: The Boston Celtics, 55-27, have been brutally hampered by injury. Gordon Hayward went down six minutes into the season, and he will not play. Kyrie Irving played less than 60 games, and due to discomfort in his repaired knee and a bacterial infection, he is out until the training camp next year. Marcus Smart, one of the best perimeter defenders on earth, is out until at least the second round due to the recovery of a fractured thumb. Young guns Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will go to war with veteran Al Horford against the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Terry Rozier has cemented himself as a starter-level point this season and Marcus Morris has turned himself into a floor-spacing switchable big. Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe have been solid, but can they contain Giannis when he’s sprinting full speed at the rim? After finishing the year 44-38, The Bucks’ injured masses have returned, making them surprisingly deep. Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Eric Bledsoe, and Tony Snell need to play their best defense of the season if they are to win this one. The Celtics defensive system is so sound it seems that it doesn’t matter who is in the game; they will defend anybody successfully.

This series could get ugly. Giannis is by now an MVP-level talent and is simply unstoppable when he attacks the rim. His shot is improving, and his defensive prowess allows him to play 40+ minutes at point-center. He is the only hope for Milwaukee.

X-Factor: Jabari Parker. Parker is arguably the second best offensive player on the Bucks, but his defense is just horrendous. He recently came back from a second torn ACL but appears able to play heavy minutes at this point. Against a Boston team missing its stars, he needs to take advantage of Horford, Baynes, Brown, or Morris with his strength and athleticism.

The Bucks desperately need him to give offensive help to Giannis. He also needs to do whatever he can to step up his defense. Against a system-oriented team like Boston, he will be relentlessly attacked when he is on the court. Playing hard and widening the margin for error might allow Milwaukee to upset the two-seed with the league’s second-best defense. If he plays like a practice dummy on defense, he could very well deserve the Enes Kant-Play-Him treatment. 

Biggest Storyline: Celtics endless army of defense. Having injuries to three key players might hurt most teams, but the Celtics have a magical ability to put any lineup in the game and play exceptional defense. Playing defense with players well out of the household-name category like Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, Greg Monroe, and Aron Baynes might mean trouble for most teams. Not the Celtics.

They are so difficult to score on regardless of who you are. The Bucks are already bad on defense, and their offense is going up against Brad Stevens. Boston’s ability to contain teams will be the most important reason they make it to the second round.

Prediction: Celtics in 6.

The Celtics chug away with a certainty similar to the San Antonio Spurs. They play hard, and the defense will be air-tight. Milwaukee has almost no space for poor play from any rotation player. With disappointing seasons from Thon Maker, Tony Snell, and Malcolm Brogdon combined with defensive coaching strategies that routinely fail, and they won’t make it out of the first round this year unless Giannis channels the MVP potential plus more for Milwaukee. However, the Bucks can steal games at home. The Celtics are depleted and the Bucks have Giannis. A couple of great nights could push them to one or two wins, but the series shouldn’t be lost from Boston’s point of view.

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

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Overview: Oh boy, this is going to be a bloodbath. Two of the league’s most talented defenses spearheaded by two of the league’s best coaches will go toe-to-toe. Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat have some of the most switchy players in the NBA. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, and Bam Adebayo is an imposing defensive lineup. However, Brett Brown and the 76ers are equally as scary.

Sporting a potential small-ball lineup that has four players 6-foot-9 or taller, namely Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, the Sixers are terrifying on both sides of the ball. Here lies the end-all difference between the two teams. The Sixers have the tools to go for 120 points on any given night, and the Heat will most likely not reach that total in any games this postseason. The Heat offense relies heavily on Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Richardson. All of these guys will have a very rough time finding an inch of space against the Sixers, let alone the chance to score.

The matchup potential here is limitless, but the series will effectively boil down to Embiid vaporizing Whiteside, who doesn’t stand a chance against the Process. Simmons has Rookie of the Year bagged up by any objective measure, and could certainly be discussed as an All-NBA Third Team member. Simmons will look to dominate anyone shorter or slower than him meaning James Johnson and Justise Winslow will have the assignments of their lives. Philly has too many excellent players to lose this series, even with Embiid coming back from an orbital bone fracture, wearing a mask. Even Markelle Fultz is somehow making ridiculous progress, showing immense offensive flashes these last few games of the season.

X-Factor: Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons is having maybe the best possible outcome of what this season could have been for him and Philadelphia. The Rookie of the Year conversation is over and he has cemented himself as a top-five facilitator in the league, a top twenty player, and a top ten defender. It’s really unfair, and the lack of a jumper seems to not matter in the slightest. This will be his toughest couple of weeks since entering the NBA. With matchups most likely coming against James Johnson, Winslow, and Kelly Olynyk, he won’t be able to plow his way to the basket as he has for the past couple months. His season averages of roughly 16, 8, and 8 may continue, but a dip in output is almost a guarantee against Miami unless he really is a talent that we’ve never witnessed.

He also has such a healthy pack of teammates that fit his precise needs. Embiid makes them an all-NBA duo. JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, and Robert Covington will be feasting off his beautiful passing talent, and his gravity attacking the basket opens up everything for the offense. He will potentially also guard all of the positions Brett Brown needs him to, something maybe five people on earth can do.

Biggest Storyline: Embiid-Whiteside beef! Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside have been going at it all year, both on the court and off. Twitter is the new battleground for NBA beef. Dating back to the preseason, Embiid and Whiteside have had scuffles, including an in-game play where each received a foul, and Whiteside laughed at Embiid’s attempt at trash talk. After the game, the fight continued: Embiid on Twitter and Whiteside on Snapchat. Whiteside claimed that Embiid had been flopping. Embiid said the Heat needed to take Whiteside out or else he would’ve fouled out. Embiid called Whiteside a softy. Whiteside called out Embiid for playing 31 games in three years.

By now, it’s clear who really impacts the game, and Hassan is probably going to be demolished by the Defensive Player of the Year candidate on both sides of the ball. Embiid is unstoppable, and he will surely let Whiteside know every single chance he gets.

Prediction: Sixers in 5. While the series does seem like it will be competitive on a game-to-game basis, I don’t see how the Heat will win more than a game. The Sixers are on a 16-game winning streak, most of which came without Embiid, their best player, who is set to return very soon. Simmons is playing all-NBA level basketball as a rookie. JJ Redick and Belinelli are fire from downtown. Dario Saric has unexpectedly worked himself from a projected bench player to a cemented starter of the future with his improved shooting, defense, and passing. Markelle Fultz suddenly returned and then recorded the youngest triple-double in NBA history a couple weeks later.

The Heat are simply too raw for the time being. Richardson has only just come to fruition as a two-way stud. Wade is old and will find no room against Philly. Dragic doesn’t have the level of physicality needed to beat Covington or Simmons. Winslow is insanely good at defense, but the offense is far from ready. There’s so little room for them to make their limited offensive scheme work. Sixers in 5. Book it.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Overview: In an unexpected turn of events, the Cleveland Cavaliers have landed in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, lower than most probably would have predicted, even with the roster overhaul. Much more surprising is the fact that the Indiana Pacers have secured the fifth seed. After losing Paul George over the summer, they were projected to be a lottery team. Instead, Victor Oladipo morphed into Paul George, Domantas Sabonis became a beast on offense down low, and Myles Turner improved as a premiere pick-and-pop big, with solid, switchable defensive talent.

The makeup of these two teams is similar. Both sport a high-paced offense with top 10 offensive efficiency and a bottom 10 defensive efficiency (bottom two defensive efficiency for Cleveland). These games have the chance to rank historically high in points scored. Very little defense will be played.

For Cleveland, the Pacers have been a pesky foe all year. Indiana beat Cleveland in November 124-107. Indiana won again 106-102 in December. Indiana again won 97-95 in January. Cleveland got their sole win in late January, 115-108. It’s important to note all four of their games against each other this season were before the blockbuster trade deadline that revamped the Cavaliers. While the season largely was similar for Cleveland even after the trades, it’s undeniable that the team is younger, quicker, better on defense, and happier with its makeup.

Indiana has been led by the lock for Most Improved Player, one Victor Oladipo. He has blossomed into a fantastic player on offense and defense. He shoots threes well, can run the pick and roll, defends better than most, and best of all, he shines in the clutch. He has hit shot after shot with games on the line this season, including a few against Cleveland. LeBron James, however, has been the best clutch player on the planet this season. Cleveland, according to @NBA_Math on Twitter, has outperformed its expected win total by a wide margin this season (which is based on Net Rating, where Cleveland ranks 13th in the league, even though they had the 6th best record in the league). This discrepancy is answered through LeBron being in another universe in the clutch this year.

X-Factor: Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has been essential to the Pacers this season. His spacing and lethal touch from three is far and away a career best. On a team that needs room for Oladipo, Sabonis, and Turner to work, Bogdanovic puts Cleveland in a tough spot. He will probably play 35 minutes per game, and Cleveland’s defense is atrocious. His gravity from the three-point line allows Oladipo to attack at will, especially if Cory Joseph is also on the court.

Oladipo has become so good on offense that if the defenders don’t offer help, he can take on George Hill, Jose Calderon, JR Smith, etc. off the dribble. If someone helps, which they probably will, Bogdanovic will be waiting all day for open threes, which he has been draining over 40 percent of this season. If his shooting is on for several games, Indiana just might make this a six or seven-game first round for the team that stole the championship from Golden State two years ago.

Biggest Storyline: Come on. Was it going to be anything other than Lance Stephenson and LeBron James? This beef goes back all the way to when LeBron took his talents to South Beach. When the Paul George-George Hill-Roy Hibbert Indiana squad was in the playoffs in 2013, Lance notoriously blew in LeBron’s ear. Of course, he was trying his best to rattle LeBron, which proved false and stupid. The Heat would go on to win the series in seven games, but not without Lance doing whatever he could to get in LeBron’s head. Stephenson also gave him a love tap to the chin, among other small transgressions.

Lance has played reasonably well off-the-radar this season, with dribble moves and solid dimes. LeBron is somehow still peaking offensively, though, so Lance will have to attempt these antics at his own risk.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6. The Pacers have outperformed the most optimistic of expectations. Their depth has been solid, and each player has a key role to fill. The only role they don’t have filled is one of the rarest: someone to slow down LeBron. Cleveland may have lost three of four against Indiana this season but those were all three months ago or longer. Cleveland is better. LeBron is better.

These last few weeks of the regular season have spoken volumes on how unguardable LeBron is the second he fully engages. The peskiness of the Pacers will be able to win them a couple games, but the fact that Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Lance, and Glenn Robinson III will need to go toe to toe with James for 40-plus minutes every other night will be the reason Cleveland moves on.

Also, Kevin Love‘s three-point barrage has been absurd since he returned from injury. Playing him at the five may jeopardize rim protection, but if he’s hitting shots, the floor is wide open for LeBron to attack, which is a move Tyronn Lue has been all too eager to push. This is also the case for when any of Rodney Hood, JR Smith, George Hill, Kyle Korver, or Jose Calderon are on the floor. Prepare for some high octane offense.

Are you still with me? Hopefully so because we just broke down what will happen in the Eastern Conference for the first round. But then again, it’s basketball. Anything can happen.

ESNY Staff Picks

Rick Weiner – Editor-In-Chief

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Bucks in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 6
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 5

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Raptors in 6
Bucks v Sixers- Sixers in 7

Conference Finals:

Raptors v Sixers- Raptors in 6

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 4
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 6
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Blazers in 5
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Jazz in 6

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Jazz- Rockets in 5
Warriors v Blazers- Warriors in 6

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Rockets in 7

NBA Finals:

Rockets v Raptors- Rockets in 6

Finals MVP: James Harden

Danny Small – Lead Editor, Knicks Boss

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Celtics in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 5
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 5

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Raptors in 7
Celtics v Sixers- Sixers in 5

Conference Finals:

Raptors v Sixers- Sixers in 6

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 6
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Pelicans in 7
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Thunder in 5

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Thunder- Thunder in 7
Warriors v Pelicans- Warriors in 5

Conference Finals:

Thunder v Warriors- Warriors in 5

NBA Finals:

Warriors v Sixers- Warriors in 4

Finals MVP: Stephen Curry

I think we are in for some excellent early round matchups with some near upsets, but eventually, the Warriors will find their stride and roll to their third championship in four years. The Cavaliers can never get their defense right and finally fall to the Raptors. But the Sixers will shock everyone by making the NBA Finals way ahead of schedule—but unfortunately for The Process, they’ll run into a Golden State team that will be clicking on all cylinders and Steph Curry will shoot his way to his first Finals MVP.

Chip Murphy – Staff Editor, Knicks Boss

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Celtics in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 6
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 4

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Cavs in 5
Celtics v Sixers- Sixers in 6

Conference Finals:

Cavs v Sixers- Cavs in 5

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 4
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 5
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Blazers in 5
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Jazz in 7

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Jazz- Rockets in 5
Warriors v Blazers- Warriors in 6

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Rockets in 7

NBA Finals:

Cavs v Rockets- Rockets in 6

Finals MVP: Chris Paul

Mike D’Antoni, James Harden, and Chris Paul finally get the monkey off their backs with their first NBA Finals win. Harden plays well, but it’s Paul who plays some of the best basketball of his career en route to the third championship in Houston Rockets history. LeBron’s new roster lets him down against the Rockets historic offense. Let the Houston free agency rumors begin.

Geoffrey Campbell – Contributor

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Bucks in 6
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 6
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 6

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Raptors in 7
Bucks v Sixers- Sixers in 5

Conference Finals:

Raptors v Sixers- Raptors in 7

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 5
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Pelicans in 7
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Thunder in 6

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Thunder- Rockets in 6
Warriors v Pelicans- Warriors in 5

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Rockets in 7

NBA Finals:

Rockets v Raptors- Rockets in 6

Finals MVP: James Harden

Unfortunately, this will be fairly anti-climactic. The Rockets will have dispatched their toughest opposition during the previous round. Interestingly enough, statistically, these teams are almost mirrored images of each other. According to NBAstats.com the Rockets and Raptors rank within the top 10 in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Effective Field-Goal Percentage, and True Shooting Percentage. But in the end, the Raptors don’t have James Harden. And despite Harden’s iso-heavy game, he is still one of the more efficient scorers and playmakers in the game. Last year’s playoff exit will still be fresh in mind and doesn’t look like Harden is tired or slowing down anytime soon. The Rockets win in six.

James Harden. Harden shakes off the criticism to average 28 points per game, ten assists, and five rebounds. Harden lifts the Rockets into conversation with the elite, ending the foregone conclusion that the Warriors and Cavaliers are automatically in the finals.

Chris Milholen – Contributor

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Celtics in 6
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 5
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 6

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Cavs in 6
Celtics v Sixers- Sixers in 5

Conference Finals:

Cavs v Sixers- Cavs in 6

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 6
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Blazers in 7
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Thunder in 6

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Thunder- Rockets in 6
Warriors v Blazers- Warriors in 6

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Warriors in 6

NBA Finals:

Cavs v Warriors- Warriors in 6

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant

This will be an interesting postseason for the NBA. The Western Conference will be very intriguing to watch but the Eastern Conference is predictable. LeBron James will carry his Cavaliers to the Finals once again but will fall short to the Warriors due to the tough match-ups for not only James but with the Cavaliers guards. Kevin Durant will be the X-Factor in the finals and win Finals MVP. Warriors will win their second straight title.

Steven Bassin – Contributor

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Celtics in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers in 7
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs in 5

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Cavs in 6
Celtics v Sixers- Sixers in 6

Conference Finals:

Cavs v Sixers- Cavs in 6

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors in 6
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Pelicans in 6
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Thunder in 6

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Thunder- Rockets in 6
Warriors v Pelicans- Warriors in 5

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Warriors in 6

NBA Finals:

Cavs v Warriors- Warriors in 5

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant

Despite all the injuries the Warriors suffered during the second half of the regular season, they find a way to win their second straight NBA championship and third in four years. Steph Curry returns in the playoffs and goes on a shooting hot streak to lead Golden State to the finals. Kevin Durant puts on an encore from last year’s NBA Finals, upstaging LeBron James again to win his second NBA title. James puts on one of the best postseason performances in NBA history to lead the Cavaliers back to the finals. He doesn’t though have enough help in the finals to surpass the Warriors and drops to 3-6 in his NBA Finals career.

Colin Krauss – Contributor

First Round:

(1) Toronto Raptors v (8) Washington Wizards- Raptors
(2) Boston Celtics v (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Celtics
(3) Philadelphia 76ers v (6) Miami Heat- Sixers
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers v (5) Indiana Pacers- Cavs

Conference Semis:

Raptors v Cavs- Cavs
Celtics v Sixers- Sixers

Conference Finals:

Cavs v Sixers- Cavs

Western Conference

First Round:

(1) Houston Rockets v (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- Rockets
(2) Golden State Warriors v (7) San Antonio Spurs- Warriors
(3) Portland Trail Blazers v (6) New Orleans Pelicans- Blazers
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder v (5) Utah Jazz- Jazz

Conference Semis:

Rockets v Jazz- Rockets
Warriors v Blazers- Warriors

Conference Finals:

Rockets v Warriors- Rockets

NBA Finals:

Cavs v Rockets- Cavs

Finals MVP: LeBron James

The Warriors will be hampered by Curry’s multiple injuries and lose to the Rockets in a seven-game series. The Cavs will edge out the Sixers in a close seven-game series in the East. The Cavaliers will win their second title in three years after LeBron dominates and Houston has no answer for him.

ESNY City Stream

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU