The A-Train here…I want to bring on our NBA contributor Robyn Browning and she has your preview for the upcoming first round of the NBA Playoffs.
The regular season ended on a historic and spectacular note with Golden State setting the record for most wins in the season (73) and Kobe Bryant ending his career with a 60 point effort to defeat the Utah Jazz, thus securing his name as a basketball legend. Now, the playoffs are here and hopefully the NBA will build off the energy of Wednesday night and extend it through the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first-round series in order of seeding.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)
Golden State wins if they keep applying pressure on offense with quick ball movement, pressure defense with closeout double teams, and aggressive rebounding.
Houston wins if they take the red pill from the Matrix and become the team in an alternate reality in which Harden plays defense, more plays are run for Trevor Ariza, and Dwight Howard becomes a 70% free throw shooter.
Players to Watch: Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza
My Pick: Golden State in 4
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8)
Cleveland wins if they become the playoff team we expect them to be. LeBron James will run the point, be efficient from the field, and open up spot-up shooters. Kyrie Irving must contain Reggie Jackson in pick and roll situations.
Detroit wins if they wear down Cleveland through offensive rebounding and pick and roll play with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. They must play with the same confidence and fire that led them to defeat Cleveland during the regular season.
Players to Watch: Andre Drummond and Cleveland’s three-point shooters (JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Kevin Love)
My Pick: Cleveland in 5
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
San Antonio wins if they control the tempo and no one gets hurt.
Memphis wins if they transform into the Monstars from Space Jam.
Players to Watch: Danny Green, Spurs bench, and Jordan Farmar vs. Spurs point guards
My pick: San Antonio in 5
Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)
Toronto wins if they shoot well from the perimeter, drive to the basket, and get to the foul line a lot.
Indiana wins if they win Game 1 and fluster Toronto’s confidence. Indiana’s front court must get Luis Scola and Jonas Valaciunas in foul trouble.
Players to Watch: Toronto’s backcourt vs. Indiana’s frontcourt and DeMarre Carroll (Is he healthy?)
My Pick: Toronto in 5
Oklahoma City Thunder (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)
Oklahoma City wins on talent alone. Russell Westbrook is too much for Deron Williams to handle and Kevin Durant can pour in points by the handful.
Dallas wins if they can contain the Thunder—not outright stop them defensively, outscore them, and coach Rick Carlisle changes the lineup so much that the Thunder stay off balance.
Players to Watch: Wesley Matthews (Can he keep up with Kevin Durant?) and Russell Westbrook (watch for a triple-double game or two)
My Pick: Oklahoma City in 5
Miami Heat (3) vs. Charlotte Hornets (6)
Miami wins if their veterans will use their post-season experience to their advantage and Hassan Whiteside can defend the rim, keep fouls to under control, and wear down Al Jefferson.
Charlotte wins if they forget about the 2013-2014 playoffs when they were swept by the Heat, Kemba Walker’s mid-range game stays great, and Jefferson, Nick Batum, and Marvin Williams lock down Miami defensively.
Players to Watch: Charlotte’s defense and Jeremy Lin and his hair
My Pick: Miami in 6
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Portland Trailblazers (5)
Los Angeles wins if they continue to play with confidence and overpower the Blazers in the post.
Portland wins if Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum break down the Clippers defensively to score inside and outside the paint and set up their teammates for easy shots.
Players to Watch: Lillard vs. Chris Paul (top-notch NBA point guard play) and Clippers bench
My Pick: Clippers in 6
Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Boston Celtics (5)
Atlanta wins if Paul Millsap takes advantage of the Celtic’s frontcourt, especially on pick and roll plays and make the Celtics run half-court offense.
Boston wins if Isaiah Thomas continues to score as he has for over a month, get Atlanta to turn the ball over, and have more points in transition than half-court.
Players to Watch: Isaiah Thomas vs. Jeff Teague/Dennis Schroder (Teague/Schroder turnover-prone & Thomas can capitalize in a major way)
My Pick: Atlanta in 7
You can follow Robyn on Twitter. Her handle is @robynbirdfly.