The 2015 NBA playoffs are here, and Chaminade High School writers Connor Hoyt (’15), Matt Patterson (16′), and Alec Neimand (16′) make their picks for the first edition of round-by-round predictions.
No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
Hoyt: Warriors in 5- Though there is little disparity amongst the majority of the playoff teams out west, I can’t see a scenario in which the Pelicans give the Warriors a first round scare. This year’s Warriors team is eerily reminiscent of the Nuggets team that they beat in the first round in 2013.
However, this Warriors team has a proven closer in Curry, unlike that Nuggets team that faltered down the stretch. I give the Pelicans one game here merely because of Anthony Davis’ unprecedented play this season and the Warriors’ failure to adequately match up with him from a pure physical standpoint, but I think that Monty Williams’ reliance on Davis could be a dangerous game against such a deep and talented Golden State team. That being said if the Pelicans can retain a core of Jrue Holiday and Davis, they will certainly be back in the playoffs for years to come (barring any sort of health issues for Holiday, which as we all know, has been commonplace in these last few seasons).
Look for this series to be surprisingly entertaining. Even though everyone wanted to see Warriors-Thunder and watch Curry and Russell Westbrook go at it, I think that it will be just as fun watching Davis impose his will on the undersized Warriors. In the end, Davis will turn some heads, but Golden State will be too much for this inexperienced Pelicans squad.
Patterson: Warriors in 5- The Pelicans made a statement in their win against Golden State on April 7th, showing that this 1-8 matchup will be no walk in the park. A 4-1 victory does not sound like a close series, but there is no question that the Pelicans will be in every game, given that they are finally healthy and are riding momentum going into the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see who guards Anthony Davis late in games, as Draymond Green is listed at only 6’7”. One big issue for the Pelicans will be that Davis will have to be aware of the outside shooting of Green and Marreese Speights, who has proven to be a knock-down mid-range shooter this season. It’s great to finally see this Pelicans team gel together, and even better, we will see Davis’ first playoff appearance. However, this Golden State team is far too deep to be on upset alert in the first round.
Neimand: Warriors in 5- Thanks to Kevin Durant’s injuries and Scott Brooks’ questionable coaching decisions, we are finally getting to see Anthony Davis in the playoffs, so we should be very excited. Expect this matchup to be one of the best all year, with two top five players squaring up against in each other. The best power forward in the league in Davis will be matched up with defensive player of the year candidate Draymond Green. Stephen Curry will abuse Eric Gordon’s injury prone ankles, and it might just be my affinity for mediocre foreign centers, but Andrew Bogut and Omer Asik battling out the whole series will be awesome.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, as exciting as this series will be, I don’t see them stealing more than one game. The Warriors just have too much fire power on their team to be taken past 5 games. So unless Jimmer Fredette brings back his old BYU postseason magic for New Orleans, this series will end rather quickly.
No. 2 Houston Rockets vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
Hoyt: Rockets in 7- Expect this to be one of the more underwhelming matchups in the first round, by the West’s standards, that is. Houston is riddled with injuries (Patrick Beverely and Donatas Motejunas are both out for the season while Dwight Howard has been sparingly available as of late). However, Dallas has struggled since the Rajon Rondo trade. When your starting point guard and head coach simply cannot get on the same page, you’re simply bound for trouble in the playoffs and this case shouldn’t be any different.
Watch out for the Mavs to make this a close series by virtue of Howard’s limited minutes and a Chandler Parsons who I expect to be rejuvenated and ready to take on his former team. I have to give the nod to who I think should be the MVP in James Harden though as the Rockets will simply be too much for Dallas in the fourth quarter with Harden making plays and closing games as only he knows how.
Patterson: Mavs in 7- This is one of the tougher series’ to predict, given both of these teams have dealt with major injuries over the second half of the season. Devin Harris and Chandler Parsons are both expected to play in Game 1, and Dwight Howard is supposedly getting back to 100%. Things haven’t gone great for the Mavs since the Rondo trade, but I believe we will see some vintage Rondo in this first round matchup.
When it comes to down to it, the Rockets are a one-man team, that lives and dies from the three-point line, two recipe’s for disaster in playoff basketball. If Parsons is healthy, the Mavs should be able to throw several players at Harden over the course of the game. Monte Ellis is an inconsistent player, but when he is on, he is one of the most unstoppable offensive threats in the league. I expect Ellis to give Harden a run for his money as the best shooting guard in this series.
Neimand: Rockets in 6- Hey, remember when everyone thought the Mavericks were becoming a title favorite when they acquired Rajon Rondo? To be honest, I was a fairly big advocate for that, and I could not have been any more wrong. Since acquiring Rondo, Al-Faroq Aminu is the only player who has not had his Plus/Minus decrease, which really is not a great advertisement for Rondo’s max contract (lucky for him Jim Buss still makes decisions for the Lakers).
Upside for the Mavericks though, Rockets Patrick Beverly and Donatas Montejunas are out for the season, and while Josh Smith and Terrence Jones can fill in nicely for Montejunas, Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni are Houston’s last hopes at point guard, both not being very enticing options. Expect James Harden to be the main ball handler, and the MVP candidate should carry his dominance into the postseason and lead the Rockets past the Mavericks.
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 San Antonio Spurs
Hoyt: Spurs in 7- Can I call this an upset? The Clippers finished a mere game better than the defending champs and yet they wrapped up a matchup with San Antonio on the last day of the season as the Spurs fell from the second seed to the sixth after one loss— thank you uber-competitive Western Conference! Nonetheless, I’ve learned to not doubt Pop and the oldies in the playoffs. Both teams are peaking at the right time, so this should be a great matchup. This is so much more than a first round playoff series: it’s old vs. new, pretty vs. fundamental. The Spurs do the little things, whereas the Clips want to get out in transition and push the ball for easy alley-oops.
As we’ve seen in the Clippers’ most recent playoff appearances, they’ve struggled to score in the half-court offense and their defense is far too inconsistent to make a dent in San Antonio’s well-oiled offensive machine. And so once again, I think that the most talented team in the NBA will have an early exit in the playoffs which will surely lead to some tough decisions this summer for Doc Rivers and the brass of the organization. For the sake of the NBA, we can only hope that they won’t make a hasty decision to blow up a team that has been on the cusp of a championship for the last couple of years now. Still, it’s not their time yet.
Patterson: Spurs in 6- The two hottest teams heading into the playoffs. Arguably the best month long stretch in Clippers history bought them a meeting with the defending champions. Two key Spurs advantages in this series will be depth and experience. Patty Mills is starting to look like last year’s Finals hero, and Boris Diaw has picked up his game as of late. The Clippers bench got worse and worse as the season went, mainly because of the disappointing play of Spencer Hawes. However, Chris Paul knows that his prime is coming to an end, and if there was ever a time to win, it’s now. Between Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Paul will have to work for every bucket he scores in this series. I’m still not sold on Chris Paul’s ability to produce in the playoffs, and I think Tony Parker will prove to everybody that he hasn’t gone away just yet.
DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting will be huge in this series. The Clippers can’t afford to have him on the bench late in ball games, and given Popovich’s history, the hack-a-Shaq strategy will be in play. The biggest mismatch in this series is at the small forward position. A young Kawhi Leonard, playing the best ball of his career, will have his way against Matt Barnes. A deciding factor in this series, and potentially the whole playoffs, will be the Spurs execution late in games. Manu has lost is edge as a go-to option down the stretch, so it will come down to Kawhi Leonard, and his ability to get his own shot. If the Spurs can score efficiently late in close games, they should have no problem getting back to the Western Conference Finals.
Neimand: Spurs in 7- The series that has every Laker fan in Los Angeles is rejoicing. This is the one matchup that the Clippers could have gotten as a three seed and still be looked as underdogs. Los Angeles has quietly put up the second best offense in the NBA, however they have put up a below league average defense and they are playing the indestructible Spurs.
There is just no way you can beat against the Spurs in the playoffs. San Antonio is a well-oiled machine ran by a mastermind in Gregg Popovich. Not only do they boast arguably the most experienced big three of all time in Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, they also are on the rare situation where their young star player Kawhi Leonard is already a Finals MVP. This series will be a long, fantastic battle and when it is all said and done.
No. 4 Portland Trailblazers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies (Memphis has home-court advantage)
Hoyt: Grizzlies in 6- To put it shortly, this one’s going to be a bloodbath. The Blazers got a taste of postseason success last year and they’ll surely be motivated to get more than a taste this year. While they are the tallest team in the NBA, the Blazers will struggle with Memphis’ gritty play and toughness. With Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum’s statuses in question and their best perimeter defender in Wesley Matthews out for the season, the Blazers will be bullied all over the court. They won’t be able to play the poetic basketball that they have made all their own, but with Nick Calathes getting significant minutes due to Mike Conley’s foot and Tony Allen’s status up in the air, Damian Lillard should have a field day or two.
Unfortunately, both teams are far from 100%, but I can’t see guys sitting out with injuries that aren’t too serious at this point in the season. However, Memphis is far more accustomed to playing hurt and playing tough than is Portland; Memphis relies on “Big-Boy Ball.”
Patterson: Trailblazers in 6- Both of these teams looked like title contenders at the All-Star break, but injuries have riddled these rosters. The Wesley Matthews injury was a killer, pretty much ending Portland’s title chances. Memphis was healthy for much of the season, but recent injuries to Mike Conley and Tony Allen make this Memphis team very weak in the back-court. It is uncertain whether the two will play in Game 1.
Without Conley, the Memphis offense won’t be able to keep up with Portland’s balanced attack of Lamarcus Aldridge surrounded by shooters. If Conley and Allen miss a game or two, Portland can potentially steal both games in Memphis, going back home with a 2-0 lead. I expect Damian Lillard to be the man in this series, mainly because Lamarcus Aldridge will have his hands tied with Z-Bo and Marc Gasol all game long.
Neimand: Trailblazers in 6- Blazer fans better hope Geoff Clark, the NBA athletic trainer of the year, can start working some magic. Portland has already lost Wes Matthews, their best shooter and perimeter defender, to a torn Achilles. Now their replacement for Matthews, Arron Afflalo, is unsure if he will play with a shoulder injury. Chris Kaman is out with a back injury for Wednesday, and Nicolas Batum and C.J. McCollum will be playing through their respective injuries.
The Grizzlies are not off the hook for injuries either. Both Tony Allen and Mike Conley, are questionable for game one. Once this series gets into about game 3 or 4, all players should be back healthy, and these two teams are pretty evenly matched. I just can not bet against Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and if Nicolas Batum remembers that only a year ago he was a legit basketball player, Portland will advance.
No. 1 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 8 Brooklyn Nets
Hoyt: Hawks in 4- Are the Hawks playing their best basketball right now? Not a chance. But this matchup is simply too favorable for Atlanta, who should quickly dispatch a Brooklyn team that is all but in ruins. This Nets team is floating through mediocrity and is headed nowhere. They do no one thing well, something the Hawks will surely capitalize on. Honestly, the most interesting storyline of this series is the fact that Joe Johnson is playing against his old team. Mikhail Prokhorov is looking forward to the offseason so he can blow up the monster that he’s made in Brooklyn.
Patterson: Hawks in 4- It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Paul George and the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs, because they would have given the Hawks all they could handle. Brook Lopez’s recent play is what got the Nets this far, but that will not be enough. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are both hit or miss at this point in their careers. The Hawks locked up the number one seed a long time ago, and enter the playoffs rested, and ready to make some noise. Don’t expect any of these games to come down to the wire.
Neimand: Hawks in 4- Why, oh why are the Nets in the playoffs? They do nothing exciting enough to entertain a casual basketball fan, and they do nothing technical enough to make a basketball purist happy. Do we really need to see this team of heavily overpaid mediocre players play 4 more games? Forget the Hawks losing one of their best perimeter defenders in Thabo Sefolosha and the off the court issues that have come along with that. None of that is enough to even deter Atlanta from sweeping the lowly Nets.
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
Hoyt: Cavs in 5- The fact that Boston is back in the playoffs will draw some interest, especially in a series against its old nemesis in LeBron James. Also, can we please applaud Brad Stevens for being an absolute genius? The fact that this team finished 40-42 (even in the depleted East) is a miracle in itself and he should draw significant consideration for coach of the year honors.
However, luckily for the Cavaliers, the game is won on the court in which case the Cavs will thrive in this series as the far more talented team. Kyrie Irving and a misused and misunderstood Kevin Love will both be making their playoff debut. Thankfully for them though, they should be able to get their feet wet against a Celtics team that is simply excited to be in the playoffs. I trust LeBron’s leadership and his ability to make everyone around him a better player in the playoffs; he is a completely new beast come April and I expect more of the same from him here.
Patterson: Cavs in 4- Stephen Curry, the ride has been fun as the league’s top player, but it’s playoff time so step aside. LeBron James has been waiting for this moment all season. He has his hometown team in the playoffs, and he is about to take over. James is a different animal in the playoffs, as are most of the all-time greats. The Celtics best bet to guard James will be Jae Crowder, who is still giving up about three inches and 25-30 pounds.
The Celtics have been the best story in the NBA this season, going from a lottery team to a playoff team with some potential. However, all potential is erased in the playoffs when you are facing LeBron James and company. I expect Kyrie Irving to respond well to his first look at NBA playoff basketball, as he has always loved the spotlight. The tandem of Kyrie and LeBron will be way too much for the young Boston Celtics.
Neimand: Cavs in 5- Okay, I am admittedly an extremely biased Celtics fan, so I will start off with my completely biased prediction where the Celtics win in 7 games and Isaiah Thomas averages 40+ points a game, and Marcus Smart completely shuts down Kyrie Irving. Coming back to reality, there really is no way Celtics win this series, and it is pretty obvious why when you take a look at the type of basketball the Cavs have been playing.
Boston is a better team than people think though. Isaiah Thomas has been dominating since coming in from Phoenix, and is the possible sixth man of the year. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley have been leading a top 3 defense since the All-Star break, and Brad Stevens is a Coach of the Year candidate. When it is all said and done, these Celtics are going to fight and claw, just like they did to get into the playoffs, to steal a game from the Cavs.
No. 3 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
Hoyt: Bulls in 5- “Once Chicago gets healthy, they’re legitimate contenders.” “Just wait until they get healthy!” “If Derrick Rose comes back, don’t sleep on them!” Well, here we are— the Bulls have finally healed and they face a team that has lost 18 of its last 28 games and is missing Brandon Knight dearly. Jason Kidd has done a marvelous job in his second coaching season, taking the worst team in basketball a year ago to the playoffs. Derrick Rose was eased back into his return (for what seems like the 15th or so time that’s happened), and looked rusty in the process.
Nonetheless, I think a struggling Derrick Rose is absolutely a serviceable point guard and he should only grow more comfortable as the playoffs drag on. Hopefully Rose can get back on his feet because despite Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol’s extraordinary passing ability for big men, he is the offense’s catalyst and in Thibodeau’s stagnant offensive system, any firepower is appreciated. Think of this as a trial run for the Bulls, a practice round.
Patterson: Bulls in 4- The fact of the matter is that the Bucks have basically no playoff experience on their roster, and are limited on talent. Derrick Rose will be out to prove to people that he isn’t just a shell of his old self. The Bulls are finally healthy, and with Aaron Brooks playing great off the bench, this team is looking solid all around.
Jason Kidd has been spectacular this season, taking a team who is without Jabari Parker to the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo will play under the spotlight. I expect the Bulls to finally put all of the pieces together, and make a deep playoff push. The Bucks shouldn’t be much of an issue for Coach Thibodeau and company.
Neimand: Bulls in 5- At first glance, this series may not seem as great as it actually is. It is a Bulls team trying to overcome injuries up against a Bucks team that has been slipping since trading away their best player in Brandon Knight for a younger, more raw Michael Carter-Williams. The series gets a whole lot better though when you remember that all those Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packer fans that absolutely despise each other are the same fans in this series. The only reason there has never been anything about this Bulls-Bucks rivalry is because the last time the Bucks were decent was back in the early 2000s when they had Ray Allen and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, and at that time, the Bulls were fighting to break 25 wins on the season. It gets even more enticing when you realize that the United Center and the BMO Harris Bradley Center are only 90 minutes away from each other. That means every night, both arenas will be packed to watch two rivals battle.
The Bucks have two major issues coming into this series though, they have an extreme lack of playoff experience and the Bulls just have so much to prove. Derrick Rose is trying to prove that he can get back to his dominate form, and Tom Thibodeau needs to prove to the front office that hates him so much that they would be dumb to let go of a top 10 coach in the NBA. Jason Kidd is a pretty good coach too though, and this Bucks team is resilient, so they are not to be underestimated and could definitely steal a game or two, but when it’s all said and done, I’m going with Chicago.
No. 4 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards
Hoyt: Raptors in 7- Ah yes, an entertaining series! These two are pretty evenly matched and I’m ecstatic to see the backcourt battle of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan vs. John Wall and Bradley Beal; it’ll be quite the treat. Washington is built well with an underrated Marcin Gortat and a wily veteran in Paul Pierce to accompany the league’s 10th best defense. However, I give the slight edge to the Raptors because they have the best home-court advantage of any team in the playoffs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRCn4eKAUF4
In a battle of some of the league’s best backcourts, I’ll take the NBA’s 4th best offense in Toronto over Randy Wittman’s stagnant, poor, poor excuse for an offensive system.
Patterson: Wizards in 6- The two best backcourts in the Eastern Conference should make for a great show-down between in this intriguing 4-5 matchup. I’m going with the Wizards for two reasons: John Wall and Paul Pierce. DeRozan and Beal is pretty much an equal battle, but I believe that Wall will outperform Lowry, and prove his true superstar status.
Pierce’s playoff experience and clutch gene should give the Wizards an advantage in close games. The frontcourt is pretty much an equal matchup, and the Raptors have the better bench with Lou Williams. Wall’s successful season has been because of his passing, but I believe at some point in this series his ability to get to the basket will break apart the Raptors defense, and advance Washington to the second round.
Neimand: Raptors in 4- Two words should make Raptors fans feel at ease about this series: RANDY WITTMAN. In my opinion, Randy Wittman is the worst coach in the NBA. He has walked off the court before the Wizards’ final shot went up, he seems to talk to the refs more than he talks to his players, and his only solution to Washington’s horrible floor spacing issues has been using Drew Gooden as a spot up shooter.
The players do not trust Wittman, Wittman does not trust the players, and there is no way a team can win a playoff series like that, which really makes me sad because John Wall, Paul Pierce, and many other players on this team deserve much better. As long as Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry keep playing well, the Raptors should have no issue in this series.
Enjoy the first round of the NBA playoffs, and come check back later for our second round predictions!