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2016 NBA Playoffs Previews and Predictions: 1st Round

How much pressure can the Golden State Warriors handle heading into the playoffs, looking to defend their championship? Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers all look capable of dethroning the 73-win indestructible force in a seven game series. But only one of those select teams have a legitimate chance at doing so.

The San Antonio Spurs have what is needed to knock off the Warriors, but it might not even be enough to return to the promise land. Would the Spurs be able to contain the Warriors’ 3-point explosions that happen every other possession? Can anyone beat Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors? Is it a forgone conclusion that the Warriors will repeat as champions? There’s only one way to find out: LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

First off, the Golden State Warriors will host the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Dwight Howard. This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, in which the Warriors won in five games in order to advance to the NBA Finals. During the regular season, the Warriors had no problem against last year’s runner-up in the Western Conference, winning all four regular season matchups.

Game 1 of this playoff series was this April 17, with the Warriors showing no signs of taking it easy on their opponent. They demolished the Rockets 104-78, convincing the basketball world that they are prepared to make another run at the championship with no lapse in focus.

However, an apparent injury to the reigning MVP, Stephen Curry, could derail plans of this being a quick and painless four-game sweep for the defending champs. Curry scored all 24 of his points in the 1st half, before making his exit in the 3rd quarter and did not return. Fortunately for Curry, he really didn’t need to come to his team’s rescue (when does he ever, though). Game 2 is on April 18th at Oracle Arena, with Curry listed as “questionable” heading into the game according to his coach, Steve Kerr. This shouldn’t stop the momentum that the Warriors have already going for them, so I’m still going to stick to my original prediction of a 4-0 sweep for the Warriors over the Rockets, with or without Steph’s services.

The Spurs and Grizzlies series will be an ugly, grit and grind showdown that all fans expect. The only problem is that the Grizzlies are missing their star center, Marc Gasol, due to a broken leg and point guard, Mike Conley, due to an achilles injury, so it will most likely just be the Spurs doing the “grit and grinding” this time around. Both Gasol and Conley combine for the Grizzlies’ 42 points out of a total 74 points per game. That’s not good news for the banged up Grizzlies, who lost all four regular season meetings to San Antonio and fell to the Spurs 106-74 in Game 1 of their playoff series on April 17.

The Spurs should look at the rest of this series as a prep and confidence booster for their 2nd round date with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are playing the Dallas Mavericks in their respective 1st round series, and are heavy favorites to sweep Dallas. I’m going with another sweep out West, 4-0 Spurs.

Oklahoma City, oh man. I have my doubts about this team heading into these playoffs. They have blown 14 games this season in which they had the lead heading into the 4th quarter. But against an aging Dallas Mavericks squad, they should be in perfect position to exercise their dominance and move on to San Antonio with no problem, as well. The Thunder have squandered their fair share of 4th quarter leads during the regular season, more than our fingers can count.

In contrast, they looked superior against the Dallas Mavericks in the regular season and in game 1 of their playoff series on April 16th. The Thunder brought the Chesapeake Energy Arena down on the Mavericks, winning 108-70, opening up the game on an early 9-0 run that Dallas could never recover from. But, hey Mavs fans, I have the utmost respect for their coach, Rick Carlisle, and Hall of Fame superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, so, I will give the Mavericks one game in this series. You’re welcome. The Thunder will close this series out in five games (losing one in Dallas), 4-1.

The last Western Conference series is a toss up between the resilient Portland Trail Blazers and the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams have had their own demons to fight off this season, making it remarkable that they both landed where they did in the standings.

For the Clippers, they lost their star power forward, Blake Griffin, on Christmas night, during a game against the woeful Los Angeles Lakers. He tore his quad during the game. Griffin also broke his hand due to an altercation with a staff equipment manager days after. This all resulted in a three and  half month period of Chris Paul carrying the Clippers to a top four seed and they earned home-court advantage for the 1st round against a team that wasn’t predicted to make the playoffs in the first place.

The Trail Blazers were staring at a season of turmoil when their star player, LaMarcus Aldridge, took his talents to the Southwest division-winning Spurs this past offseason. The only people who believed in the Blazers making noise during the 2015-16 campaign was their coach, Terry Stotts and their star point guard, Damian Lillard. During the regular season, the Clippers handled the Blazers 3-1.This ended up giving the Clippers a winning psychological edge over the Blazers. Lillard and Stotts got the Blazers not only to the playoffs, but a top 5 seed within their conference. Impressive, to say the least. Lillard performed at a respectable level last night in game 1 against the Clippers, scoring 21 points and dishing out eight assists. As a result, the Clippers prevailed, winning 115-95 and take a 1-0 series lead. I predict nothing less nor nothing more of the Clippers winning this series 4-2 because of Lillard’s big heart and competitive nature.

Now, out East, it’s LeBron James and his Cavaliers taking on the Detroit Pistons in the one versus eight pairing. During the regular season, the Pistons handled the Cavaliers with ease, taking the season series 3-1. What fans might not know is that both squads were only at complete strength in two of those four meetings, seeing the Cavaliers and Pistons split those games 1-1. That’s not to take away from the Pistons’ ability to come out on top against the Cavs when the games count, but, let’s face it: LeBron stands in their way.

On April 17th, in Game 1, the Pistons shot lights out from 3 point territory, taking a 58-53 lead into halftime. It looked promising that the young, hungry group was going to steal home court advantage from the dominant Cavaliers midway through the 4th quarter, when late-game execution and tempers flaring derailed the task at hand. James, Irving, and Love all scored over 20 points to lead Cleveland past the Pistons 106-101 and have a 1-0 series lead. I’m foreseeing a 4-1 Cavaliers series win (losing one in Detroit) because the “king” himself, LeBron, knows that the Cavaliers will need to rest up for their 2nd round opponent: the Hawks or the Celtics.

The Toronto Raptors have had the best season their franchise has ever had, winning a total of 54 games during the regular season. They were able to capture the number two seed in the Eastern Conference and come into these 2016 playoffs with a nagging chip on their shoulder. The Raptors have been eliminated in the 1st round of the playoffs for the past two seasons, surrendering home court advantage both times. It looks like this year might not be that much different as the favored Raptors lost Game 1 of their playoff series to Paul George and the Indiana Pacers on April 16th. George scored 27 of his total 33 points in the 2nd half of the opener, leading his underdog Pacers to a shocking 100-90 win and grant his team home court advantage for the rest of the series. If the Raptors are going to resurrect their success over this Pacers team (taking three out of four matchups in the regular season), leaders Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to step up their games on the offensive and defensive ends. Lowry scored only 11 points on 3-13 shooting (1-7 from three-point range) in Game 1 while his backcourt teammate DeMar DeRozan added 14 points on an inefficient 5-19 shooting performance. When all’s said and done with this series, the Raptors, along with Kyle and DeMar, will eventually move beyond the 1st round of the playoffs by beating Paul George’s Pacers 4-1, a quick one, and set up a date with Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat.

The Miami Heat has missed all-star power forward Chris Bosh on the court, but that hasn’t stopped the team from being legit threats to the Cavaliers’ reign on top of the Eastern Conference. Franchise-leader Wade has been there through the ups and downs of the Heat’s seasons since 2003 and has never left them. That’s not about to change now. The Miami Heat have assembled a veteran talented roster in the wake of Bosh’s unfortunate leave of absence by acquiring Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson to pair with youngsters Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson to have a balanced attack of players to take down the Cavaliers. Their 1st round opponent, the Charlotte Hornets, have other plans as they look to knock off Wade and company in this three seed going up against the sixth seed matchup.

The Heat and Hornets split their regular season series at 2-2, with each team winning once on the other’s home court. However, on April 17th, it showed that Miami is way above the Hornets in preparation and strategy, as the Heat stung the Hornets 123-91 to take a 1-0 series lead. Deng was the star of the game, tallying 31 points in the dominant win. Yes, I do believe that the Hornets will bounce back in this series, but ultimately fall to defeat to the Heat 4-2.

Did the Hawks reach 60 wins this season? No. Did they have four all-stars? No. Are they still as dangerous, if not more, than a year ago? Yes, they are. The Hawks host the Celtics as the fourth seed will be going up against the fifth seed. The Hawks won  Game 1 in a thriller that went down to the final buzzer, 102-101, and don’t look to stop with Game 2 right around the corner. Their leaders, point guard, Jeff Teague, and center, Al Horford, have led this year’s Hawks with the assistance of  sharp- shooter Kyle Korver and mid range shooter Paul Millsap. What favors the Hawks in this matchup is the simple fact of experience that runs all down this roster. Horford and Teague were the driving force that led the Hawks to a Game 1 victory and I expect nothing to change for the remainder of this series.

The Celtics lost their best defender in Game 1, Avery Bradley, due to a strained hamstring. He is unlikely to suit up for the Celtics for the rest of this series, benefitting the Hawks’ chances of making this a quick series. I got the Hawks moving on to play the Cavaliers in Round 2 by beating the young, injured Celtics 4-0.

I can’t wait to see how the 1st round shapes out in the end. Hopefully,  I am correct in all of my predictions (at least with my teams). Happy playoffs, NBA fans.

About Nicholas Katsadas

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