By Danny Dragin
The NBA season is over and the matchups are set. WEEI.com’s Danny Dragin has moved on to the next phase of his weekly power rankings — capsule previews and predictions for the first round of the playoffs.
1. Toronto Raptors (59-23) vs. 8. Washington Wizards (43-39)
The squads split during the regular season, but Washington played the last game without star point guard John Wall, who missed more than half the season with a knee injury. The explosive Wall is back, but will he be enough to overcome Toronto’s tremendous depth? Nah.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
2. Boston Celtics (55-27) vs. 7. Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)
For people to say that the Celtics will undoubtedly get knocked out of the first round is completely blasphemous (insert Stephen A. Smith gif). They split during the regular season, and even without Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, the C’s nearly won their last meeting. Despite losing Kyrie, Gordon Hayward, and Smart, the Celtics manage to win against good teams, both in the East and the West. The Celtics definitely don’t have an easy task in front of them, but as a great man once said, anything’s possible.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
3. Philadelphia 76ers (52-30) vs. 6. Miami Heat (44-38)
Ever since No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz returned, the Sixers have been on fire. They closed the season with 16 straight wins and then they pulled the unheralded Heat in the first round. The Heat’s best hope might be forcing a Game 7 and then hoping for some Kelly Olynyk magic.
Prediction: Sixers in 6
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32) vs. 5. Indiana Pacers (48-34)
All three of Indy’s wins against the LeBrons came before the Feb. 8 trade deadline when the Cavs essentially remade their roster. Victor Oladipo looks like a clear-cut winner of most improved player, but unfortunately on the other side of the ball is the best player in the world, LeBron James, who knows how to win in the postseason.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 5
1. Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. 8. Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
In what could be one of the more interesting series of the playoffs, don’t count out the Timberwolves. Everyone knows the playoffs is all about matchups and the Wolves shouldn’t be as overwhelmed as the records suggest. Bench play will be the deciding factor, and Houston definitely has the upper hand in that case.
Prediction: Rockets in 7
2. Golden State Warriors (58-24) vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs (47-35)
Neither team is at 100 percent with Steph Curry out for at least the first round and Kawhi Leonard still a big question mark. The Spurs own the coaching advantage and LaMarcus Aldridge has been balling out of his mind. The Warriors took three of four during the season, but if Leonard returns then this series could be a toss-up.
Prediction: Warriors in 6 (If Leonard plays, Warriors in 7)
3. Portland Trail Blazers (49-33) vs. 6. New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)
Portland can be an extremely deadly on the offensive side of the ball and the Pelicans obviously aren’t at full strength due to DeMarcus Cousins’s season-ending Achilles injury. Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis embarked on streaks which put each in the MVP conversation. Lillard has played the best basketball of his career.
Prediction: Portland in 6
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) vs. 5. Utah Jazz (48-34)
The Thunder are the ideal playoff team and they pulled the ideal opponent in the first round in the upstart Jazz, who lost Gordon Hayward in free agency and then didn’t miss a beat thanks to the brilliance of rookie Donovan Mitchell. The playoffs are all about matchups and once the Thunder get into a rhythm with Mr. Triple Double Russell Westbrook and Paul George, they’re a hard team to stop.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
Full article @ NBA Playoff Power Rankings: Predicting the first round, and Celtics will be happy
Source: GreenStreet Blog