(8) Chicago over (1) Boston in six games
Biased here as an Iowa State fan but I think Hoiberg and the Bulls can take down Boston. I'm not sold on them as a one seed and for all of Chicago's troubles they have some talent. I'd take Jimmy Butler over Isaiah Thomas any day, so a lot of times basketball comes down to who has the best player. So I'll take the Bulls.
(5) Washington over (4) Atlanta in six games
I don't like Washington not having home-court advantage but I think they are significantly better than Atlanta. Atlanta has a lot of great role players but I'm just not sure who on that team scares me and who is the guy that can take over the last five minutes of a game. You put one star on that lineup and I think they can contend for a title, but without that I don't see them winning in the first round.
(3) Toronto over (6) Milwaukee in five games
I feel like this could be people's trendy upset pick but I think Toronto is going to steamroll through this matchup. I almost picked the Raptors in four games but ultimately decided to give Milwaukee a game on their home floor. Toronto is like a better version of Atlanta, where they have a lot of solid guys but their top guys are significantly better than the Hawks. I don't think Toronto has a superstar on their roster but I do think they have a couple guys, Lowry and DeRozan, that can at least "look like" superstars for lengths of time.
(2) Cleveland over (7) Indiana in seven games
I wish Indiana was playing anyone other than LeBron in the first round. I'd have Paul George carrying them into the next round easily. They were there last year against Toronto in the first round before a pretty big collapse. But you can't really complain about your draw too much when you are the 7th seed and didn't have a playoff spot locked up before the final game of the regular season. So they get LeBron. And the Cavs are reeling a bit going into the playoffs. This will be a good series. You just can't pick against LeBron in the first round though. As much as I want to, I can't.
(1) Golden State over (8) Portland in four games
I'm going to try really hard to find a way not to take Golden State to the NBA Finals or even winning the championship but I think it's going to be hard to do. With Durant back, they are the team to beat in the playoffs. Portland ain't going to be the team to beat them.
(5) Utah over (4) Los Angeles in seven games
Utah is sneaky good. As someone who has watched zero minutes of their season so far this year, I'm confident in saying that. A great team will beat them in a series but it will a great team to do so. I'm not sure the Clippers are a great team. I don't think you can take the Jazz too far in the playoffs with George Hill being their second leading scorer but they are a well-balanced team that be a tough out.
(6) Oklahoma City over (3) Houston in six games
The sexiest series of the first round. May as well call it the Brittany Spears of Round 1.....yeah, she's still got it. But it's Harden vs. Westbrook. Teammates reunited. MVP candidates battling it out to move on. Both of these guys will come in with a chip on their shoulder and will want to prove they are better than the other. So let's just assume those two guys basically cancel each other out. Who gets more support from their teammates? In March, I would have went Harden. Now, I think I go Westbrook. Houston lost Sam Dekker to injury and Oklahoma City gained Doug McDermott via trade. I think that tips the scales to the Thunder's favor.
(2) San Antonio over (7) Memphis
Feels like this should be or even is a down year for the Spurs, and they end up with 61 wins and the two seed in the West. Pretty impressive. Maybe it just feels like it should be a down year to me because all the high school basketball coaches I follow on Twitter apparently got together and decided to stop retweeting their plays and tweeting about how San Antonio was God's gift to basketball. The Spurs went on a 2-3 year stretch there where coaches could tweet or retweet enough Spurs content. Maybe it was Duncan retiring but they were hardly on my Twitter feed at all this year. Not sure how that translates into the NBA Playoffs though I guess.
The Cavs struggled to finish the regular season, really laboring in the final month of the season or so. And it actually really worries me heading into the playoffs. Something just seems off with Cleveland right now, losing games they should win and losing game that they needed to win down the stretch for playoff seeding. I think they still have enough to get through the East but that's not the goal for this team. It's Championships or Bust right now for LeBron. Luckily though, the NBA Finals are still about a month and a half away. Plenty of time for Cleveland to get it's groove back before LeBron goes to his 7th straight Finals. SEVENTH STRAIGHT FINALS APPEARANCE.
I think Golden State will get challenged in the second and third rounds in the West but nothing serious enough to have them losing a series. I think they dodged a small bullet by having Houston end up on the other side of the Western bracket, as they could have potentially given them a scare had they met. I just don't think the Clippers or Jazz have enough in them to beat the Warriors 4 times in a series. And I still fall back on this being a somewhat of a down year for the Spurs. I don't think they have the firepower to take down Durant, Curry, and Thompson four times in a series either. I wouldn't be shocked if it happens by any means, but I'm also not anywhere close to confident enough to pick it....despite how much I'd like it to happen.
This is my pick based on my hope the Cleveland can take the month and a half during their trip through the Eastern Conference to right the ship. If Cleveland vs. Golden State started tomorrow, I think I'd have to take Golden State. But the NBA Finals aren't for another 5-6 weeks. That really is a long time in basketball. Outside of their first round series against Indiana, I'm not sure Cleveland will be really tested before they get to the Finals. Which means they should be rested and ready. So if Cleveland is back to where they should be....I'm confident taking LeBron.
The addition of Durant to the Warriors does change the dynamics of those two teams facing each other. To the dismay of Curry fans, LeBron was always by far the best player on the floor during those previous Cavs/Warriors series. He could dictate a game when needed. With Durant now on the Warriors, LeBron is still the best player on the court but it's not by that wide of a margin. So if that margin shrinks but the Warriors still have Curry/Thompson/Green, it poses a problem for Cleveland. The Cavs will still have Kyrie and Love to try and counteract those three but it's still 2 vs. 3 in that scenario.
Where the Cavs are going to have flourish in this series is when each team goes to their benches and second units. That was the unsung hero for Golden State the past couple years. Despite having studs in Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Draymond their bench and second unit were really good. When their stars rested their second unit maintained their leads. That was something they had to sacrifice to get Durant to sign. They lost some of those pieces and don't have the second unit of years past. Cleveland has to win the battle of the second units to give LeBron a chance in the fourth.
I think they can do that. I think most of these games will be close in the fourth quarter. So then I go with my general rule of thumb for picking NBA series: "Pick the team that has the best player on the court". That's still LeBron. Give me the Cavs.