Hear Me Out...The most courageous 2019 NBA playoff predictions
April 11, 2019
Trying to save some words, so I'm going to make this intro quick. The NBA playoffs start this week and with this weather storm bumping up our deadline. I'm not going to be able to breakdown each playoff matchup because seeding was still up in the air as I was writing this. (If Detroit gets eliminated, they're forever dead to me and I hope all the bad sports things happen to them and only them.)
Instead, I broke down the 16 remaining teams into five categories, which are all pretty self-explanatory. Then at the end are my predictions for the conference finals and Finals.
CONGRATS, YOU'VE MADE THE PLAYOFFS! NO MATTER HOW BADLY YOU GET BEAT, GETTING HERE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT
San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich is still the best coach in the NBA and there's a lot of data out there to back it up. One of the more impressive stats I saw last month was this. Since the 1997-1998 season, the top five teams with the fewest days with a losing record are No. 5 the Utah Jazz at 1,101, No. 4 the Portland Trailblazers at 1,044, No. 3 the Dallas Mavericks at 1,027, No. 2 the Houston Rockets with 1,007 and No. 1 the San Antonio Spurs at 65. SIXTY-FIVE DAYS. That is insane.
If the Spurs stay in the No. 7-or 8-seed range, which it looks like they will, I don't like their chances. But if they somehow get to the 6-seed, they can give Houston some troubles.
The Magic have taken their time rebuilding after trading Dwight Howard during the 2012 offseason but they're finally back in the playoffs. It feels like eons ago but we really used to think Howard was among the league's top five players. That's why this rebuild feels longer than most because of how far Howard has fallen.
Good on the Magic though, as a fan of another fruitless Florida team, making the playoffs has to be a huge boost to morale. It's likely to end in four but at least the fans will have a sunny outlook for their team heading into the offseason.
After being fleeced by Boston in one of the great trade fleecings in NBA history, the Nets are back in the playoffs. Just like with the Magic, I'm happy for them and their fans. They had some dark days but things are looking up for this franchise. Whether they get swept or lose in six, playing extra basketball games is a huge positive.
I made a point to watch more NBA games this season and out of the 30 teams I've watched play this season, two had little entertainment value and were absolute dreck. The New Orleans Pelicans after the Anthony Davis trade demand fiasco were one team and the Detroit Pistons were the other. Thankfully the Pelicans didn't make the playoffs, unfortunately for everyone else the Pistons did.
The good thing though is that they'll be on NBA TV for their four playoff games.
The Clippers are kind of in the same boat as the Spurs. I like them if they're playing the Houston Rockets, outside of that they're likely done in five or six games. Clippers coach Doc Rivers has taken some flak, mostly, and rightfully, due to him bombing as he tried to be the coach and GM of the Clips. But this year he has turned in one of his best coaching jobs.
Doc doesn't have a single superstar, just a lot of solid dudes that know their role and play hard. I'm not sure that will get them far against the Warriors or Nuggets but the Rockets are gettable for them.
WORST ENTRANCE INTO THE PLAYOFFS
Oklahoma City Thunder
Before the All-Star break, the Thunder were in play for a top seed and with how well Paul George was playing, it felt like they could even push the Warriors for that No. 1-seed. After the break, they've been among the worst teams in the league. Before their small push at the end of the regular season, they were 7-13 since the break.
Their offense has fallen off a cliff even with Russell Westbrook shooting better than he did at the start of the season. And some guys are playing well outside their role *cough* Dennis Schroder *cough*. George's shoulder injury and Steven Adams, also playing through injury, hasn't helped on that front but you can already see how their postseason is going to go.
They'll drop the first two games. Westbrook will revert to "I have to do everything mode." They'll win a tightly contested Game 3. Westbrook will see that as an affirmation to doing everything, they'll then lose the final two games by a combined 38 points with Westbrook shooting below 20 percent from 3 and putting up 80-plus shots
SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE IT TO THE SECOND ROUND
I don't want to spend a ton of time of these four teams, so I'm going to write a big run-on sentence about each.
Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers
Boston: As good of a coach as Brad Stevens is, it's very hard to reign in egos, especially an ego the size of Kyrie Irving, he makes President Trump look like a humble man, but this Celtic season will go down as a lost season.
Indiana: It's a shame Victor Oladipo got hurt, otherwise this would have been a fun team to cheer for in the playoffs; without Oladipo they're like the poor man's Clippers team.
Portland Trailblazers vs. Utah Jazz
Utah: Utah is a good team but they're one of those teams that can win 48-52 games a season, make the playoffs and not really do much while they're there.
Portland: Jusuf Nurkic's injury a few weeks back was the most horrific basketball injury of All-Time, as for my actual basketball thoughts about the Trailblazers, check out the above sentence and just replace "Utah" with "Portland."
THE CONTENDERS IF THERE IS AN INJURY
As a lefty, I make sure to support as many other left-handed brethren and sistren as I can. James Harden is no different and while at times it was tough to defend him, this season has been the opposite of that.
Harden's been playing at a historic level this season. He's going to score more than 2,800 points this season, which has only been done by five players in NBA history. Those five guys, all top-shelf Hall of Famers, Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant (I feel sick writing that one), Michael Jordan (done twice and other than Wilt, the only other player to score 3,000 points) and Wilt Chamberlin (has done it four times and the only player to score 4,000 points in a season).
As fantastic as Harden has been this season, these types of seasons doesn't equate to postseason success. Of the modern guys Jordan and Kobe, only Jordan's '87-'88 Bulls made it out of the first round.
So while watching Harden dominate night after, after night is fun. It means he has to do that because the supporting cast around him isn't strong enough for a playoff run.
Of the teams in the category, the Nuggets need the most help to win the title. Not trying to take anything away from them, they're a good team, but against the league's best, their record isn't great. When playing the Warriors, Bucks, Sixers, Raptors or Rockets, the Nuggets are a combined 5-9; two of those five wins came against the Raptors. They're 2-6 against Houston and Golden State.
Denver has enough talent to make the Western Conference Finals but if Golden State is healthy, they have no shot at the NBA Finals.
The Raptors remind me a lot of the Virginia Cavaliers. Over the past few years, both have had excellent regular season success but come postseason time, weren't able to accomplish what their regular would suggest they should.
With the Cavs cutting down the nets on Monday, maybe this might be the Raptors year too. It's set up nicely for them, the Bucks are banged up and they've had the Sixers number this season. They have the firepower to do it with Kahwi, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowery and Pascal Siakam.
Golden State Warriors
For all the drama surrounding the Warriors this season like the KD-Green tiff and Klay Thompson calling out the Warrior fans. (Which he was absolutely right about. Since they have been on this run that home crowd has changed a lot. The energy isn't the same and that's just from watching on TV. Being there it must be even more noticeable.) They're still the team to beat and the heavy favorites. They're not as good as they were last year, even though there was all that hand wringing in the offseason when they signed DeMarcus Cousins that they'd be unbeatable.
I got a lot wrong in 2018 but I'm glad that I was right about not getting worked up about Cousins joining Golden State. He's certainly a better player the Kevon Looney or Damion Lee but he hasn't really found a rhythm with the Warriors. That could be because he's not all the way back from his Achilles injury and/or he's still trying to figure out how to fit in with this team.
The latter might seem ridiculous, especially since Durant fit in quickly with that group. But the thing is Durant is the exception, a lot like when Adrian Peterson tore his ACL came back nine months later and turned in the best year of his career. Then, as a result, a lot of NFL guys thought they could do the same thing, but it did not go well. That's because they forgot AP is a physical freak and that mold was obliterated after him.
Durant is a basketball freak, he can fit his game and personality to whatever team he is on. For a superstar of his caliber, that's unheard of. Look at when LeBron, Wade and Bosh teamed up, all in their primes, that first year they lost in the Finals.
The point is great basketball takes time and if Cousins stays in Golden State, after Durant leaves, you'll see him take off next season.
The Sixers are tricky. I debated about putting them in the need "Contenders if there's an injury" but ultimately decided against it. Their starting five is ridiculously good with Embiid, Butler, Simmons, Harris and Reddick and in the playoffs, the starters play bigger minutes. On top of that, each of those five can completely take over and win you games.
They still haven't found a perfect rhythm for this combo. Embiid is going to get his but it feels like the others have to fight for what's left. That's usually when you see Butler pull a Kobe by taking a horrible shot that is also heavily contested.
Actually, the Sixers will only go as far as Butler's ego will take them. If he can accept that he's not the No. 1 and answer the call when his number is called, the Finals are in reach. But if his ego refuses that role, he'll torpedo them and they'll get swept by the Raptors.
I love this Bucks team, they're my favorite team out of the entire field. Personally, if I had a vote Giannis Antetokounmpo is the MVP and Mike Budenholzer is the Coach of the Year. I know I talked earlier about having loyalty to lefties but Giannis has been that amazing this season.
Whatever the sport, how often do we hype up a player as "this is the season the take the leap" only to watch that player get nowhere near those expectations? Not only did Giannis make that leap but he exceeded it. He's the most untradeable player in the league right now, the Bucks could be offered the combined wealth of Jeff Bezos (pre-divorce) and Bill Gate, all land on Mars, everlasting peace in the Middle East. And they'd still give a definitive NO and rudely hang up the phone.
CoY is likely going to Doc Rivers but Budenholzer should get it. The Bucks were a 7-seed last year and a mess, he comes in and brings home the league's best record.
Last season's Bucks coach, Jason Kidd didn't know what to do with this team and was fired midseason and his replacement wasn't any better, I don't remember the guy's name and he's not even worth looking up.
It is hilarious though that Kidd is rumored to be the next Lakers coach. I love LeBron, he's one of my top five favorite players of All-Time, but he's a terrible GM. He doesn't know personnel or good coaching. Kidd is bad and the proof is in how much better this Bucks team got without him.
As for their playoff run, if the Bucks can get Mirotic and Brogden back, and playing effectively, they have the horses to beat the Warriors
Warriors over Nuggets in six
Bucks over Sixers in five
Bucks over Warriors in seven