1. Golden State Warriors (57–25) vs. 8. Los Angeles Clippers (48–34)
Here’s how the Clippers pull off the biggest playoff upset since 1994, when the Denver Nuggets upended the top-seeded Seattle Sonics: Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari shoots 70% from deep and averages 35 points per game (odds: 1 in 524). Clippers guard Patrick Beverley “accidentally” takes out Steph Curry in Game 1 (odds: 1 in 200). Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins gets ejected early in the series and then gets into a verbal altercation with Draymond Green before leaving the court, turning the media into a beehive of malicious gossip on the chemistry issues surrounding the most talented basketball team on the planet )odds: 1 in 20). Clippers rookie chameleon Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averages 4 steals per game, locking down Klay Thompson on the perimeter and somehow making 40% of his own threes (odds: 1 in 150).
Semi-Educated Guess: Warriors in 5
2. Denver Nuggets (54–28) vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs (48–34)
Denver won’t get the respect of most NBA experts until they advance a round in the playoffs, and that’s okay. Despite the vast backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Denver isn’t a media market that brings much attention. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic is Bill Walton-esque, carrying an offense with his passing vision and willingness to navigate most defensive schemes. Meanwhile, the Spurs defense isn’t up to the challenge. The absence (defensively) of Kawhi and Danny Green on the perimeter has been masked by the emergence of Derrick White Jr during the regular season. DeRozan isn’t a bad defender in his own right, but rookie Bryn Forbes (43% in reg season) isn’t capable of staying on the court unless he’s making more than half of his threes. Watch these games and enjoy Jokic for his distributive magic and Jamal Murray for his ascendance. The Nuggets’ depth won’t help them as much now that shortened rotations become the norm. Gregg Popovich may retire soon. Dreams of playoff wins are what sustain coaches through the 82 game marathon.
Semi-Educated Guess: Nuggets in 6.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (53–29) vs. 6. Oklahoma City Thunder (49–33)
Life isn’t fair. This too shall pass. Jusuf Nurkic’ leg injury (compound fracture which I can’t bring myself to watch) is a brutal blow to the Blazers hopes of erasing the pain of last year’s sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, who will no longer see Anthony Davis wear their threads. Damian Lillard is the rare well-adjusted, non-celebrity-focused NBA All-Star. Four years at Weber State helped him emerge fully formed on the NBA stage in 2012. For the last four years, he’s been a metronome of All-Star point guard play. Unfortunately, he’s stuck in the Western Conference. Life isn’t fair. NBA aficionado David Thorpe (who appeared on a great Lowe Post today to discuss all eight playoff series) thinks Lillard and McCollum should each attempt 15+ threes per game in order to survive post-Nurkic life against a switching swarming Thunder defense.
But maybe this year, his Blazers advance past the two-headed hydra known as the Thunder. Paul George deserves his own playoff redemption after being short-circuited by LeBron for so many years in Indiana. I’m not sure Russell Westbrook’s style of play (while insanely watchable and electrifying) is able to lift all boats in the way that playoff team’s need their best players to lift. Steven Adams remains the boulder that keeps the NBA from floating off into outer space.
Semi-Educated Guess: (I hope Blazers in 7; I expect Thunder in 6)
4. Houston Rockets (53–29) vs. 5. Utah Jazz (50–32)
The Rockets and Jazz have been two of the best in the NBA since February 1, though the Jazz have fattened up on the league’s weakest competition, while the Rockets were beating some of the best. This series should provide the best level of play in the first round. James Harden-CP3-Clint Capela have waited eleven months for these playoffs. A Chris Paul injury derailed their hopes last May in the West Finals. Houston was up 3–2, but limped to the finish in a dispiriting end to what might have been a classic dethroning of the Dubs. Paul’s injuries forced Harden to bear a ridiculous load in the first few months of the year, and the step-back three-pointer Harden unleashed pretty much turned every defender into a human grasping at a hologram, swiping at air, while Harden magically hopped behind the line and drained threes over outstretched arms.
Donovan Mitchell’s inspiring performance in last year’s playoffs helped the Jazz take out the Thunder. Mitchell’s spin-move is ballet. Rudy Gobert swallows offenses. Can Utah get enough shooting from Ingles, Korver, and Crowder? They’ll need many of those threes to go down to keep Houston’s defense from smothering Mitchell.
Either way, Kyle Korver is headed in the right direction, discussing how privilege keeps the majority of white people from seeing the truth about race in our society. That matters much more than any of these games.
Semi-Educated Guess: Rockets in 6.
Privileged | By Kyle Korver
When they arrest him on a New York street, throw him in jail for the night, and leave him with a season-ending injury…