By Justin Thomas
Houston Rockets (1) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
The Houston Rockets have proven all year why they are the best team in the league. Their 64 wins this season was a franchise best as well as leading the league in three point shooting. Chris Paul joining “The Beard” has proven to be a match made in heaven as both guys are having career years. James Harden in fact is a front runner for MVP this year and players such as Clint Capela and Eric Gordon continue to play big roles for the squad. Minnesota on the other hand comes into the playoffs as kind of the new kid on the block. They defeated the Denver Nuggets in the final game of the season to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Jimmy Butler is finally back and healthy which should serve to give us some good matchups between him and Harden this series. Also look for Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Wiggins to show out in their first ever playoffs. Houston won the season series 4-0.
I predict the Rockets will win the series in 5
Golden State Warriors (2) vs San Antonio Spurs (7)
Golden State, much like the Celtics are limping into the playoffs. They have been riddled with injuries all season especially down the stretch. Their 24 losses on the year is the most for the Warriors under Steve Kerr. They will also be without Steph Curry for the 1st round of the playoffs as he still recovers from an knee injury and will look to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to lead the team until he returns. For the Spurs this marks the 21st consecutive year they are in the playoffs however it is a little surprising seeing them outside the top 4 in the standings. The circus that was and still is the Kawhi Leonard situation was clearly a factor in the Spurs less than “Spurs-like” season. However, they are still coached by one of the greatest to ever to it in Greg Popovich who will have LaMarcus Aldridge and the crew of savvy veterans out there ready to compete. The Warriors won the season series 3-1.
I predict Warriors will win the series in 6
Utah Jazz (5) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
Arguably one of the better stories on the season so far is the Utah Jazz and their standout rookie Donovan Mitchell. The 13th overall pick has led a team with no other star power to a 5 seed in the very competitive Western Conference. He led his team in scoring which hasn’t been done by a rookie on a playoff team since 2003 when Carmelo Anthony did it with the Nuggets. For the Thunder, it almost seems like a failure barely making the 4th seed when you take into account that at the beginning of the year people were talking about them potentially knocking off the Warriors. The trio of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony certainly struggled at times, especially Carmelo who had multiple games scoring under 10 points. Russell Westbrook did however average a triple double for the 2nd straight year. This playoffs could play a big factor in whether the trio stays together for next season. The Thunder won the season series 3-1.
I predict the Thunder win the series in 6
Portland Trailblazers (3) vs New Orleans Pelicans (6)
This is a series that could be one of the more competitive in the league but may fly under the radar. The Trailblazers hit a good stride in March which propelled them as high as the three seed at one point. However they went 1-4 in their last 5 games which dropped them down to 4. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum need to come through big time if Portland wants to make a deep playoff push this season. On the flip side of this series it is a shame we couldn’t see just how good the Pelicans would be for a whole season with Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. But since Boogie went down for the season the team has rallied and played some great basketball. Davis and a rejuvenated Rajon Rondo will look to bring some playoff magic to Bourbon Street. The Blazers won the season series 2-1 this year.