NBA playoffs tip off today

Warriors looking to make first playoff run in three years, capture first title since 2018


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The Golden State Warriors are hoping to stay healthy and make a run at the NBA title for the first time since 2018. The Warriors return to the playoffs as the No. 3 in the Western Conference after missing the postseason the past two years.

The NBA playoffs are set to officially begin on Saturday, and a champion will be crowned on June 19. And there are plenty of intriguing stories in this year’s road to the NBA Finals. 

For the first time since 2019 the Golden State Warriors have a real chance of returning to the championship. The Milwaukee Bucks, led by their big three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton, have a real chance of repeating. The young Memphis Grizzlies, led by Ja Morant and showcasing a deep, well-oiled machine of a team, are showing signs of the breakout 2015 Warriors. The Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons, who has been out all season in a drama-filled escapade due to injury and alleged mental health issues, is targeting his season debut in an intriguing first-round matchup with the red-hot Boston Celtics. 

Let’s take a look at who those teams are, the matchups, and my predictions for the first round and beyond. 

Western Conference:

No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

Phoenix Suns

  • Record – 64-18
  • Last season – 51-21, lost in NBA Finals in six games to Milwaukee Bucks
  • Last championship – have never won the NBA title

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Record – 36-46
  • Last season – 31-41, missed the playoffs
  • Last championship – have never made NBA Finals

The Phoenix Suns have been nothing short of fantastic this year. They have been the best team in the league all year, as they are nine games better than the second best record in the league. 

They have some superstars on their squad, as Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton have all been balling. They also have some very solid compliments to these guys, such as Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder. 

Paul and Booker head one of the best backcourts in the league, as they are a duo of veteran leadership and youth explosiveness. The Suns are considered the favorites to win the Finals, as they are on a revenge tour after losing in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Pelicans have snuck into the eight seed after winning two play-in games, one against the Spurs and then the final one against the Clippers Friday night.

The Pelicans were a team that was not projected to make the playoffs, appearing to be very below average at the start of the year. But they made a big addition to their squad with All Star guard C.J. McCollum in a trade from the Portland Blazers. 

Even at mid-season, they were not projected to make the playoffs but McCollum took them on a huge run and catapulted them into the play-in game. The other leaders on the team are forward Brandon Ingram and center Jonas Valunciunas. The Pelicans have been doing this all without the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Zion Williamson, who is recovering from a foot injury and will not return this season. 

McCollum and Ingram will have to stay red hot if they want to have a chance at defeating the Suns, as they are easily one of the most well rounded and deep teams in this year’s playoffs.

Prediction: Suns defeat Pelicans in 5 games

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves

Memphis Grizzlies

  • Record – 56-26
  • Last season – 38-34, lost in first round in five games to the Utah Jazz
  • Last championship – have never made the NBA Finals

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Record – 46-36
  • Last season – 23-49, did not make playoffs
  • Last championship – have never made the NBA Finals 

The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the league’s best young stars heading their squad, the insanely explosive point guard Ja Morant. Coming out of Murray State and being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, Morant had a lot of hype around him, and he has lived up to every part of it. He had two great seasons before this one, but now he’s doing even better, as he is averaging just under 28 points per game. 

Besides Morant, the rest of this Grizzlies team is scrappy. They defend well, hustle and are a tough matchup that wears teams down for 48 minutes straight. They have the potential to go on a legit run. 

As for the Timberwolves, they have to find a way to limit Morant and put the pressure on the rest of the team. Most likely, chippy point guard Patrick Beverley will guard Morant. Karl-Anthony Towns will also have to play much better than he did in the play-In game against the Clippers. He had an off night but the team was carried by DeAngelo Russel and Anthony Edwards. 

This will be Edwards’s first time in the playoffs, so it will be exciting to see how the young star holds up. If the Timberwolves want any chance to upset the Grizzlies, their big three has to find a way to play better together. Otherwise, it is most likely going to be all Memphis in this one.

Prediction: Grizzlies defeat Timberwolves in 6 games

No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Golden State Warriors

  • Record- 53-29
  • Last season- 39-33, eliminated from play-in tournament by Memphis Grizzlies
  • Last championship – 2018

Denver Nuggets

  • Record – 48-34
  • Last season – 47-25, lost in second round in four games to the Phoenix Suns
  • Last championship – have never made the NBA Finals

The Golden State Warriors are finally back into the playoffs after a very memorable season. After going to the Finals for five years in a row, the Warriors missed the playoffs in 2020 and 2021 after Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson got injured. Thompson finally returned this year after missing almost two and a half seasons and he is finding his groove at the right time.  He finished the season with a 41 point performance, and multiple 30 point games before that as well. 

Golden State has battled a lot of injuries this year, as Draymond Green missed about two months with a back injury, Thompson was returning from injury, James Wiseman got injured and will not return this year, and now Curry has battled back from a foot injury and is hopeful to play in Game 1. If Curry plays, the biggest thing is for him to be efficient as this will be his first game since mid-March and he will most likely be on a minutes restriction. 

The biggest issue in this series is going to be how starting center Kevon Looney guards Denver’s MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who won the award last season as well. Jokic is everything for this Nugget’s team, as he is a dominant big man that can shoot from the outside. Looney is going to have to be very physical from the start of the series and set the tone from the jump, or else Jokic will take over. 

The Nuggets are also hoping that star point guard Jamal Murray may be able to return after tearing his ACL and not playing at all this year. It is unlikely, but if the Nuggets move on, he could have a better chance. Even with Curry returning, the Warriors are still going to have a tough time matching up with Jokic for seven games.

Prediction: Warriors defeat Nuggets in six games

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Dallas Mavericks

  • Record – 52-30
  • Last season – 42-30, lost in first round in seven games to Los Angeles Clippers
  • Last championship – 2011

Utah Jazz

  • Record – 49-33
  • Last season – 52-20, lost in second round in six games to Los Angeles Clippers
  • Last championship won – have never won the NBA title

The Dallas Mavericks are led by Slovenian star point guard Luka Doncic, who is averaging just above 26 points per game but is also fighting through a calf injury that will keep him out through at least the series opener. The Mavericks have been to the playoffs twice in the past five years, in 2020 and 2021, but they were eliminated by the Clippers both years. 

Even though they have not made it out of the first round with Doncic, he has been battle tested many times in a lot of big games and has proven that he has the clutch factor. The Mavs also have solid pieces that are built around him, as they have backup guard Spencer Dinwiddie, starting guard Jalen Brunson, starting power forward Dorian Finney-Smith, and starting center Dwight Powell. This lineup is well rounded, as all these guys compliment Doncic’s facilitating play style well while still letting him control the game and dominate. 

The Utah Jazz are a team that has a lot of playoff expectations placed upon them, as they will now be entering their sixth straight year making the postseason. They have made it to the second round three of the last five, but have been eliminated all three times. The Jazz are loaded with talent, as they are led by the all around shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, along with center Rudy Gobert, who was the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. 

They have some solid pieces surrounding their stars as well with veteran point guard Mike Conley, who contributes a lot of experience, and backup point guard Jordan Clarkson, a dangerous weapon off the bench. Utah fans are hoping they can finally put it together this year and go on a run, but they will have a hard fought first round series once again. 

Prediction:  Mavericks defeat Jazz in seven games

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks

Miami Heat

  • Record – 53-29
  • Last year – 40-32, lost in 4 games in the first round to the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Last championship won – 2013

Atlanta Hawks

  • Record – 43-39
  • Last year – 41-31, lost in six games in Eastern Conference Finals to Milwaukee Bucks
  • Last championship won – 1958

The Miami Heat hold the one seed in the East after a phenomenal year against a lot of tough competition atop the East. Last year, they lost to the would-be NBA champions, the Bucks, and the year prior they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.

They are led by point guard Kyle Lowry, small forward Jimmy Butler, power forward P.J. Tucker, and center Bam Adebayo. Lowry was acquired in a trade from the Toronto Raptors this offseason, and he has fit very nicely into this team. They also have some dangerous pieces coming off the bench, such as power forward Duncan Robinson that shoots almost 38% from the 3-point line. 

Along with Robinson, they have the potential Sixth Man of the Year in Tyler Herro, who is averaging almost 21 points per game. And, they have Victor Oladipo to rotate in at the guard position. This team has a lot of depth, and along with that a lot of experience. Lowry won the 2019 Finals with the Raptors and most of this team was together when they went to the Finals against the Lakers.

But the Hawks will not be an easy first round matchup for the Heat. They are led by the one and only Trae Young, who has made a huge name for himself since coming into the league in 2018. Young is averaging 28 points per game, and he can shoot the lights out as his range from the court is incredibly deep. Young took Atlanta on a crazy run last year, as the Hawks almost went to the NBA Finals but fell a little short.

The Hawks also have shooting guard Kevin Huerter, power forward John Collins, and center Clint Capela. Huerter is a lights out shooter as well, as he shot 39% from the three point line this year. This offense is very dangerous, and they can put up a lot of points very fast. The Hawks made there way to this 8 seed after dismantling the Charlotte Hornets in the play-in game and completely blowing them out.

This should be a very exciting first round matchup, as the Heat have one of the best defenses in the league and the Hawks have one of the best offenses in the league. It will be interesting to see how Lowry guards Young and if he can contain him, and how the Hawks as a whole will be affected by their defense. 

Prediction: Heat defeat Hawks in 7 games 

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets

Boston Celtics

  • Record – 51-31
  • Last year – 36-36, lost in first round in 5 games to Brooklyn Nets
  • Last championship won – 2008

Brooklyn Nets

  • Record- 44-38
  • Last year- 48-24, lost in second round in seven games to Milwaukee Bucks
  • Last championship won – have never won the NBA title

This Celtics/Nets series is going to be a very exciting one. Both teams are loaded with talent, and the Nets are a team that are very dangerous for a seventh seed, so there is the potential for an upset here. The Celtics are led by the duo of shooting guard Jaylen Brown and small forward Jayson Tatum. The Celtics seem to have put something together this year, as they have been quite possibly the best team in the East for the majority of this year.  

But they will be without their starting center, Robert Williams III, as he is dealing with injury and is projected to be out for at least the whole first round. This is something to watch out for, as the Nets are going to attack the paint defense for the Celtics. 

The Nets are led by point guard Kyrie Irving, shooting guard Seth Curry, and power forward Kevin Durant. They also have a solid small forward Bruce Brown, who runs the 3 position, and then Andre Drummond finished out their lineup playing the center spot. Along with all these stars, the Nets have had forward Ben Simmons sitting on their roster, as he has not played a game since being acquired from the 76ers at the trade deadline. 

Simmons has a potential return date of Game 4 of this series, and he will be a huge boost, as all he needs to do for them is play defense and pass, which is his specialty. Simmons was acquired in exchange for James Harden and Curry, so having him play would even out this trade. They just beat the Cavaliers in the play-in game to advance to this series, as Durant and Irving went off. The Celtics are going to have a crazy hard time guarding Durant and Irving, but the Nets are going to have their hands full as well. This series is going to be an offensive shootout, especially with Williams being out for the Celtics

Prediction: Nets defeat Celtics in seven games

No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Chicago Bulls

Milwaukee Bucks:

  • Record – 51-31
  • Last year – 46-26, won NBA Finals in six games vs the Phoenix Suns
  • Last championship won – 2021

Chicago Bulls:

  • Record – 46-36
  • Last year – 31-41, missed the playoffs
  • Last championship won – 1998

The Milwaukee Bucks are the defending 2021 NBA Champions and are in a prime position to go on another deep run. They are led by the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a dominant 6-foot-11 forward that has insane length and explosiveness. He is once again a MVP candidate. He led the Bucks all the way to the NBA title last year, along with small forward Khris Middleton, point guard Jrue Holiday, and center Brook Lopez. Winning last year gave this team a lot of experience, as they beat the Suns in six games. 

The Bulls are an explosive team as well, and on paper they are stacked with talent. They have had two key injuries to their roster, as starting point guard Lonzo Ball and backup point guard Alex Caruso both went down with injuries. They are still led by small forward Zach LaVine, power forward DeMar DeRozan, and center Nikola Vucevic. 

The Bulls are going to need rookie Ayo Dosonmu to step up big for them, as he will be starting at point guard. The interesting thing about the Bulls is they are loaded with talent, but they have a very difficult time beating good teams. They have been blown out in many games against good teams, so we will see how they hold up against one of the best teams in the league and the current defending champs. 

Prediction- Bucks defeat Bulls in five games

No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 5 Toronto Raptors

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Record – 51-31
  • Last year – 49-23, lost in second round in seven games to Atlanta Hawks
  • Last championship won – 1983

Toronto Raptors

  • Record – 48-38
  • Last year – 27-45, missed the playoffs
  • Last championship won – 2019

This matchup should be a good series that could go all the way to seven games. The 76ers are led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who mainly sees Phily’s offense run through him. They recently acquired All-Star shooting guard James Harden in a  blockbuster trade with the Nets, a sending Seth Curry and Ben Simmons to the Nets in exchange for Harden. This seems to be so far a win for both teams, as Harden has been playing well for the 76ers and Curry has been a great addition for the Nets. 

Simmons has not played yet. Embiid is a physical, dominant big man that runs the center position and should be guarded by Raptors center Pascal Siakam or their power forward rookie sensation Scottie Barnes. The Sixers also have a solid point guard in Tyrese Maxey, who averages 17.5 points per game and shoots almost 43 percent from the 3-point line. 

The Raptors are led by point guard Fred VanVleet, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., and small forward OG Anunoby, with Barnes and Siakam rounding out the 4 and 5 positions. They have a very solid lineup, with every guy in this starting rotation being strong defensively. The scheme that head coach Nick Nurse runs could give Embiid trouble, as it has been proven to do so in the past. 

Barnes is a potential Rookie of the Year candidate who is averaging 17 points and almost eight rebounds a game. He is great on both sides of the ball. The Sixers are the favorites to win this one, but the Raptors are going to give them some serious trouble right from the jump.

Prediction – Raptors defeat 76ers in six games

Second round Predictions:

Suns defeat Mavericks in six games 

Warriors defeat Grizzlies in seven games

Raptors defeat Heat in six games

Nets defeat Bucks in seven games

Conference Finals Predictions:

Warriors defeat Suns in six games

Nets defeat Raptors in five games

NBA Finals Prediction:

Warriors defeat Nets in seven games