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The Californian

The Official Student-Run Newspaper of California High School

The Californian

The Official Student-Run Newspaper of California High School

The Californian

NBA playoffs underway

Californian staffers make their first round predictions
Photo courtesy of The Guardian
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic looks to lead his high-scoring team out of the first round, but the Los Angeles Clippers took a 1-0 lead by winning on Sunday.

With the NBA playoffs tipping off on Saturday we can expect another dominating playoff run from LeBron James and another record-breaking stat line from Nikola Jokic.

But some teams have the opportunity to shock playoff viewers and sadden avid sports bettors. Here’s a look at how the first round could shake out.

Western Conference

No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs No. 6 Phoenix Suns:

By getting blown out by the Suns in their season finale, the Timberwolves lost a chance to lock down the No. 2 seed and now have to face Phoenix to open the playoffs. This could be a problem.

In their last three meetings this season, the Suns have bested the Timberwolves every time with scoring differential greater than 10 points. Nevertheless, in two of these matchups the Timberwolves were without All-Star forward/center Karl Anthony Towns. But this shouldn’t matter when considering all the factors. I feel an upset is in our midst. 

Kevin Durant’s immense playoff success is nothing to overlook. Time and time again, the two-time NBA Finals MVP is able to lead his team to the best of his ability, putting up astounding numbers in the postseason. Even though the Timberwolves are a young, exciting team, the Suns can overwhelm the young Edwards with Durant,  and  the great supporting cast of Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, and lean on their playoff experience.

Minnesota has Towns back, plus the Timberwolves have All-Star shooting guard Anthony Edwards and presumptive Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. But in order to avoid an upset, Minnesota will need to be more efficient offensively to go along with their stout defense.

Minnesota is up 1-0

Prediction: Suns in seven games

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs No. 5 Dallas Mavericks:

This matchup between the Clippers and the Mavericks will be an exciting one to watch. The series will have all the NBA stars needed to make this competitive. James Harden and Kawhi Leonard lead the Clippers, along with Paul George, the smoothest player in the league.  This Clippers team is a team to follow throughout the playoffs. Don’t forget about their spark plug off the bench in former MVP Russell Westbrook. 

Although the Clipper’s roster is loaded, history has proven that the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic is enough to eliminate their chances of hoisting an NBA championship. In 18 games against the Clippers, Doncic has averaged 32.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Plus, Luka doesn’t have to carry the offensive burden himself this postseason with guard Kyrie Irving playing much of the season and avoiding off-court distractions. Irving averaged 25.6 points per game this year and seemingly can take over a game at any time.

Though Doncic is a force to be reckoned with and an MVP candidate who stands alone, the Clippers have all the tools to shut down the “Pride of Slovenia”. With Leonard’s elite defensive ability and  Clippers coach, Tyronn Lue’s, impressive offensive scheme, the Clippers have everything necessary to advance to the next round.  

Clippers are up 1-0

Prediction: Clippers in six games

No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

With their win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, the Lakers are hungry to keep advancing. But now they face the No. 2 seed and defending champion Denver Nuggets. Denver has a ton of talent with Jokic, the two-time MVP who could claim his third one this season, Jamal Murray, and Arron Gordon. These guys have been very dominant all year and they do not plan to stop anytime soon. 

But James is not known to go down easy in the playoffs, even though the Lakers got swept by  the Nuggets in last season’s Western Conference Finals. James and the Lakers have been scrappy to get to where they are and don’t want to lose. Plus, a healthy Anthony Davis could help neutralize Jokic, while D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves provide enough offense to take some of this burden off James. This will be the battle of the old James against the new Jokic, and could be the most exciting series in this year’s playoffs. 

Nuggets up 1-0

Prediction: Nuggets in seven games. 

No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by the “Fresh Prince” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, sit at the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Along with Chet Holmgren and Jaylin Williams, the Thunder are revolutionary as this is the youngest team in the league with an average age of 23.4 years old. The Thunder are the youngest team to earn the top seed since the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns.

Oklahoma City is led by MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and stud rookie Chet Holmgren, and features a strong supporting cast in Gordan Hayward, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen Williams, and Lu Dort. Although there is little playoff experience among this group, the talent of this team alone should easily lift them over a New Orleans team that’s once again trying to field a healthy lineup. Star power forward Zion Williamson out until at least next week with a left hamstring strain. That means veterans Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas will have to lead this uphill battle that should be a quick series.

Oklahoma City is up 1-0

Prediction: Oklahoma City in four games

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs No. 6 Indianapolis Pacers:

Led by the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, the Bucks could match up against the Tyrese Haliburton-led Indianapolis Pacers pretty well. I believed this series would be the least competitive of all the first-round series because the Pacers lack playoff experience and feature a roster filled with injury-prone players.

But it’s the Bucks with injury issues going into this series. Antekokounmpo is fighting a calf injury and could miss two to four weeks, meainig he wouldn’t play in this series. Lillard also was held out of practice this week because of a hamstring injury. If these two don’t play, or are limited, this is a different series.

The Pacers have found a young star in Haliburton and this is a great experience for him and a great test to see how far he can lead a team into the playoffs. Although he won’t do it alone, with two-time All-NBA player Pascal Siakam. Siakam was an NBA champion with the Raptors in 2019 and will provide Haliburton with playoff pedigree.

But if Antetokounmpo plays and can come close to his normal level of play, the Bucks should win since he never fails to amaze when performing in the playoffs. Year after year he climbs the rankings and becomes the player that he has the potential to be. Unlike every other successful Milwaukee team, this specific team is coached by Doc Rivers, infamous for blowing 3-1 leads and his disappointing ability to coach in the postseason. As the postseason continues, we can expect another Rivers disappointment.

It is difficult to comprehend an outcome where Milwaukee is defeated by the Pacers if Antetokounmpo and Lillard are healthy, but with them out the Pacers have a real chance.

Bucks lead series 1-0

Prediction: Bucks in seven games, five if Antetokounmpo plays

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs No. 5 Orlando Magic:

The Cavaliers’ young-talented team will face off against the Orlando Magic, and these teams differentiate in many ways. One of these ways is how the Cavs possess a guard-led team. Cleveland has one of the best backcourts in the league with Darius Garland and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell. Last year, the Cavs faced an upsetting loss against the Knicks in the first round, but this postseason run may differ from the last. 

During the off-season, the Cavs signed Max Strus, a talented shooter who provides space creation for his teammates. With Strus, the team improved their shooting splits by adding a reliable catch-and-shoot player. The Cavs can shake up the postseason with their incredible talent. 

The Magic have gone through their fair share of struggles, finishing 13th in the 2022-2023 NBA season. Despite their struggles, they have a bright spot on their team in Paolo Banchero, one of the league’s top rising stars. The top overall draft pick two seasons ago, Banchero was named an All-Star in only his second season this year. He could shock the world in this series and could push the Magic’s luck to one more round.

Cavs lead series 2-0

Prediction: Cavs in six games

No. 2 New York Knicks vs No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers

The Knicks, led by Jalen Brunson, had a borderline superstar year averaging 28.7 PPG while leading his team to a second seed in the East. They have been dominating the league with a five-game win streak and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. However, power forward and second-best player on the team, Julius Randle is out for this game with a shoulder injury. This could lead to some problems with rebounding efficiency and defensive efforts on Joel Embid. 

On the other side of the court, Joel Embid and the Phillidelphia 76ers are having a solid season considering they have five all-stars on this roster.  Overall they have been relying on Embid for most of everything on the court with him leading the stats in points, rebounds, and assists. For this reason, they are not a strong team, they only have semi-good role players and a beast in Embid. The Knicks have better chemistry right now and should win this series.

Knicks lead series 2-0

Prediction: Knicks in five games. 

No. 1 Boston Celtics vs No. 8 Miami Heat

The Boston Celtics sit atop the entire NBA as they have an impressive 64-18 record. This outstanding season by the Celtics gives them strong reasons to believe they could be serious NBA championship contenders as they were the only team with at least 60 wins. With Jayson Tatum leading the team, and Jaylen Brown and new teammate Kristaps Porzingus in strong supporting roles, this team seems nearly unstoppable going into the postseason. 

Despite the Celtics impressive roster, they are going to be facing a gritty, driven Miami Heat team that has proven in the past that seeding is irrelevant. Last season, the Heat became the lowest seeded team at No. 8 to make a NBA Finals before losing to the Nuggets. This year, the Heat again survived the second play-in game and are hungry for another shocking postseason run. But they will need a healthy Jimmy Butler to do it and that doesn’t appear likey. After injuring his knee during the Heat’s play-in loss to the 76ers, Butler missed the Chicago game with a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Without Bulter the Heat have no chance. Plus, the Celtics have something to prove after falling to the Heat in Game 7 last year.This year I feel the Celtics take down their biggest postseason enemy.

The Celtics are up 1-0 in the series 

Prediction: Celtics in five games.

Staff writer KK DeMello contributed to this story.

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About the Contributor
Noah Young
Noah Young, Staff Writer
Sophomore Noah Young is a staff writer for The Californian and this is his first working on the paper. Noah is looking forward to working on The Californian this year and is excited about what the class has in store for him. Noah’s hobbies consist of playing basketball, video games, and hanging out with his friends. 

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