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The NBA playoffs are finally here.
In some ways, the Eastern and Western conferences have flip-flopped from last year. The West was less competitive than expected this season, and while the Cavs still rule the East, it’s wide open beneath them.
Meanwhile, in the West, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs look poised to steamroll to the semifinals, likely to meet the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.
Nonetheless, anything can happen in the NBA playoffs, and an exciting series could pop up where we least expect it.
Here are our picks for the first round of the playoffs:
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8)
- Alex Gallardo/AP
Head-to-head record this season: 3-1 Detroit
One thing to know If the Cavaliers need five games to beat Detroit, they will bump Justin Bieber and his Purpose World Tour out of the Quicken Loans Arena on April 26. Sorry!
Emmett: The Cavaliers are an extremely fragile No. 1 seed. Expect Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to dominate in the pick-and-roll. No matter. LeBron has hit that next gear over his past 10 games. Cavs in 5.
Scott: The Pistons match up well with the Cavaliers on paper, and Stan Van Gundy’s game-planning can’t be discounted. But LeBron and the Cavs are rolling, and the Pistons’ starting lineup has a combined zero games of playoff experience. Cavs in 5.
Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)
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Head-to-head record this season: 3-1 Toronto
One thing to know: The Raptors’ playoff hopes could be tied to DeMarre Carroll, who returned from knee surgery in April. If healthy, he represents a wing defender the Raptors haven’t had and unlocks more options on offense, including small-ball possibilities.
Emmett: I want to talk myself into Paul George, Myles Turner, and the Pacers, especially since the Raptors have crashed out of the playoffs in the first round for the past two seasons. But I don’t think Toronto will do it three times in a row. Raptors in 5.
Scott: The Pacers’ offense has fallen off after a hot start, and their stingy defense could muck this up to give the Raptors a challenge. But this Raptors team, unlike years past, can defend right back, even if their offense stalls out. Raptors in 6.
Miami Heat (3) vs. Charlotte Hornets (6)
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Head-to-head record this season: 2-2
One thing to know: The Heat were lucky to lock up the No. 3 seed. They lost their last game of the season, even after leading by 26 points, and needed some help elsewhere to finish third in the East. Will their recent loss affect them come the playoffs?
Emmett: I have to talk myself into at least one upset, right? I’ll take the Hornets, who are sneakily really fun to watch. There’s not much play-off experience in #BuzzCity, but Kemba Walker has that special something in the big games. Hornets in 7.
Scott: The Hornets are one of the feel-good stories in the East as a reimagined, pace-and-space, borderline superstar-less offense with a tough defense. This could be a close series, but ultimately, the Heat have the bigger stars and more experience to grind it out. Heat in 7.
Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Boston Celtics (5)
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Head-to-head record this season: 3-1 Atlanta
One thing to know: Brad Stevens has now made the playoffs twice in his first three seasons in the NBA. He has won zero play-off games.
Emmett: Stevens is some sort of wizard. How is this team actually good? Their best scorer is tiny, they get solid production from Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, and now Kevin Durant is apparently in the picture? How is this happening? Anyway, I think their luck runs out against an underrated Hawks team.Hawks in 6.
Scott: The Celtics have had some big wins this season, such as beating Golden State at home and coming from 26 behind to beat the Heat in Boston. But over a seven-game series, can this hodgepodge group still score after the Hawks, a stellar defensive team, make adjustments? Hawks in 7.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)
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Head-to-head record this season: 3-0 Warriors
One thing to know: The Rockets have been the most disappointing team this season, and didn’t inspire much faith as they went a meager 7-8 in the middle of a playoff race.
Emmett: James Harden might average 45 points per game in this series. Won’t matter. Warriors in 4.
Scott: If the Rockets are hoping they can flip the switch in the postseason against the history-making Warriors … good luck. Warriors in 4.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
- Steve Dykes/Getty
Head-to-head record this season: 4-0 Spurs
One thing to know: The Spurs just rattled off a 67-15 record, the best of the Tim Duncan era. Think about that.
Emmett: Can we just fast-forward through the first round of the Western Conference? Spurs in 4.
Scott: The Grizzlies, at full health, could maybe give the Spurs a run. But sans Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Memphis, 2-10 against San Antonio the last three years, doesn’t have much hope. Spurs in 4.
Oklahoma City Thunder (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)
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Head-to-head record this season: 4-0 Thunder
One thing to know: The Mavericks come limping into the playoffs, with Chandler Parsons out, David Lee doubtful for Game 1, and J.J. Barea and Deron Williams still on the mend.
Emmett: Rick Carlisle deserves some Coach of the Year votes for coaching the hodgepodge Mavericks to the play-offs, but his team is outmatched here. Thunder in 5.
Scott: The Thunder are too good, even if the Mavericks were healthy. Some Rick Carlisle or Dirk Nowitzki magic could happen, but there’s not enough to beat this Thunder team. Thunder in 5.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)
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Head-to-head record this season: 3-1 Clippers
One thing to know: ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gives the Blazers just an 18% chance to upset the Clippers. And that’s the highest percentage of all the first-round matchups in the Western Conference!
Emmett: This is a series I’ll be watching closely, not just because I’m inexplicably a very big Meyers Leonard fan. How will Blake Griffin’s hand look? How will the Clippers jell now that he’s back and the games matter? Clippers in 7.
Scott: A subtle matchup to watch in this one: Doc Rivers vs. Terry Stotts, who got as close to a coach-on-coach fight as we’ve seen in ages! Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum could carry the Blazers to a win or two, but I don’t trust Portland’s defense – 21st in defensive rating – or youth to stop LA. Clippers in 6.
Now relive the most iconic moments from Kobe Bryant’s career:
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