Image Courtesy of SBNation
By Jonathan Norman
Almost as quickly as they came, the NBA playoffs are in full swing. In just about a month, we will know the respective champions from both the Eastern and Western conferences, and we will get to see these teams face off in the NBA finals. For now, let’s review the matchups so far in the first round.
This Western Conference has definitely provided the most entertaining first round this year, as only one series has been one sided. Shockingly, the one-seeded Phoenix Suns have struggled against the eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans. The Suns have especially struggled with their play at the guard position. Suns all-star shooting guard Devin Booker suffered a hamstring strain in Game Two and is reportedly out for two to three weeks. The Suns hoped their other all-star guard Chris Paul would shine in Booker’s absence, but his play actually seemed to decrease. In Game Four of the series, Paul only scored four points after playing almost 35 minutes and shot a mere 25% from the field. Things may not get better for the Suns as they will most likely have to get through the entire second round without Booker as well.
The two-seeded Memphis Grizzlies also struggled against the seven-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves actually could have been leading this series if it was not for their ultimate collapse in Game Three: the series was tied 1-1 and the Timberwolves held two 25-point leads at different points in the game, both of which they blew.. They went on to lose Game Three, but won Game Four to tie the series 2-2. Both the top-seeded teams in the Western Conference seemed to struggle with their first-round opponents, which has created a large sense of skepticism among NBA fans as to whether either of these teams are capable of winning the championship.
From the first round in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors seemed to be the strongest team. They dominated the Denver Nuggets for most of the series behind great play from all-star point guard Stephen Curry, who averaged over 27 points for the series. The play of guard Jordan Poole has also been a jump starter for Golden State, with many fans thinking Poole should have been selected for the Most Improved Player award.
As for the Eastern Conference, most of the series seemed to go as predicted, with each of the higher seeds dominating. Maybe the most shocking series was with the two-seeded Boston Celtics sweeping the seven-seeded Brooklyn Nets, as many NBA analysts predicted that the Nets would be a challenge for the Celtics to move past. In reality, the Celtics seemed to be a much better team than the Nets, especially with Nets all-star forward Kevin Durant struggling. In Game Three Durant shot just 23% from the field and had six turnovers. Also, reports have surfaced that former all-star guard Ben Simmons would make his Nets debut in Game Four of this series, but that never happened. This has led many fans to ask when will Ben Simmons play his first game as a Net, as he has not checked into an NBA game in almost a year.
The other series in the East that many NBA analysts thought would be close and could produce an upset was the four-seeded Philadelphia 76ers series against the five-seeded Toronto Raptors. The Sixers, behind a great series from all-star center Joel Embiid, dominated the Raptors in the first three games. In Game Three, Embiid tore a ligament in his thumb, but the center will reportedly delay surgery until the end of the 76ers season. Since the injury, the Sixers have struggled against the Raptors, losing both Games Four and Five. It remains to be seen whether this injury will hinder the 76ers’ chance at a championship.
With what we’ve seen in the first round so far, there are no clear championship favorites. Many thought that the Phoenix Suns, who had the best record in the NBA, would emerge as the best team among the playoff contenders, but that was not the case as they struggled in their series against the New Orleans Pelicans. With this, my pick to win the Western Conference championship is the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry seems to be in his MVP form en route to his fourth championship, and they have many other great pieces with guard Klay Thompson, guard Jordan Poole, and forward Draymond Green. For the Eastern Conference champions, my pick is the Philadelphia 76ers. With the addition of James Harden, they have shown to be a dominant team that is never truly out of a game because they have the ability to score quickly and efficiently.
My prediction is that the Golden State Warriors will face off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA finals and the Warriors will be crowned NBA champions once again. They are a team with great veterans that have championship experience, they have some great young stars, and they have great coaching. The Warriors are the most complete team in the NBA playoffs and will be the champions come June.