Western Conference

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

Let’s be real — James Harden will have to average 65 points per game in the series if the Rockets have a chance to upset the best regular season team of all time. Although he will do his best to singlehandedly keep the Rockets in the series, it is not going to happen. The Warriors are too disciplined, too experienced and too talented. If Steph Curry or Klay Thompson have an off night, a host of players can pick up the slack ranging from Draymond Green to Harrison Barnes and even Andre Iguodala. The Warriors are on a roll right now and it looks like they will not be denied of their second straight championship.

Pick: Warriors in 4

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

Without question, the Spurs and the Grizzlies are one of the best first-round matchups we have, as the brilliant mind of Gregg Popovich and his cast of veteran stars will be taking on the gritty misfits from Memphis. For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has cemented himself as a top-five player in the league, while LaMarcus Aldridge is coming into his own and taking the responsibilities of the team’s top big man. Unlike the Spurs, the Grizzlies have lost their two best players to injury. Point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol are unavailable as the team turns to Zach Randolph to lead the charge. Despite their toughness, the Grizzlies do not have enough to match up with Spurs and their nearly flawless record at home this year.

Pick: Spurs in 5

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

This could be Dirk Nowitzki’s last chance at a playoff run, but in this case, there does not seem to be much potential for a run in store. The Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are skilled enough to win the series by themselves. They each dominate the game in a variety of ways in which the Mavericks have no players to match their abilities. The Mavericks are balanced, with a bunch of solid players, but none of world-class talent like Durant and Westbrook. Unless Nowitzki and J.J. Barea have an enormous series, the thought of the Mavericks moving on to the second round does not seem rational.

Pick: Thunder in 4

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are not supposed to be here. Other than Damian Lillard, they lost all their main guys at the end of last season, but CJ McCollum is arguably the most improved player in the league, giving the Blazers some much needed scoring when Lillard is out of the game. These two guards will definitely give the Clippers fits on defense throughout the series. The man tasked with running the Clippers is always up to the challenge though, as Chris Paul is a coach on the floor who is one of the best leaders in the game. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can also dominate Portland’s undersized bigs and propel the Clippers to the next round.

Pick: Clippers in 6


Eastern Conference

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

Lebron James has to be crossing his fingers coming into this series. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have returned from last season’s playoff injuries on a mission to cement this Big 3’s place in NBA history. For the Pistons, Andre Drummond is an absolute monster on the inside and Reggie Jackson is a supremely talented guard who can put points on the board quickly. Therefore, the Pistons do not have James on their team and for that reason, the Cavaliers will take this series easily. Look for James to give us a glimpse of the beast mode mentality he will once again take with him through the playoffs.

Pick: Cavs in 4


No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers

The Raptors won 56 games in the regular season and clinched the number two seed in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The explosive guard tandem of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan was unstoppable this year, proving to be the East’s best backcourt while both garnering all-star nods. The Raptors will ride their guard play without hiccup into the second round unless the Pacers receive an incredible series from their star Paul George. George has struggled against the Raptors this season and he will certainly have to step up his scoring if the Pacers have a chance. We cannot expect much help from his surrounding cast though, so if the Raptors shut down George, they will have little trouble with the Pacers.

Pick: Raptors in 5


No. 3 Miami Heat vs. No. 6 Charlotte Hornets

The wily veterans from Miami facing off against Charlotte’s young guns will be quite an intriguing matchup. The Heat move on here if Dwyane Wade can bring his patented playoff magic to the mix. He’s had a tough go against the Hornets this season, scoring considerably below his season average, but big time players step up when it matters most. If Charlotte advances, it will be because of Kemba Walker’s domination of the point of attack. His penetration is unrivaled in the series, but he needs his supporting players to knock down their open shots. In the end, the Heat have too much firepower to overcome the young Charlotte squad even without Chris Bosh.

Pick: Heat in 6


No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 5 Boston Celtics

Atlanta has all the pieces: a solid lead guard in Jeff Teague and two fantastic underrated big men in Paul Millsap and Al Horford, who control the paint. They are a well-balanced team who plays efficiently on the offensive end and does not give up easy buckets offensively. However, the talent and toughness of this Boston team gives the Celtics a great chance in the series. Plain and simple: Isaiah Thomas is a stud. The 5-foot-9-inch wizard excites the crowd and sets up his complimentary players perfectly. Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are some of the toughest defenders in the league and do not back down from a challenge. Having said that, the Celtics receive a slight advantage, but it will be a tight series.

Pick: Celtics in 7



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