First-round Match-ups are set, NBA Playoffs kick off Saturday

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Blake Krantz

by Blake Krantz
The NBA playoffs will finally begin this Saturday, as the regular season’s final games were played Wednesday night. The first-round playoff match-ups have been established, an intriguing bunch filled with stars, veterans, underdogs, and much more. Sixteen teams have qualified, and each series is listed below.
The Eastern Conference:
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets: When the Brooklyn Nets traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett two years ago, they were looking to cement their team as a serious contender in the conference. Nowadays, Pierce and Garnett have both left, and point guard Deron Williams has slipped from the list of elite players in the NBA. On the other hand, the Hawks have possibly been the biggest surprise this season, proving potent from the 3-point line with players such as breakout star Kyle Korver. This series should not be close and the Hawks should win in five games.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been an uplifting story this year, surging into the playoffs with new additions such as Isaiah Thomas. Second year coach Brad Stevens has been nothing short of phenomenal in helping this team reach its potential. But Cleveland has Lebron James. In addition to point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love, James has led the Cavaliers to a stellar record of 53-29. James hopes to make his fifth straight NBA finals, and the Celtics probably will not stand in the way of this. Cleveland should win the series in five games, maybe six due to Boston’s resiliency.
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: The Bulls are another team to follow in the East as a candidate to take down Cleveland. Chicago has been injury-plagued for the greater part of the year, with Jimmy Butler and star point guard Derrick Rose out for lengthy stretches of the season. The storyline of this series will be how healthy Rose looks, as he just returned from the third knee injury of his career a few games ago. The Bulls will probably win in six games over Milwaukee.
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards: This series is the least “eyebrow-raising” of the first round. Both Washington and Toronto have been relatively disappointing for the greater part of the year. Due to the pure talent of Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards should take the series in seven games, a close one between two long-shot contenders.
The Western Conference:
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans: With a win over the defending champion Spurs last night, the Pelicans outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Pelicans are led by emerging superstar Anthony Davis, an integral player for the future of the league. Unfortunately, the Warriors’ Steph Curry hit 77 straight 3-pointers in practice this week, the Warriors are practically unbeatable at home, and the Pelicans and Thunder were competing for a chance to lose to Golden State. The Warriors will advance, probably in five games.
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks: Fear the beard! Golden State’s Steph Curry will likely be the NBA MVP, but Houston’s James Harden should be a close second. In a season which the Rockets largely played without all-star center Dwight Howard, Harden carried the Rockets to a 56-26 record, and the second seed in the West. For the Mavericks, the mid season acquisition of Rajon Rondo from the Celtics did not work out, as Rondo provided more internal conflict with head coach Rick Carlisle than wins. The Rockets take this first-round matchup, likely in five games, with potential for a sweep.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs: This may finally be the year that the star-studded Clippers make a deep run in the playoffs. Fueled by stars all over the court, such as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Deandre Jordan, Los Angeles has had another successful season, once again the superior team in L.A. Unfortunately, they drew the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, led, like always, by coach Greg Popovich and center Tim Duncan. This series shapes up to be the best of them all, but the Clippers will likely win in a seven game series which will go down to the wire.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies: This should be another tight series in the West, between two teams whose stars have done well in the playoffs before. Portland’s Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge led the Trail Blazers over the Rockets in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and the Grizzlies’ big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are a perennial threat. Whichever team can win the battle in the paint is likely to advance, which in all probability will be the Grizzlies. Memphis is likely to win in six games.