* Golden State over New Orleans in five
Then again, maybe the “anyone can win” stuff was overstated since the Warriors have been destroying teams all year. It’s just that since they’re still unproven in the postseason, people are holding off crowning them as the major favourites. The Warriors shouldn’t have too much trouble in the first round, though Anthony Davis is great enough to steal at least one game by himself.
* Memphis over Portland in six
In the tough Western Conference, the closest thing to an ‘easy draw’ was the fifth seed, since it meant that you’d be matching up against the injury-decimated Trail Blazers (who were locked into the #4 seed since they won their division.) Memphis was doubly lucky since they’re pretty banged-up themselves, so this series should provide them a chance to rest up before facing G-State.
* San Antonio over Los Angeles in six
I simply can’t pick the proven losers over the proven winners. I also simply can’t pick one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the league over a team with an excellent starting five and then a 76ers-quality bench. I also simply can’t pick against Tim Duncan in the first round, and possibly not at all since he’s the man.
* Dallas over Houston in seven
Here’s my upset special of the first round. Rick Carlisle is a good enough coach that I think he’ll find a way to outflank Houston’s free throws-and-threes strategy; the only question is if the shaky Mavericks have the talent to actually do it. Both these teams hate each other, they know each other well, so this one goes the full seven bruising games.
* Cleveland over Boston in five
This is as good a place as any for the annual game of ‘how many West teams would win the Eastern Conference?’ The difference here is that the Cavaliers actually are pretty good, and the Hawks can win a lot of matchups. My take is that Golden State and San Antonio beat everyone, Houston is a tossup, Clippers are a tossup leaning towards losing to both, Memphis I actually think beats Cleveland but is 50-50 against Atlanta and…that’s it! Hey, there are three whole Western Conference playoff teams I don’t think could win the East! That’s a start! Of course, the real test between the two conferences would be to ask ‘how many East teams make the playoffs if they’re in the West,’ and really, I’d only be confident in Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago. The West is still the best.
* Chicago over Milwaukee in six
Part of me wanted to pick the Bucks since they’ve got a lot of good young talent, ’Fear The Deer’ is fun to write, and I’m naturally predisposed to pick any team from Wisconsin over any team from Chicago in a playoff scenario. That said, the Bulls are clearly the better team, so I won’t get silly. If Jay Cutler suddenly starts playing point guard for the Bulls, all bets are off.
* Toronto over Washington in seven
Weird matchup here before two teams who were red-hot in the first two months of the season and have basically played like garbage ever since. Any result here wouldn’t shock me, and you can’t help but wonder if both franchises would actually be better off with a loss — a first-round exit gives the Wizards an excuse to fire their coach, and in the Raptors’ case, you wonder if they’d explore firing Casey or overhauling the roster. The difference is that with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ have a potential ceiling of a championship with a few more pieces and a good coach in place; even if the Raptors are firing on all cylinders, you’re not going to win a title with Kyle Lowry as your best player. On the plus side, the winner of this series gets to avoid facing the Cavaliers until the East finals. Not that Atlanta isn’t a heavy favourite over either, but at least there’s a slim chance the Raptors could upset the Hawks, whereas Cleveland would probably sweep them.
* Atlanta over Brooklyn in five
I’m being generous with the five, just because the Hawks have a few injuries to deal with. I’m hoping it’s a sweep just to enforce Brooklyn’s candidacy as maybe the worst playoff team of all time.
* Golden State over Memphis in six
* San Antonio over Dallas in seven
* Cleveland over Chicago in seven
* Atlanta over Toronto in five
* San Antonio over Golden State in seven
* Cleveland over Atlanta in six
NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavaliers in six. I simply can’t pick against the champs the way they’re playing right now. It would also be kind of ironically fitting if LeBron makes his big return to Cleveland only to again lose to the Spurs in the Finals (though his team will make it much closer than they did in 2007). Duncan and Popovich get their sixth rings and I thoroughly win an argument with my friend Malcolm due to his ridiculous “I would rather have Kyrie Irving than Kawhi Leonard” stance.