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NBA Playoff Preview

The Golden State Warriors are looking to threepeat and make it four rings in five seasons this year.

The Golden State Warriors are looking to threepeat and make it four rings in five seasons this year.

Photo courtesy of team.fastmodelssports.com

The Golden State Warriors are looking to threepeat and make it four rings in five seasons this year.

Photo courtesy of team.fastmodelssports.com

Photo courtesy of team.fastmodelssports.com

The Golden State Warriors are looking to threepeat and make it four rings in five seasons this year.

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As the buzzer sounds on the 2018-19 NBA regular season, the real excitement is yet to come. The playoffs tipped off on April 13, and the race to the finish in both conferences could not have been any closer. In the Eastern Conference, the sixth through tenth seeds were all within a game of each other at one point, and the second through eighth seeds in the Western Conference was all up for grabs. Now, there is no more worrying about getting into the playoffs, but advancing through them. At this point, we can only wait to see what happens next.

 As always, there were many surprises during this NBA season. This year, however, there were more than usual. One of the biggest surprises was that the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best record in the NBA and that the Denver Nuggets were the number two seed in the Western Conference. Another big surprise was the Los Angeles Lakers not making the playoffs after signing arguably the best player in the world, LeBron James. There was also a trade that stunned NBA fans as Kristaps Porzingis was shipped from the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks. Also, superstar Anthony Davis requested a trade out of New Orleans and made it clear that he did not intend on resigning there this upcoming summer. Finally, just after the regular season ended, Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson resigned as the team’s president, sending shockwaves through L.A.’s organization, fan base, and the entire NBA.

Now, the real season begins as teams battle for a chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, and The Neersyde is here to break down the first round matchups and make some picks.

Photo courtesy of slamonline.com
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leading MVP candidate this season, and he hopes to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a deep postseason run.

The Eastern Conference opened up this year after the departure of LeBron James last summer as many  of the teams did a lot better than last season. All of the playoff teams have strengths and weaknesses. The number one seed Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the entire league. Their obvious strength is MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is the most dominant player in basketball right now. He has a great supporting cast around him, too, with All-Star guard/forward Khris Middleton and All-Star caliber point guard Eric Bledsoe. Another major strength of the Bucks is their three-point shooting. They were statistically the second-best three-point shooting team in the league while averaging 118 points per game, which was the league best. The Bucks also had a top-five defense all year. Their main weakness is inexperience. Only four players on the team have made it past the first round of the playoffs. This could be a disadvantage as the intensity and pressure of the playoffs ramps up with each passing game.

The Toronto Raptors had the second best record in the NBA and clinched the second seed in the East. They have a deadly combo at the forward spots with All-Star starter Kawhi Leonard and Most Improved Player front runner Pascal Siakam. The Raptors also have All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry to compliment the forwards nicely. Their bench unit is top five in the NBA. The Raptors main strength is that they are the most well-rounded team in the league, and don’t seem to have any major weaknesses. The big question facing them is will Kawhi Leonard re-sign with the Raptors this summer.

The third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers have the most star power in the East. They have All-Star point guard Ben Simmons, All-Star caliber forward Tobias Harris, four-time All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, and All-Star center Joel Embiid. Their major weakness is their bench. They have not been able to lean on their bench as much as they could last year because of multiple trades during the course of this season, such as the Jimmy Butler trade in mid-November, and the Tobias Harris trade in early March.

The fourth-seeded Boston Celtics have been a major disappointment this year. They were predicted to be the number one seed, but they have chemistry issues. An example of these issues is when their star, Kyrie Irving, demanded the ball in the clutch, but instead, he did not even get a touch. This made him angry because he feels he is the guy that should have the ball in the closing seconds, not anybody else. Overall, these chemistry issues may be controversial in terms of where he will sign during free agency this summer. The Celtics have so much depth that everyone on their bench is a starting caliber player. However, many players such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have had a down season. Their major strength is being the deepest and most experienced team in the East. This is an unusual team because it’s a dangerous but shaky squad. Boston may get bounced in the first round, but also has the potential to reach the Finals.

The Indiana Pacers are the five seed. They do not have their two-time All-Star guard Victor Oladipo because of a gruesome knee injury in January that required surgery, ending his season. This team is a lot like the Los Angeles Clippers in that they have no superstar. The one weakness is that, without Oladipo, they have no player who can close out games and score consistently.

The Brooklyn Nets are the six seed and are led by the man with ice in his veins – D’Angelo Russell. The All-Star guard is their main strength, and they have a solid bench anchored by point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

The Orlando Magic have had a crazy season despite being the seventh seed. They have nice size with players such as center Mo Bamba, forward Jonathan Isaac, and All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. The big problem is they don’t have a high-volume scorer.

The eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons tumbled from the sixth seed toward the end of the season. Their obvious strength is having All-Star forward Blake Griffin and All-Star center Andre Drummond. However, Detroit has been challenged offensively and lacks depth other than its frontcourt. They don’t have wing scorers and this has been their problem for a few years.

Photo courtesy of espn.com
Led by Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have a fighting chance to represent the East in this year’s NBA Finals.

Zach Smith’s Eastern Conference Picks

Bucks (1) over Pistons (8) in six games, Raptors (2) will sweep the Magic (7) in four games, the Sixers (3) will take down the Nets (6) in five, and the Celtics (4) will outlast the Pacers (5) in seven. In the second round, the Celtics will upset the Bucks in six games while the Raptors will nudge the Sixers in seven. The Celtics and Raptors will then face off in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Raptors will prevail in seven games.

Joey Tomassetti’s Eastern Conference Picks

Bucks over Pistons in four, Raptors over Magic in four, Sixers over Nets in six, and Celtics over Pacers in six. In the second round, the Celtics will upend the Bucks in seven games, while the Raptors will knock off the Sixers also in seven. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors will outlast Boston in seven.

The West this year, as usual, was better all-around than the East in terms of depth and talent. The Golden State Warriors are trying to continue their dynasty by winning their third straight championship, and fourth in the last five years. This year, though, many teams surprised Golden State, challenging the throne. Still, the champs are one of the most experienced teams in the league with superstars Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, and All-Stars Klay Thompson, Demarcus Cousins, and Draymond Green. Also, their bench is decent. The reason the Warriors have been so dominant over the last couple of years is that they have no real weaknesses.

After the Warriors is the second-seeded Denver Nuggets. Denver was a huge surprise this year, winning 54 games which were good enough for fourth best in the league. Center Nikola Jokic, an MVP candidate and first-time All-Star, has been the leader of this team. They also have an athletic backcourt in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris and forward Paul Millsap, a defensive monster. Their bench is also one of the best in the NBA.

The third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers had one of their best regular seasons in the last couple of years. As usual, point Guard Damian Lillard played like a superstar, and guard CJ McCollum was always there if Lillard needed someone to step up. Sadly, their starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, went out with a gruesome leg injury in mid-March. Besides their two stars, the Blazers have some good starters and a decent bench.

Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com
The Houston Rockets’ James Harden is the reigning MVP and is looking to finally take down the Warriors after his historic season.

The Houston Rockets are the fourth seed this year and took a dip in terms of wins this season. However, guard James Harden had one of the best statistical seasons in NBA history, averaging 36 points per game. The Rockets also have All-Star point guard Chris Paul, talented center Clint Capela, and a deep bench.

The fifth-seeded Utah Jazz are back in the 50-win club again. Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell had an All-Star season with reigning Defensive Player of the Year center Rudy Gobert by his side. The Jazz also possesses a lot of depth with shooters and defenders all over the court.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the sixth seed and had a disappointing year despite All-Star forward Paul George having an MVP caliber season. Guard Russell Westbrook also averaged a triple-double for a mind-boggling third straight season. This is a team that could do some damage in the playoffs.

The seventh seed San Antonio Spurs are dark horse candidateS as well, even in a loaded Western Conference. This is certainly not Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s first rodeo in the playoffs as he has five NBA titles, all with the Spurs, under his belt. San Antonio was led by star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and new guard/forward Demar DeRozan. They also have crafty playmakers and shooters coming off their bench.

Finally, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed. The Clippers do not have a real star, but they are a very well-rounded team. They are led by borderline All-Stars Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell. Their bench is also one of the best in the league led by reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams.

Zach Smith’s Western Conference Picks

The Warriors (1) will sweep the  Clippers (8) in four games, the Spurs (7) will shock the Nuggets (2) in six, the Thunder (6) will oust the Trail Blazers (3) in five, and the Jazz (5) will edge the Rockets (4) in seven. In the second round, the Warriors will sweep the Jazz and the. Thunder will beat the Spurs in five. In the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors will eliminate the Thunder in six.

Joey Tomassetti’s Western Conference Picks

Warriors over the Clippers in four, Nuggets over the Spurs in six, the Thunder over the Trailblazers in six, and the Rockets over the Jazz in six. In the second round, the Warriors will beat the Rockets in seven games and the Thunder will knock off the Nuggets also in seven. In the Conference Finals, the Warriors will bounce the Thunder in six.

NBA Finals Predictions

Smith and Tomassetti both have the Warriors taking out the Raptors in six games to three-peat as NBA champions.

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