The 2015 NBA playoffs are set to begin on Saturday, April 18, as 16 teams start their quest to reach the NBA Finals. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers were knocked out of contention on the final day of the regular season.
In the Eastern Conference, all of the higher seeds are expected to advance. The bottom three playoff teams all finished the regular season with a losing record, and the No.5 seed went 0-3 against the No.4 seed.
The Western Conference is as unpredictable as it’s been in years. While the No.1 seed should advance with ease, any result in the other three series would be far from shocking. Not only does the No.5 seed have home-court advantage over the No.4 seed, but the No.6 seed is the second favorite to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. The Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs finished the season separated by just one game in the standings.
Below are predictions for the entire first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs.
No. 1 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 8 Brooklyn Nets
The Hawks swept the Nets in their season series, and there’s a good chance the same will happen in the postseason. Atlanta lost three straight games to end the regular season, but those games meant nothing and they still managed to go 60-22. The Nets needed victories to make the playoffs, and they lost four of their final seven contests, including two against Atlanta by a combined 35 points. Brooklyn will be lucky to win a game, but it wouldn't come as a surprise if some final scores were closer than expected.
Prediction: Atlanta in four.
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
Cleveland is the favorite in the East for good reason, but Boston will be no pushover. Despite finishing the season under .500, the No.7 seed has won 24 of their last 36 games. The Celtics don’t have a superstar, but their up-tempo style of play has helped them score a lot of points. Boston could be competitive against Cleveland, though LeBron James and Co. might make it a short series. James won't allow this series to go six games.
Prediction: Cleveland in five.
No. 3 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have been one of the league’s biggest surprises, but they could have a rough first-round matchup against the Bulls. Since they traded Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall for Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, Milwaukee has gone 11-18. The No.6 seed ranks just 25th in offensive efficiency, and they could have a tough time scoring against one of the best defensive teams in the East. The Bulls, meanwhile, look like a team on a mission, and have recently overcome some serious injury woes.
Prediction: Chicago in five.
No. 4 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards
The No.4 vs. No.5 series in the East will come down to Toronto’s high-scoring offense against Washington’s top-five defense. The Raptors have the edge, having home-court advantage and sweeping their three-game regular season series with the Wizards, averaging 106 points in those contests. Bradley Beal didn’t play in Washington’s last two games against Toronto, and the Wizards went just 9-10 in games that the shooting guard didn’t play.
Prediction: Toronto in seven.
No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
The No.1 vs. No.8 matchup is the only one in the West that should be one-sided. Anthony Davis is a legitimate MVP candidate, but he can’t beat the NBA’s best team by himself. The Warriors have been nearly unbeatable at home, losing just twice at Oracle Arena. Despite Davis’ 2.94 blocks per game, the Pelicans are a poor defensive team, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll be able to stop Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the league’s No.2 offense.
Prediction: Golden State in four.
No. 2 Houston Rockets vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
The Rockets are favored as the No.2 seed, but Dallas has a chance to pull off the biggest upset of the entire first-round. It won’t be easy, considering James Harden is one of the NBA’s best scorers and he’s carried the Rockets to 56 victories. But Houston will be susceptible to an upset. Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas are out for the playoffs, leaving the Rockets without 40 percent of their starting lineup. April has been Dirk Nowitzki’s best month of the season, and Harden could run out of gas when playing a 50-win team over a seven-game series.
Prediction: Dallas in seven.
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 San Antonio Spurs
The Clippers have home-court advantage as the No.3 seed, but the Spurs are rightfully favored to advance to the conference semifinals. San Antonio has lost just twice in the last month, and they are looking more and more like the team that won the 2014 NBA Finals. It wouldn’t be too surprising if L.A. won the series, considering they have a top-10 player in Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan could be named the Defensive Player of the Year. But the Spurs are simply too smart and effective on both sides of the court to fall to the Clippers.
Prediction: San Antonio in six.
No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
Even though Portland is the No.4 seed, Memphis has home-court advantage. The Trail Blazers looked like a potential contender to reach the NBA Finals earlier this season, but the season-ending injury to Wes Matthews likely ended that possibility. Memphis didn’t have much trouble with Portland in their four regular-season meetings, winning every game, including two by double-digits. Despite their struggles since the All-Star break, the Grizzlies remain the better team. Marc Gasol could have a big series against the Blazers' centers.
Prediction: Memphis in six.