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A preview of the NBA playoffs

By Kenyon Finch, KSL.com | Posted - Apr 14th, 2018 @ 7:42am



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SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA playoffs are finally here.

Going into the season, the big narrative was that everyone already knew what was going to happen in the playoffs. Everyone thought that Cleveland and Golden State would cruise to the Finals, and ultimately the Warriors would once again hold the Larry O’Brien trophy.

This scenario, while still extremely possible, is not quite as likely as it initially seemed.

The duo of James Harden and Chris Paul has worked out better than anticipated, giving the Rockets the top seed in the West and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Isaiah Thomas experiment in Cleveland was a complete disaster and the Cavaliers have struggled to maintain consistency all season, finishing as the fourth seed in the weaker Eastern Conference.

With all of the surprises the regular season gave us, we should be in store for a lot more in the playoffs. Here is a look into each matchup and the odds of the teams going forward.

Western Conference

No. 1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Rockets a 92 percent chance of defeating Minnesota. FiveThirtyEight also gives the Rockets a 69 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 57 percent chance of making the NBA Finals, and 44 percent chance of winning the championship. Minnesota is given an 8 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 2 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 1 percent chance to make the finals and less than a 1 percent chance to win the whole thing.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Houston a 37.4 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives the Timberwolves a .4 percent chance to win the championship.

AccuScore: The Houston Rockets are given a 95.20 percent chance to win the first round and a 23 percent chance to win the championship. Minnesota is given a 4.80 percent chance to win the first round, and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

This matchup is a battle of old-school vs. new-school. The Houston Rockets are the poster child for the analytical movement. For the second straight year, the Rockets broke the NBA record for the most 3-pointers made and attempted in a season. The Rockets are the first team in NBA history to shoot more threes than twos; 50.2 percent of their field-goal attempts were from behind the arc this season, according to TEAMRANKINGS. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot the least amount of threes in the NBA; only 26.1 percent of their shot attempts were threes.

The Rockets play small. They play with one big and a small forward at the power forward. This allows them to switch on defense and spread the floor on offense.

The Timberwolves almost always play with two traditional bigs.

We will see if head coach Tom Thibodeau will stick to his traditional basketball principles, or downsize in an attempt to slow down the 3-point shooting and penetration of the potent Houston Rockets.

No. 2 Golden State Warriors (58-24) vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs (47-35)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Warriors a 56 percent chance of defeating the Spurs. FiveThirtyEight also give the Warriors a 33 percent chance of making the conference finals, an 8 percent chance of making the NBA Finals, and a 4 percent chance of winning the championship. San Antonio is given a 44 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 23 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 6 percent chance to make the Finals, and a 3 percent chance to win the whole thing.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives the Warriors an 18.5 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives the Spurs a 1.0 percent chance to win the championship.

AccuScore: Golden State is given a 78.80 percent chance to win the first round and a 33 percent chance to win the championship. San Antonio is given a 21.40 percent chance to win the first round, and a 2 percent chance to win the Finals.

Golden State will be without Stephen Curry in this series. This is bad new for them as they've been horrendous without him this season. They have gone 7-10 in their last 17 games. With Curry out of the lineup, the Warriors will need Kevin Durant to step up and Klay Thompson to shoot much better than he did in their final game of the season against the Jazz.

Fortunately for the Warriors, the Spurs will be without Kawhi Leonard barring any miraculous comeback. The Spurs are going to try to slow down the game and make it ugly to prevent Golden State from getting hot and shooting them right out of the gym.

This season, the Spurs have strayed away from their prototypical use of two big men in the lineup. They will likely continue to do this in the playoffs to match Golden State’s versatility. LaMarcus Aldridge will play the majority of the minutes at center with Pau Gasol taking his place when he goes out.

The Spurs will play small at the four most of the game, likely with Kyle Anderson or Rudy Gay.

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers (49-33) vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Blazers a 58 percent chance to advance to the semis, a 27 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 6 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 3 percent chance of winning the championship. New Orleans is given a 42 percent chance to make it to the semis, an 18 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 4 percent chance to make the Finals and a 2 percent chance to win the Finals.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Portland a 1.0 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives New Orleans a .2 percent chance of winning the championship.

AccuScore: The Blazers are given a 68.50 percent chance to win the first round and a 1 percent chance to win the championship. The Pelicans are given a 31.50 percent chance to win the first round and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

This will be a battle of two MVP candidates, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. With DeMarcus Cousins out for the season, Davis will play almost all of his minutes at the five. This will mean Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic will be matched up against Davis. This is going to be an absolute nightmare for Nurkic, due to the quickness of Davis.

The Blazers may elect to go small and put Al-Farouq Aminu on Davis. This will cause problems for Portland as well, because Aminu is too small for Davis in the post. Regardless of what Portland does, Davis is going to score a lot in this series.

Portland is very reliant on its backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum. The combination of Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore could slow down this backcourt. Both are savvy defensive players who are going to make life tough for the two Trail Blazers. If the Pelicans do decide to put Moore and Holiday on Lillard and McCollum, Rajon Rondo will be left to deal with Evan Turner. If this is the case, Turner will need to score against the much smaller Rondo in the post.

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz (48-34)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Thunder a 52 percent chance to advance to the semis, a 14 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 9 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 5 percent chance of winning the championship. The Jazz are given a 48 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 14 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 9 percent chance to make the Finals and a 5 percent chance to win the Finals.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives both the Thunder and the Jazz a 1.7 percent chance to win the NBA Finals.

AccuScore: The Thunder are given a 57.10 percent chance to win the first round and a 3 percent chance to win the championship. The Jazz are given a 42.90 percent chance to win the first round and a 3 percent chance to win the Finals.

Oklahoma City and Utah both finished the season with 48 wins. The fashion in which they did this however, was very different

The Jazz stormed through the last chapter of the season going 29-6.

Oklahoma City did not finish in such an impressive fashion. The Thunder were inconsistent all season, and they fell short of many of their expectations going into the season. The combination of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony has not worked out as planned.

Father Time has caught up with Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George’s shooting over the last month has been atrocious. Despite all of this, the Thunder are still slightly favored to beat the young Jazz due to their three future Hall of Famers and center Steven Adams.

The Jazz second unit is going to need to come up huge in the playoffs. The Thunder have the second worst scoring bench in the NBA, according to hoopstats.com. Jae Crowder and Dante Exum will both be key coming off the bench, as Exum will spend time on Westbrook, and Crowder will spend time on both George and Anthony.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Toronto Raptors (59-23) vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards (43-39)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Raptors a 91 percent chance to advance to the semis, a 64 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 42 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 17 percent chance of winning the championship. The Wizards are given a 9 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 2 percent chance to make the conference finals, and less than a 1 percent chance to make the Finals or win the Finals.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Toronto a 28.1 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives Washington a .2 percent chance of winning the championship.

AccuScore: The Raptors are given an 92.30 percent chance to win the first round and a 9 percent chance to win the championship. The Wizards are given a 7.30 percent chance to win the first round, and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

In the past, Toronto has been extremely disappointing in the playoffs. This year, the Raptors are hoping things will be different. They have a much improved second unit to help keep them afloat if DeMar DeRozan goes cold. They have Fred VanVleet and former Ute Delon Wright to help Kyle Lowry out at the point. Lowry has struggled in the playoffs in the past, shooting only 39 percent from the field in his playoff career.

Washington comes limping into the playoffs losing five of its last six, including a loss to the lottery bound Orlando Magic. If the Wizards would have defeated the Magic, they would be facing the Boston Celtics rather than the Raptors in the first round.

John Wall was injured for half of the season, but has been back for the last few games. The Wizards are hoping to get a momentum boost from their All-Star point guard and take home-court advantage away from the Raptors, who have lost the first game in each of their last nine playoff series.

No. 2 Boston Celtics (55-27) vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Celtics a 73 percent chance to advance to the semis, a 28 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 9 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 2 percent chance of winning the championship. Milwaukee is given a 27 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 6 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 1 percent chance to make the Finals and less than a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Boston a 4.8 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives Milwaukee less than a .1 percent chance of winning the championship.

AccuScore: The Celtics are given an 87.70 percent chance to win the first round and a 7 percent chance to win the championship. The Bucks are given a 12.30 percent chance to win the first round and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward out, Giannis Antetokounmpo will by far be the best player in this series. The Bucks however have had trouble playing consistently throughout the year. Their inconsistency against the well-oiled offensive and defensive schemes of Boston head coach Brad Stevens will cause problems for the Bucks.

Fortunately for the Bucks, they will have Malcolm Brogdon back from injury to help give them a boost and slow down the execution of the Boston Celtics.

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers (52-30) vs. No. 6 Miami Heat (44-38)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the 76ers an 88 percent chance to defeat Miami and advance to the second round. FiveThirtyEight also gives Philadelphia a 62 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 30 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and an 11 percent chance of winning the championship. Miami is given a 12 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 4 percent chance to make the conference finals and less than a 1 percent chance to make the Finals or win the Finals.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Philadelphia a 4.0 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives the Heat a .1 percent chance of winning the championship.

AccuScore: The Sixers are given an 81.10 percent chance to win the first round and an 11 percent chance to win the championship. Miami is given an 18.90 percent chance to win the first round and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

Philadelphia won 16 straight games to finish the season. While this is impressive, only three of these 16 wins were against playoff-bound teams.

The 76ers will be without Joel Embiid for at least the first game of the series. Miami’s head coach Erik Spoelstra will have a game plan ready to take advantage of the injured Sixers.

The dynamic of this series will also include a big height difference between the teams. The Sixers mainly play big and the Heat like to play small. At 6-foot-10, Sixer point guard Ben Simmons will at times be as tall as the largest player Miami has on the floor.

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (48-34) vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)

Odds of advancing:

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight gives the Cavaliers a 72 percent chance to defeat Indiana and advance to the second round. FiveThirtyEight also gives Cleveland a 27 percent chance of making the conference finals, a 14 percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a 4 percent chance of winning the championship. Indiana is given a 28 percent chance to make it to the semis, a 7 percent chance to make the conference finals, a 3 percent chance to make the Finals, and less than a 1 percent chance to win the whole thing.

ESPN: ESPN’s BPI gives Cleveland a .5 percent to win the NBA Finals. ESPN gives the Pacers a .2 percent chance to win the championship.

AccuScore: The Cavaliers are given a 92.20 percent chance to win the first round and a 10 percent chance to win the championship. Indiana is given a 7.80 percent chance to win the first round, and a 1 percent chance to win the Finals.

Indiana has had an incredible year, but few are giving the Pacers any sort of chance to upset the Cavaliers. Indiana lacks the ability to take advantage of one thing Cleveland lacks, size.

Cleveland likes to play a three big rotation of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. All three of these players are under 6-foot-8 without shoes. Unfortunately for the Pacers, they are not particularly huge in the frontcourt either.

The Pacers are going to try to slow down LeBron James and use their star Victor Oladipo to take advantage of the Cavs' weak defense.

Also don’t forget, we get the added benefit of another Lance Stephenson-LeBron showdown.

Kenyon Finch

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Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2018 6:34 pm