With less than two weeks away, the NBA playoffs will kick-off on April 14th. While some teams may have clinched the playoffs, the final seeding is yet to be determined for a few. The Rockets have dominated all season and will most likely clinch home court for the entire playoffs while they finish with the league’s best record this season. The Eastern Conference will see a new one seed as the Toronto Raptors should they hold on for the final five games. The Boston Celtics are currently in the rear-view mirror only two games behind in second place.
As always match-ups are key in the playoffs and this year injuries to Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry that are shaping up to keep them out at least through the first-round can create some unexpected surprises. Unless these two All-Star guards make a first-round debut the NBA could potentially avoid a fourth year of Cleveland vs Golden State in June. Here are a few scenarios that can contribute to a few “upsets”.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs (7) Minnesota Timberwolves
What is intriguing about this match-up is that Jimmy Butler is nearing his return to the Wolves and will be an instant boost as their go-to scorer. These two teams played each other three times in the regular season. The Warriors took the series 2-1. Now, the playoffs are a completely different beast but it should be noted that in the one lone Wolves victory Stephen Curry did not play (Butler as well). The Warriors fell 109-103 in Minnesota on March 11th. Kevin Durant will still lead me to choose the Warriors in this potential series but without Curry, the dynamics change and the Wolves have one less All-Star to defend. Hard to believe the Warriors could be knocked out in the first-round but definitely a match-up the Warriors should hope to avoid. Karl Anthony-Towns is averaging 26 points per game and 12 rebounds per game vs Golden State this season and much of Golden State’s defensive responsibility will need to come from Draymond Green or Zaza Pachulia to counter the big man. A slower pace and defense gritty series from a Tom Thibideau led team is potential for this upset.
(2) Golden State Warriors vs (7) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are currently holding down the fifth spot in the Western Conference by only one game. With a couple of losses and Oklahoma City or Minnesota wins the seeding in the West can change drastically overnight. Again, with Curry out in the first-round teams have to be licking their chops to potentially upset the super team. Here is my bold guarantee. Should the Spurs finish in the 7th seed Kawhi Leonard will make a stirring return to the line-up. Remember last year’s Western Conference Finals? The redemption for the Spurs to play the Warriors down an All-Star will ironically gain back their own injured All-Star. Obviously, the Curry injury stirs the pot and one of the only reasons that would contribute to the Warriors falling short of a title this year. As I like to call it, a window of opportunity.
(2) Boston Celtics vs (3) Philadelphia 76ers
What needs to happen is for Cleveland to fall to the fourth spot and the 76ers taking the third seed first. Let’s all assume the top seeds win out in their first-round match-ups. The Sixers will face a Celtics team that potentially may or may not have a healthy Kyrie Irving. With his absence almost guaranteed in the first-round and no word yet on a minutes restriction, this opens the idea of the 76ers definitely seeing their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Let’s Trust the Process here, shall we? Joel Embiid comes back and this Philly team feels the magic of the Eagles and Villanova Wildcats. Without Kyrie, the Celtics are a well-oiled machine but also missing Marcus Smart. The expectation for rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Tony Rozier to step-up and combat Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will be key. Of course, the taste of success the young Celtics have from last season gives them an edge over the playoff virgins in Philly. Speaking of Cleveland, I’m sure Lebron James wouldn’t mind quieting “We the North” and send the Raptors packing in the second-round as a first seed.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers
Coming off the previous scenario, here is your Eastern Conference Finals. Trust the Process vs LeBron and company. Would this be the final time James wears a Cleveland jersey in his prime but also end his 7-year run in the NBA Finals? This one is pretty wild and would require a lot of stipulations prior. However, if the Sixers can take on the third seed it gives them the best chances of reaching this far and potentially sending the Cavaliers home a little earlier than in June. The Cavs hold a 2-1 series lead this season over the Sixers and one more match-up on April 6th. Last time the two teams met Kevin Love was not in the line-up. The Cavaliers could determine the faith of their seeding and disrupt the potential path of the 76ers facing a limited Boston team in the second round. Let’s for a second imagine a 76ers and Rockets Finals.
Baseline Times Contributor