No. 1 Golden State Warriors
vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
Warriors won season series 3-1
How they got there: The Warriors set all sorts of franchise records while winning the Pacific Division title and becoming just the 10th team in NBA history to win at least 67 games in a season. The Splash Brothers, aka Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, let it be known that they’re the NBA’s best backcourt. Curry, the heavy favorite to win the MVP award, is staking his claim as the greatest shooter in NBA history. The Pelicans stormed into the playoffs by beating the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs on the final night of the season. Anthony Davis averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds, and also led the NBA with 2.94 blocks per game.
Key to the series: The Pelicans will have their hands full with the Warriors. If the Pelicans can’t slow the pace and stay within striking distance in the first half, this could be a very short series.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 San Antonio Spurs
Series tied 2-2
How they got there: The Clippers finished 11 games behind the Warriors in the Pacific Division. DeAndre Jordan took a major step toward winning Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league in rebounds (15 per game) and was fourth in blocks (2.23 per game). He also led the NBA in field-goal shooting (71 percent). Chris Paul directed the offense with 19.1 points a game, leading the league in assists (10.2) and was fifth in steals (1.95). The Spurs enter the playoffs as the NBA’s hottest team, winning 11 consecutive games before losing at New Orleans on the final night of the season. The Spurs slipped from the No. 2 seed to No. 6 with that loss. Kawhi Leonard, MVP of last year’s NBA Finals, and veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili lead the Spurs’ quest to repeat as NBA champions.
Key to the series: This series will be about which coach makes the best adjustments. The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Clippers’ Doc Rivers are arguably the game’s top two coaches. San Antonio’s deep bench could have an impact.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
Grizzlies won season series 4-0
How they got there: The Blazers won the Northwest Division by six games over the Oklahoma City Thunder, which failed to qualify for the playoffs. All-Star combo LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard paved the way, but injuries could mean a short playoff run. Even though the Blazers are a higher seed than Memphis, they will not have home-court advantage because the Grizzlies have the better record. The Grizzlies were 31-10 at home this season behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley.
Key to the series: These teams don’t mind keeping the score low, and that may favor the Grizzlies. Memphis was 5-6 in its last 11 games, and Portland was 7-11 in its final 18
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
No. 1 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 8 Brooklyn Nets
Hawks won season series 4-0
How they got there: The Hawks were relentless in winning the Southeast Division and earning the NBA’s second-best record behind the Warriors. Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague were All-Stars for the Hawks. The Nets own the worst record of the 16 teams in the playoffs and finished third in the Atlantic Division — 11 games behind first-place Toronto. Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams carry the Nets, who reached the playoffs after a Memphis win over Indiana on the final day of the season.
Key to the series: The deep and unselfish Hawks don’t care who makes the plays. That one-for-all concept helped Atlanta finish fifth in offensive efficiency as they play small ball better than anyone.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
Season series tied 2-2
How they got there: The Cavs were 19-20 on Jan. 23 after a 107-100 loss in Phoenix, and fans were calling for the head of first-year coach David Blatt. Since then, the Cavs have gone 34-9. It just took some time for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to jell. James averaged 25.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.4 steals. The December trade of point guard Rajon Rondo and the February acquisition of point guard Isaiah Thomas boosted the Celtics. Boston was 9-14 with Rondo and 31-28 since trading him. Thomas has been a fiery leader. .
Key to the series: The Celtics need to keep the score in the 80s to have any shot at knocking off the Cavs, who won the Central Division title.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
No. 3 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
Bulls won season series 3-1
How they got there: The Bulls were second in the Central Division — three games behind Cleveland. But their season has been plagued by injuries and a strained relationship between management and coach Tom Thibodeau. Derrick Rose, who’s had three knee surgeries in three years, missed 31 games. Joakim Noah (hamstring/knee) and Taj Gibson (shoulder) aren’t 100 percent. Jimmy Butler (team-high 20 points per game) and Pau Gasol (18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and a league-high 54 double-doubles) are the catalysts. The Bucks were third in the Central Division and have the lowest scoring average (97.8 points) of the 16 playoff teams. Michael Carter-Williams is solid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo can run the floor.
Key to the series: The Bucks must run since a slower pace works to Chicago’s advantage. Rose must push the tempo and get his teammates involved offensively. First-year coach Jason Kidd will have to do a sterling job just to keep the Bucks in contention.
Prediction: Bulls in 6
No. 4 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards
Raptors won season series 3-0
How they got there: The Raptors believe this is their season to get out of the first round. DeMar DeRozan (20.1 points), Kyle Lowry (17.8 points, 6.8 assists) and Louis Williams (15.5) have been critical to their success. The Wizards have had a disappointing season. After reaching the second round of the playoffs last season, they finished second in the Southeast Division — 14 games behind Atlanta. John Wall (17.6 points, 10 assists) and Bradley Beal (15.3 points) are a formidable backcourt duo.
Key to the series: Toronto must ignore the trash talking by Wizards forward Paul Pierce. If the Raptors remain true to their defensive principles, they should win.
Prediction: Raptors in 7