There are several questions ahead of the NBA playoffs.
Digital journalists/wannabe hoops insiders Mark Bergin, Eric Heubusch, Lara Saavedra and Justin Nunez try to answer some of them.
What’s your tweet-length prediction for the NBA playoffs?
Mark Bergin: Barring injury, the Golden State Warriors win their third NBA title in the last four years.
Eric Heubusch: LeBron Jaaaaaames
Lara Saavedra: James Harden activates his beast-mode warrior, and crushes everyone in his path until the inevitable Golden State matchup. Harden deserves the regular-season MVP award! Anyone who can rock this much floral has my vote.
Justin Nunez: Mark this down; both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are missing the NBA Finals this year.
What’s the most intriguing first-round matchup?
Heubusch: Kawhi Leonard could easily step in and ruin Golden State’s entire summer. With no Steph Curry in the first game, the Warriors are seriously vulnerable but getting a pass playing a lackluster San Antonio squad.
Bergin: This year marked the first time the Spurs finished with less than 50 wins in a full 82-game season for the first time since 1997.
Saavedra: I’m interested to see how the Philadelphia 76ers do against the Miami Heat. The Sixers finished the season with a 16-game win streak, but in the playoffs experience matters. The Sixers haven’t made the playoffs since 2012.
Nunez: Basketball is my favorite sport, this is true. That’s why I’m going to go against the grain here and say the Rockets versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves have more than enough talent to give the Rockets a scare. Not to mention, Jimmy Butler is a superb defender capable of keeping Harden contained.
Derrick Rose is the unknown X-Factor. He’ll power the second unit and if he can pull some prime performances out of his bag, the Wolves bench can draw some separation and push this series to seven games.
What other first-round matchup are you looking forward to?
Bergin: I’ll take the Boston Celtics versus the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite being the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Boston does not have its two best players available -- guard Kyrie Irving and forward Gordon Hayward -- due to injury.
Also, can you imagine how dismal the television ratings will be if Milwaukee made and kind of a playoff run?
Saavedra: Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz: The Thunder needs Russell Westbrook to be Russell Westbrook. If Paul George and Steven Adams put up solid numbers, the Thunder can go far.
Nunez: Call me crazy, but the Washington Wizards versus Toronto Raptors matchup poses the most legitimate shot at an upset in the first round.
The Raptors are like the Peyton Manning of basketball; very good in the regular season but somehow always find a way to choke when they shouldn’t. (Yes, I know Peyton has two Super Bowl rings, but he should definitely have more.)
The Wizards are chippy and the Raptors might break down. It’ll be a highlight-filled spectacle full of drama.
Heubusch: Peyton Manning has two rings though???
What potential second-round matchup do you want to see?
Bergin: Houston Rockets versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. At what point do the Thunder realize that Westbrook can’t be Batman? Yet, I still want to see Westbrook try. He puts up incredible numbers and plays with tremendous energy.
However, Westbrook doesn’t make anyone better around him. Look at how Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo put up better numbers in nearly every statistical category the very first season he is separated from Westbrook. Oladipo was also an NBA All-Star for the first time this season.
Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City and won a title in his first season Warriors. I don’t think either of these things are a coincidence.
Heubusch: Maybe Rockets versus Thunder, but more importantly, we should want to see a Western Conference Finals matchup between Oklahoma City and Golden State.
Bergin: Yeah, but it wouldn’t be the same as the 2016 Western Conference Finals.
Saavedra: Cleveland versus Toronto: Last year, the Cavs swept the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, so I think Toronto has some unfinished business.
Nunez: The Portland Trailblazers and the Warriors. The Blazers are firing on all cylinders right now and Damian Lillard is a straight-up baller. Coupled with C.J. McCollum, that backcourt is walking fire.
Golden State, on the other hand, is still very good. However, Curry isn’t 100 percent healthy, and the Warriors just look off. This doesn’t feel like the same team.
Which team wins the championship?
Bergin: There are some certainties in life: the sky is blue, the grass is green and Chris Paul’s teams choke in the playoffs. Until history proves me otherwise with Paul, I’m taking the Warriors.
Saavedra: The Warriors, duh! One of the best dynamic duos in basketball history. They’re unstoppable. As the great Marv Albert would say “They’re sensational! Yes!”
Heubusch: The Cleveland Cavaliers will coast to the Finals. Whichever West team comes out on top will have faced two tough series. If it isn’t the Warriors, that team won’t have that Finals experience under their belt like LeBron. The King wins and ultimately stays in Cleveland.
Bergin: I think it’s possible the Cavaliers win the Eastern Conference, but only one other No. 4 seed has won the NBA Finals -- the 1969 Boston Celtics.
Here’s a breakdown of the winners by seed since 1947, which was the first year of the NBA Finals:
|Seed||Number of NBA Finals winners|
Nunez: While I picked them to get an early scare, it’s going to be the Rockets plain and simple. Bergin is among “Chris Paul can’t win” camp, and I’m simply not buying it. At this stage in his career he’s a wiley old vet and: this is key, HE IS NOT THE FOCAL POINT. That belongs to James Harden.
In my opinion, Harden is the best player in the NBA right now. With Paul playing second fiddle, the Rocket’s will beat the Timberwolves, breeze past the Thunder and demolish whoever else is left in their way.
My prediction: Raptors versus Rockets in this year’s NBA Finals.
Bergin: Do you not remember
"Big Game James" "Little Game James'" meltdown in last year's playoffs?
Editor's Note: This story has been edited to correct the Cleveland Cavaliers seeding. The Cavs are No. 4 seed in this year's playoffs.