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The Peddie News

The student news site of Peddie School

The Peddie News

The student news site of Peddie School

The Peddie News

NBA Playoff Predictions – First Round

CBS Sports

With the Play-In tournament out of the way, the NBA Playoffs have started with a bang. Showdowns between old rivals and young teams have distinguished both the play-in and the first round as the NBA slowly shifts eras. Here is a quick recap for those who haven’t been following: 

The Play-In tournament took place from April 16 – 19, giving teams seeded 7 – 10 either a chance at making the playoffs or protecting their spot in them. Some highlights from these pre-playoff games included the Western Conference 9-10 seed game and the Eastern Conference 7-8 seed game. In the former matchup, the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings – who met in the first round last year – duked it out for the opportunity to have one more chance at making the playoffs. Unlike last season’s series, which went to 7 games, the Kings blew out the Warriors in a commanding 24-point victory. This game was the final segment of a disappointing Warriors season and was characterized by Klay Thompson’s 0 points on 10-shot attempts. The game inevitably brought up questions about whether or not the Warriors dynasty is officially over (it is). 

Back in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat, two perennial playoff contenders, competed for the 7 seed, with the loser having to play the winner of the 9-10 seed game. With Sixers star Joel Embiid returned  from injury only a few games earlier, Philly’s offense was a bit stagnant, with Embiid shooting 6 for 17. However, French veteran roleplayer Nic Batum stepped up, hitting 6 threes and playing stifling defense on Miami guard Tyler Herro in the fourth quarter. The Sixers won the game off the Frenchman’s strong 20-point contribution, which answered all doubters who questioned his fourth-quarter playtime. 

With the play-in wrapped up, the stage was set for many notable series featuring rivalries, new and old. Let’s get into the first round:

Boston Celtics (1) v. Miami Heat (8) – Boston in 7 

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Starting with the Eastern Conference’s fiercest rivalry, the Celtics vs. the Heat, I predict the historic Celtics will need 7 games to vanquish a familiar foe. The Boston Celtics won 64 games this season while breaking records for Offensive Rating and Win Margins.  They are by far the best team in the Eastern Conference, backed up by their talented roster and the eye test. Each member of the Celtics starting 5 (consisting of Holiday, White, Brown, Tatum, and Porzingis) can hit threes, defend, and make the extra pass. All but White are current/former All-Stars, with even White gaining some all-star votes for his defense and clutch plays. However, the Celtics’ core of Brown and Tatum have struggled against Miami, losing to the Heat just last year and in 2020. 

If one team is consistently prepared for playoff basketball, it’s Miami. Led by Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and President Pat Riley, the Heat play tough, playoff-minded basketball. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat’s two all-stars, are two of the league’s most versatile and hardest-working defenders. Offensively, Miami catches fire in the playoffs, most evident by their run last year, when they vanquished the Bucks and Celtics through crazy efficiency from behind the line. But this year, absurd three-point shooting numbers and strong defense might not be enough to defeat the Celtics. 

New York Knicks (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7) – Knicks in 6 


Reigning MVP Joel Embiid drives into Isaiah Hartenstein
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

After a hot start to the season, injuries to star center Joel Embiid and other key roleplayers knocked the Sixers down to the seven seed. Meanwhile, NY had a resurgent stretch after trading for Raptors forward OG Anunoby, one of the best three-point shooting wing defenders in the NBA. Talentwise, both teams are quite close – clear superstars who can score at ease, strong defenders at every position, and experienced coaching staff. However, Philly has struggled in the playoffs throughout the Embiid era, with second-round exits almost yearly. The Knicks, one of the strongest rebounding teams in the NBA, can take advantage of the Sixers’ woes in this area. Along with this, refs typically allow more physical play in the playoffs. This hurts Embiid, who relies on free throws for a large chunk of his scoring. Ultimately, this series sounds like a Knicks win unless Embiid shows up and the Sixers contain Brunson. 


Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs. Indiana Pacers(6) – Milwaukee in 6 

Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports

One of the freshest rivalries in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks met up fivetimes (!!) this season. The centerpiece of these matchups was a December game that saw Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (#34, pictured above ) dropping a career-high 64 points – only for the game ball to go missing. In a lively scene, Antetokounmpo accused the Pacers of stealing the ball out of spite and demanded that Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (#0, pictured above) return it immediately. Eventually, Giannis and some other Bucks ran into the Pacers’ locker room, demanding the ball – a scuffle ensued. 

Honestly, this scene encapsulates the Bucks’ season: frustration, disappearing acts, and bad defense. Before the season started, the Bucks traded for Portland’s longtime guard Damian Lillard. However, the duo of Giannis and Dame experienced growing pains as they developed chemistry. With a defensively challenged backcourt, the Bucks’ defense suffered (the 10th worst in the NBA). Giannis demanded a change midseason, and it came – the Bucks fired head coach Adrian Griffin and hired veteran coach Doc Rivers. But the Bucks struggled through the rest of the season, remaining afloat due to various spectacular performances from Lillard and Giannis. Interestingly, when one player shined, it seemed like the other would underperform. 

On the other side, the Pacers had exceeded expectations this season, with young point guard Tyrese Haliburton earning his first all-star bid and leading his team to the In-Season Tournament finals. The Pacers play a fast, run-and-gun style of basketball centered around transition buckets and three-point shooting. Midseason, they traded for former All NBA forward Pascal Siakam, hoping to give Haliburton a clear 2nd option. In the end, both of these teams strongly match up, but the Bucks experience in the playoffs will prevail. Giannis is nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, and Siakam should know – in 2019, Pascal had to be moved off Giannis. Bucks small forward Khris Middleton is also a known playoff riser, and we can’t forget Damian Lillard. The Pacers have too many unknowns and too much inexperience to win this series or control it in a commanding fashion. 

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Orlando Magic (5) – Orlando in 6 

I’m going to keep it short: this is not going to be a fun series to watch. Cleveland’s pairing of Garland and Mitchell does not work. Their front-court pairing of Mobley and Allen does not work. Any team with size, strong guard defense, and a little bit of spirit can beat the Cavaliers. We saw this last year when the individual Knicks outrebounded the entire Cavaliers team.

The Orlando Magic fits that bill – three 6’10 forwards in their starting lineup and two off their bench? It might be over for Cleveland. While the offense has been a problem for the Magic, I can see them taking advantage of the Cav’s weak guard defense through switches and sheer size. The Cavs have no answer for sophomore forward Paolo Banchero or German sharpshooter Franz Wagner. Both are 6’10, can handle the basketball, and play energetic defense. Simply put, the Magic will put the Cavs out of their misery. I know you do not care about this series, either. 




I might be biased, but the West is the NBA’s strongest and most talented conference. Ten teams won over 45 games, but only eight progressed to the next stage. Let’s get into it. 

Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8) – OKC in 5 

Pelicans guard CJ McCollum attacks Sophomore Thunder Jalen Williams (Kyle Phillips / Associated Press)

Last year, the OKC Thunder went 40-42 and earned themselves another lottery pick for the third season in a row. Canadian Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was progressing as he bumped his scoring numbers from 22 to 30, but the team wasn’t very successful. Center Chet Holmgren had been sidelined for all 82 games, and promising rookie Jalen Williams was just that – promising. They were just another rebuilding team, more promising than most, but they were still rebuilding. Then Chet came back. And Jalen Williams leaped into near-stardom. By the beginning of the season, OKC punched their ticket into contention. Shai led the Thunder with MVP-caliber numbers, while Chet had an amazing rookie year anchoring the young team’s defense. I cannot emphasize enough that OKC is in an amazing position – they are the second youngest team in the NBA, with an average age of 24. 

Meanwhile, the Pelicans fluctuated from the fifth to the ninth. In a rough Western conference, even with star forward Zion Williamson healthy, the Pelicans ended up with the seventh seed. This eventually got bumped down to eighth after losing to the Lakers in a close play-in game. Zion suffered a hip injury in that game, forcing him to exit early and miss the upcoming series. I don’t think veteran guard CJ McCollum or forward Brandon Ingram will be enough to squeeze out a win. The Pelicans needed Zion to attack the Thunder’s lack of size, but without him, their only possible advantage was gone. The Thunder are a better-coached, hungrier, and smarter team that can separate themselves easily from the Pelicans, who lack toughness. 

Denver Nuggets (2) v. Los Angeles Lakers (7) – Nuggets in 4/5

Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic watches Lakers forward LeBron James drive to the basket, 2023

A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, in which the Nuggets swept the Lakers en route to a championship, was almost inevitable. Both sides have done a lot of talking—either through their games or post-loss press conferences. Let’s talk about the Denver Nuggets:

Led by Serbian Center Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets play near-perfect basketball, featuring shooting, ball movement, and strong team defense. This season, Jokic averaged a near triple-double and will most likely earn MVP honors for the third time in four years.  NJ-born Head Coach Michael Malone acts as the voice of the team and isn’t afraid to call out his guys (or the media). Point Guard Jamal Murray is also a known playoff superstar, with his points average increasing by 7 during the postseason. The Nuggets swept the Lakers this season and are 8-0 against them since December 2022. 

In LA, the oldest player in the association, LeBron James, is still producing at a high rate. Along with co-star Anthony Davis, they won the inaugural In-Season Tournament title before falling to the 9/10th seed for three months. It’s been a season full of ups and downs for Lakers fans, who have watched their team lose and win in unpredictable ways. Stability came in February when Head Coach Darvin Ham put Forward Rui Hachimura in the starting lineup, a change that had been called for by fans for months. Immediately, the Lakers started winning, and their offense began clicking. But no team around them got worse, so they remained in 9th, occasionally flipping with the Warriors for 10th. With a bit of luck and a final push, they reached the 8th seed and won their play-in game … just to match up with Denver. The Lakers heavily rely on the production of their young guards, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, to make up for their lack of bench scoring. 

I have Denver in 5 because the Lakers have not yet shown that they can beat the Nuggets. The last time LA beat Denver in the playoffs or regular season was December 2022, 16 months ago. 

The Nuggets are simply bigger, stronger, and faster than the Lakers – a fact they showed in the WCF last year. The core of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, and Jokic have been together for six years, developing some of the strongest chemistry in the NBA. Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a known defensive pest for slower guards like Reaves and DLo. In addition, Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon has enough strength and speed to guard this older version of LeBron and is one of the only players in the league who can contain him (slightly). On the offensive side, Nikola Jokic is just too strong for Anthony Davis. While Davis is one of the best defensive players, it’s hard to match the 40-pound difference and skill gap. Even worse, the Lakers have an inability to close out games against the Nuggets, who turn on the jets at the last minute and oftentimes catch the Lakers off guard. Unless D’Angelo Russell or Austin Reaves average enough to negate playoff Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets will make quick work of the Lakers in 5. 

Minnesota Timberwolves (3) vs. Phoenix Suns (6) – Suns in 6

Suns forward Kevin Durant drives past Minnesota All-Star Anthony Edwards
David Berding/Getty Images

(At the time of writing this article, the series ended — I will not be expanding on this previously held prediction)

LA Clippers (4) vs. Dallas (5) – Dallas in 6 

Dallas Guard Luka Doncic posts up Clippers Forward Kawhi Leonard
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Another recent playoff rivalry, these two teams have met twice in the past four years. Both matchups saw a young Luka Doncic taking on a stacked Clippers roster and prolonging the series. This time, Luka has backup in the form of Kyrie Irving and a dependable role players. After a midseason trade for Wizards center Daniel Gafford and Hornet forward PJ Washington, Dallas’s defense improved, and they clawed their way out of the play-in. Luka has a squad around him that can shoot, defend, and pull their own. This might be the first playoff where he doesn’t have to score 35+ a night to scrape by a win. The Clippers, still led by wings Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, added former MVPs Russell Westbrook and James Harden this offseason. The Clippers have remained consistent in the four seed after an early season win streak that showed Harden fits on the roster. One thing they struggle with is consistency and injuries. Kawhi has not been healthy enough for a full playoff run for three straight seasons, and without him, the Clippers aren’t going anywhere. It is also not uncommon for one of Harden, George, or Leonard to simply disappear and not be active enough to win. On paper, both teams have similar roster talent, but Luka and Kyrie’s insane playoff ability can’t be countered. If Luka took a younger Clippers to seven games without help, what should we expect with another all-star and three years of improvement? Mavericks in 6. 

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