By Conor Harrington,
Sports Business Writer
The 2017 NBA playoffs have officially tipped off as the sixteen qualified teams start their quest to win sixteen games and claim the championship. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the massive favorites to meet in the Finals for the third year in a row are both off to hot starts.
The Cavs hold a 3-0 lead on the Indiana Pacers behind typically excellent performances from LeBron James. In his career, LeBron has never lost a first-round series, and it appears that this trend will continue. He helped the Cavaliers rally from a 25 point deficit in game two, nearly single-handedly.
The Warriors, meanwhile, lead 3-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers behind their overpowering offense. Despite Blazers’ star point guard Damian Lillard claiming his team would win the series in six games, it appears the Warriors will be moving on. Both the Cavaliers and Warriors have been clicking on all cyclinders, and have shown no signs of slowing down. The first three rounds are considered by many to be a formality for these two, just chances to tune up before the Finals, as a third consecutive matchup between the two teams is expected.
Also in the Western Conference, two of the other three series is 2-1 in favor of the higher seed. The third seeded Houston Rockets lead 2-1 over the sixth seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, in a series featuring James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the MVP frontrunners having incredible games. Westbrook had 51 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists in a game 2 loss, following it up with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a game 3 win. Harden, meanwhile is averaging 38.7 points and 7.7 assists.
While both are nearly averaging triple doubles, Harden’s team has more talent overall, so look to see the Rockets in the second round. The incredible performances of both Westbrook and Harden makes this series a must-watch. The fourth seed Los Angeles Clippers lead the fifth seed Utah Jazz 2-1 after strong performances in games 2 and 3. Jazz small forward Joe Johnson hit a game-winning buzzer beater in the series’ opening game.
An injury to Clippers star Blake Griffin that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the postseason gives this series a strong possibility of going to seven games, in favor of the Jazz. Perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul will have to carry an even bigger load without his star big man if the Clippers want to come out on top.
The seventh seeded Memphis Grizzlies stormed back to win game 3 over the second seeded San Antonio Spurs, fueled by head coach David Fizdale’s incredible rant after game 2 blasting the officials for the disproportionate lack of foul calls between the two teams. Fizdale was fined $30,000 for the comments, but some Grizzlies players, namely Mike Conley Jr, one of the NBA’s highest paid players.
His rant appears to have worked so far as the Grizzlies also came out on top in game four, with Marc Gasol hitting a shot with under a second remaining. Memphis overcame a 43 point performance from Kawhi Leonard in the victory. It is surprising to see the Grizzlies tie the series at this point, however, they’re playing the Spurs, and the Spurs have a tendency to get the job done.
The Eastern Conference however, is a different story. The surprise number one seed Boston Celtics lost the first two games at home before rebounding with road win in game 3 over the eight seed Chicago Bulls. The Bulls did not have point guard Rajon Rondo who had arguably been the best player in the series in their game 3 loss, and will not have him for the rest of the series, opening a door for the Celtics to rally.
The Celtics’ point guard, Isaiah Thomas, is still reeling from the sudden death of his sister in a car accident before the series started. This series is a genuine toss-up, but with the Celtics building momentum and Rondo hurt, look for Celtics to escape this major scare.
Thomas has played very well despite his current situation, and is more than capable of leading the Celtics to a first round win. An eight seed upsetting a one seed is extremely rare, but it is possible we see one this season.
Also on upset alert are the three seed Toronto Raptors, down 2-1 to the six seed Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto’s All-star guards Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan have gone cold in the playoffs while Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has elevated his game. The duo will need to significantly improve their play for the Raptors to have any chance. The series will hinge on Lowry and Derozan’s play, but the Bucks look like the better team and the team to pick in this series.
The fourth-seeded Washington Wizards are up 2-0 on the five seed Atlanta Hawks, led by point guard John Wall who is averaging 32 points and 11.5 assists through the first two games. The Wizards haven’t been dominating the Hawks, but they have been the better team. It won’t be a sweep, but the Wizards will move on, fueled by the strong play of Wall. The Hawks continue to disappoint come postseason time, as the team has struggled to advance far over the past number of years.
That would leave us with second round series of Warriors vs. Jazz, a battle of high-powered offense against potential defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert; Spurs vs. Rockets, with the Spurs’ fundamentals against the Rockets fast-paced tempo and reliance on three-pointers; Celtics vs. Bucks, with Thomas leading his team and Antetokounmpo carrying his; and Cavaliers vs. Wizards, featuring arguably the two best players in the Eastern Conference in James and Wall.
It is certainly possible that these predictions may very well turn out to be false. There is always uncertainty in the postseason, and truly anything can happen. The Warriors and Cavaliers are certainly the favorites thus far, but that can certainly change in an instant. The playoffs are only just beginning, and the fun has hardly started.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 print edition.
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