North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

2015 NBA Playoff Picks – First Round

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It’s spring and this is something of an annual tradition around here! Picks and series thoughts after the jump!

Eastern Conference

1. Atlanta Hawks v. 8.Brooklyn Nets

Maybe a month ago, I’d have called this a sweep and maybe a bit before that, I’d have said it wouldn’t even have been close. But they’ve cooled off a little as the season ended, losing to Detroit, Charlotte and Philadelphia in the past while. Still, I have no doubt they’ll handle the Nets easily. Hawks in four.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers v. 7. Boston Celtics

I don’t think this series will be an upset by any means, but I do think there’s the potential for some really exciting games here, too. The Cavs are good, have an astounding one-two combination of LeBron and Kyrie Irving (although I remain unconvinced Kevin Love is anywhere near their level). Boston, meanwhile, is a mostly-young team that’s coming together: they’ve won eight of their last ten, including their last six of the year and two against Cleveland. I’m convinced Cleveland will win the series, but I bet Boston will steal a game or two from the Cavs. Cavaliers in six.

3. Chicago Bulls v. 6. Milwaukee Bucks

I’m not too high on the Bulls this season. I guess I don’t find them as compelling as some other teams this year, even though they’ve got a good lineup, a good record (50 wins isn’t anything to scoff at!) and a solid defense. I sort of wonder if Derrick Rose is fully healthy again, or at least as close as he’ll get to it. But generally, I can’t say I’ve thought about this team much: they just seem to be good in a conference where teams are either great (Cleveland, Atlanta), meh (Toronto, Washington, any of the lower seeds, really) or bad. One neat thing about this series: both Chicago and Milwaukee have good Defensive Ratings on BBR. I assume this’ll be a low-scoring series, but I also assume there’s going to be one game that’s a blowout, too. Chicago in five.

4. Toronto Raptors v. 5. Washington Wizards

Ah, the series all Toronto fans were hoping for. And the one nobody outside of Washington or Toronto wanted to see. Why? Well, both of these teams looked good early on, then looked really bad in the second half. Toronto really went into a swoon, largely thanks to injuries and hot-and-cold streaks by Lou Williams, while the Wizards’ John Wall has alternately looked great and meh. Every Raps fan I know thinks this series is winnable (Toronto swept their season series), but I bet Wizards fans are glad they’re not playing the Bulls, too. I like Toronto, but not as much as my friends do. Toronto in six.

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors v. 8. New Orleans Pelicans

Sportswriters love storylines and the Pelicans run to the playoffs is a pretty exciting one: they displaced the perennial contender Oklahoma City for the final seed, have an exciting young player in Anthony Davis and don’t look now, but have an offensive rating of 108, 8th best in the NBA. But they’re facing the Golden State Warriors, the best team in the league and who have an exciting player of their own. And don’t look now, but the Pelicans have defensive problems, too: their defensive rating is over 107, meaning 107 points per 100 possessions. This could be over in a hurry! Warriors in four.

2. Houston Rockets v. 7. Dallas Mavericks

I like this year’s Rockets a bunch (I even gave James Harden a pretend MVP vote!) but even I’ll say they’re largely a one-man operation. I explain it at length in the above link, but basically Dwight Howard isn’t what he was even a few seasons ago and the Rockets generally live and die by Harden’s play. I think Dallas will give them a test – Dirk Nowitzki averaged about 14 points and six rebounds against them this year, for example – but I don’t trust a team that gives up as many points as the Mavericks do. Still, should be an entertaining series! Rockets in five.

3. Los Angeles Clippers v. 6. San Antonio Spurs

This year the Clippers have been good – 56 wins, about 107 points scored per game – but I’ve learned never to bet against the Spurs, especially early in the postseason. Spurs in six.

4. Portland Trailblazers v. 5. Memphis Grizzlies

Neither of these teams score too much (98.3 per game for the Grizzlies, 102.8 for the Blazers), but both are among the NBA’s best defensive teams, too. Between that and Memphis’ ability to slow the game way down (BBR has their pace at 92, as in that many possessions per 48 minutes) this could be a rough series to watch. And I think the slower it gets, the better it works for Memphis. After all, they’ve beaten the Trailblazers four times this year. Could be over in a few games, but I doubt it’ll feel like it ended quickly! Grizzlies in five.

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