With the NBA playoffs starting Saturday, it’s time to make some bold predictions for the postseason.
What’s a bold prediction, you ask?
Well, let’s use Damian Lillard as an example. The Portland Trail Blazers star predicted earlier this week that his team will beat the Golden State Warriors in six games in the first round of the playoffs. Now that’s a bold prediction.
These next five aren’t so crazy, but they’re bold, nonetheless.
1. Bulls will push series against Celtics to at least six games
The eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls present a difficult first-round matchup for the top-seeded Boston Celtics, so much so that it’s safe to say the Celtics won’t be wrapping up the series in four, or even five games. You see, the Bulls and Celtics split their regular-season series 2-2, and three of the four games were decided by seven points or less. Not to mention, the Celtics’ biggest weakness—rebounding—just so happens to be one of the Bulls’ strengths along with their defense.
Oh, and one more thing: Dwyane Wade, who was expected to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a fractured right elbow on March 15, has returned to the lineup, giving the Bulls some much-needed leadership and postseason experience. Wade’s Miami Heat teams made the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons and reached the NBA Finals five times.
The Celtics should still claim the series, but expect Chicago to push them to the limit.
2. Russell Westbrook will average a triple-double in playoffs
I know what you’re thinking. Westbrook just averaged a triple-double for an entire season, so it should be a piece of cake in the playoffs. But it’s actually a lot harder than people think. In fact, Jason Kidd (2007) and Oscar Robertson (1962) are the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double in the playoffs. LeBron James came close to joining them last season. He averaged 26.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 21 playoff games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This will be Westbrook’s first playoff action sans Kevin Durant, meaning the Oklahoma City Thunder star will have to do more than in year’s past. That said, his chances of averaging a triple-double in the postseason are good.
3. Jazz will upset Clippers in first round
It’s been a while since the Utah Jazz were in the postseason—five years, to be exact—and it’s been even longer since they made it past the first round. You’d have to go back seven years for that. But this year’s squad showed a lot of potential during the regular season, and there’s the Clippers’ struggles in the postseason to consider.
With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick set to hit free agency this summer, there’s pressure on the Clippers to make a deep playoff run, something they haven’t done in five straight trips to the postseason. The Jazz don’t have nearly as much star power as the Clippers, and they’re at a huge disadvantage on offense, but their defense is the key to pulling off an upset in the first round.
4. Cavaliers won’t reach Conference Finals
Much has been made about the Cavaliers’ struggles this year. They closed the regular season going 10-14 since Mar. 1 and looked nothing like the defending champions. Meanwhile, Boston and Toronto finished strongly and both appear prepared to handle Cleveland should their paths meet in the playoffs.
The Raptors prepared for the Cavaliers by trading for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the latter of whom was brought in specifically to guard James. The Celtics, on the other hand, didn’t make a trade, but they helped themselves by locking up the No. 1 seed in the East and earning home-court advantage. Try as they might, the Cavaliers won’t repeat as champions, or even conference champions.
5. Rockets will top Spurs, Warriors to reach Finals
Yes, this is as bold a prediction as they come. The Houston Rockets beating San Antonio and Golden State to reach the NBA Finals would be something, wouldn’t it? That in itself might actually be tougher to accomplish than winning the championship.
But the Rockets have enough firepower on offense to take down both juggernauts in the West and they proved that during the regular season by averaging the most 3-pointers made (14.4) and second-most points (115.3). As long as James Harden is still standing in the playoffs, the Rockets have as good a chance as any.