It’s officially that time of the year when sports fans are getting warmed up for the NFL to come back. We just wrapped up the NCAA Tournaments, Major League Baseball is a week into their season, and the NBA is winding down towards playoff time. As it does so, the NBA is showing just how crazy and entertaining it can be; only one game separates the ninth seed from the fifth seed in the deep Western Conference. Perhaps most surprising is the currently fourth-seeded Utah Jazz, whose 20-2 streak over the last month or so has stunned the basketball world and annoyed non-Jazz fans living in Utah.
All of that said, the Playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season. Players who were dominant in the regular season become legendary, coaches kick it up a notch, and the fun really begins. Looking ahead, here are Salute’s predictions for the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
First-round Ouster for Utah and Boston
The Jazz, with center Rudy Gobert and rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell on the floor, have turned into this year’s biggest surprise and are looking like more of a destination for big free agents in the near future. They knocked off the Clippers in last year’s Playoffs before falling to the eventual champion Warriors in the second round. Now, minus Gordon Hayward and plus the pieces mentioned above, they’re ready for another go. If the season ended right now, they’d have home-court advantage against San Antonio. If they lose their season finale in Los Angeles against the Lakers, they still have a chance of staying in the Playoffs with the closely contested West, but they’d obviously lose that advantage. Either way, facing Gregg Popovich, with or without Kawhi Leonard, in the Playoffs is a scary proposition. The Jazz have a bright future, but Pop has a strong load of experience.
Boston has had a remarkable season with the help of some youngsters and led by Kyrie Irving, who was warm this season after stepping out of LeBron’s shadow. Unfortunately, Irving will now miss the Playoffs after having knee surgery. Boston is currently slated against the Washington Wizards (pending anything crazy happening this weekend), which would not bode well. The rivalry between the two squads is fierce, and Wiz will be putting their all into the series. Without Kyrie there, it’s tough to see Boston advancing.
Deep Run By OK3
Perhaps no fan base is as frustrated than that of the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are absolutely worse teams than them, but to make it to the Playoffs multiple times only to be stopped on their path to a title has to be annoying. The Thunder have struggled this year while Russell Westbrook learns to play with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but seem to have pulled it together near the end of the season. Russ has expressed his desire to convince George to re-sign in Oklahoma City, even though all signs are pointing to the Staples Center for his free agent offseason. Even though George has claimed the end result of this season will have no bearing on his decision, it wouldn’t hurt to do something impressive in the Playoffs. They won’t win a title this year, but Oklahoma City will do better than anticipated.
Sixers Reach Eastern Conference Finals
The Process has finally blossomed in Philly, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s also a very young thing, which is why many teams have doubted the Sixers’ ability to play deep into the Playoffs. With a weak Conference and a healthy (and surprisingly dominant) Markelle Fultz on the court, Philadelphia is better than anyone is used to. Cleveland has weaknesses, though LeBron will force his team through a few rounds, Toronto has the inconsistency, but Philly will use this as a year to measure their future success by.
So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the mayhem.