Speculative sports junkies predict NBA playoff results

Giannis Antetokounmpos's MVP-caliber year has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA's best record. Is the team around him good enough to get past the Raptors, Sixers and Celtics? Could the Greek Freak (pictured) trouble the Warriors in a potential Finals matchup? Courtesy of Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

The NBA regular season is finally over. Let me repeat that: THE NBA REGULAR SEASON IS FINALLY, MERCIFULLY, THANK GODIDLY OVER! NBA fans such as myself are stumbling out of the never-ending desert that is the final month or two of the 82-game season, starving, parched, baked by the sun (My camel died weeks ago).

On Saturday, however, we’ll arrive at the promised land that is the NBA playoffs. We’ll fall into the waiting arms of compelling matchups and games with actual stakes, crying out for rest and sustenance. “Slow down! Slow down!” the nurse will implore as I guzzle playoff basketball through cracked lips.

No, seriously, the NBA regular season is waaayyy too long. Eighty-two games is just obscene. Results stop mattering, star players sit out marquee matchups and the Bulls trot out a starting five of Robin Lopez, Ryan Arcidiacono, Wayne Selden, Shaquille Henderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (I’m sorry, I should have given a NSFW warning before that sentence).

I suppose one could argue that the marathon season makes the arrival of the playoffs all the sweeter. Maybe the playoffs will taste better through cracked lips. I’m not sure.

Regardless of the season that came before, the NBA playoffs are magical. I’m far more excited for this year’s playoffs than last year’s, largely due to the new-look Eastern Conference. With LeBron James hanging out near a few bottles of red wine in Los Angeles, the East is suddenly wide open. What’s more, whereas the East was strikingly weak last season, the improvement of the Bucks, Raptors and 76ers (and maybe my beloved Celtics) dramatically bumps fans’ expectations for the playoffs.

Have any of these Eastern Conference teams raised their level enough to challenge the Warriors? Can any West teams dethrone the two-time defending champs? Below, myself, Senior Editor Mack Liederman and columnist Emmett O’Malley make our predictions for the playoffs, answering these questions and more with sunburnt hands and heads dizzy from basketball dehydration. – Myles Olmsted, Sports Editor

Eastern Conference Champions:

Myles Olmsted:

Toronto Raptors. The Bucks have been unbelievable. Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable, and all the stats suggest they’re clearly deserving of the East’s top seed. But there’s a question if Malcolm Brogdon will return from injury in time, and I don’t trust Eric Bledsoe at all. My Celtics just aren’t that good, and I don’t trust the Sixers’ fit come playoff time. The Raptors, meanwhile, are nearly a 60-win team despite Kawhi Leonard’s missing over 20 games. Pascal Siakam is turning into one of the game’s best young players, and the Raptors have a point differential of +16 per 100 possessions with new-acquisition Marc Gasol on the floor. I still don’t trust Kyle Lowry, but I like the Raptors’ depth more than that of the Bucks.

Emmett O’Malley:

Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo has assumed the torch that LeBron was forced to (momentarily) pass. He is now the transcendent, otherworldly talent with the unique potential to take down the Warriors. And I think he’ll get the chance…because I think the Bucks are the only legitimately good basketball team in the Eastern Conference.

Mack Liederman:

Give me the Sixers. As head coach Brett Brown may be way too eager to tout, this group still doesn’t have enough games under their belt for there to be complete chemistry. After a pending steamroll through the first round, I imagine all their elements will start clicking, and The Process will officially stop processing. The Bucks are fragile, with a shallow roster of guys all indispensable to their system, and the Raptors in the playoffs are…the Raptors in the playoffs. Joel Embiid is a offensive force who knows how to win games, with knockdown shooters, playmakers and a deep bench to support him. The Sixers can afford one or two main guys to have an off night—every other team in the East cannot.


Despite late season sloppiness, the Golden State Warriors enter the playoffs as the favorites. The play of Stephen Curry (above) has something to do with it. If the Warriors reach the Finals and triumph for the third straight year, could Curry win Finals MVP? Courtesy of Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Western Conference Champions:

Myles Olmsted:

Golden State Warriors. Don’t overthink this. I know the champs have had an underwhelming and messy final month, but the Nuggets matchup terribly against the Warriors, the Thunder are a mess and the Blazers aren’t that good. The Rockets may be capable of giving Golden State another scare, but a series win seems improbable. The Rockets would probably look to target Demarcus Cousins in the pick and roll, but on the other side of the ball, Cousins can bully Clint Capela.

Emmett O’Malley:

Golden State Warriors. Ugh. Fine. It’s true. They’re the best team ever.

Mack Liederman:

Golden State Warriors. Hate to echo the safe calls of everyone else, but there’s frankly no one in the Western Conference this year that’s even close to giving the Warriors the run for their money that they got last year. I foresee smooth sailing in the Bay Area, with lots of bench-sitting for Curry, Durant and Thompson, and lots of garbage minutes for Jonas Jerebko. Good for you, Jonas!

Finals Champions:

Myles Olmsted:

Golden State Warriors. Come on, it’s inevitable. The emergence of Siakam could make things interesting, but the Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson trio is too good. No, seriously, stop thinking so hard. The three-peat is happening.

Emmett O’Malley:

Golden State Warriors. Ugh. Fine. It’s true. They’re the best team ever.

Mack Liederman:

Golden State Warriors. They’ve been there. They know how to handle pressure. They play as a team. They trot out five all-star-caliber players. FIVE! Not one, not two, not three…you get the point. While the NBA’s parity has been captivating this year, it’s unfortunate that the Warriors continue to be the juggernaut that brings the season to its predictable conclusion. No first-time contender emerging from the East is going to be ready to compete with the Warriors on their stage.

Finals MVP:

Myles Olmsted:

Steph Curry. Steph, somehow, still hasn’t won a Finals MVP. That’ll change this year. Durant is an assassin, but Steph is what makes the Warriors truly special.

Emmett O’Malley:

Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the 2015 NBA Finals, LeBron averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists. He lost the Finals MVP to Andre Iguodala, who averaged 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. That example shows just how hard it is to win the Finals MVP without winning the actual Finals. But I think that Giannis can do it, because I think that the expectations have shifted so fully since 2015 (because the Warriors are the best team ever). If the Bucks could take the Warriors to six games—like LeBron did in 2015—it would and should be considered an epic triumph. And I think such a pyrrhic triumph will be rewarded.

In three games against Philadelphia this year, Giannis is averaging 43 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists. If he can replicate those statistics against the Warriors in the Finals and push the series to six or more games…then perhaps we can have another year to make fun of Stephen Curry for never winning a Finals MVP.

Mack Liederman:

Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the world, and when defense locks down in the Finals and points are a little harder to come by, the star of this elite scorer burns even brighter. Also, the storyline is just simply an NBA fan’s indulgence. Imagine capturing three-straight Finals MVPs—and still not being appreciated as the best player in the game, or even the face of your own team. In free agency this summer, Durant is going to have to define this legacy. Another Finals MVP award would make that decision just a little more interesting.

Team that will most disappoint:

Myles Olmsted:

The Denver Nuggets. (I WILL NOT PICK MY CELTICS. I WILL NOT.) The Nuggets were awesome all year and Nikola Jokic has deployed his unique skill set brilliantly. But I don’t see the Nugs’ game translating well to the playoffs. I think they might struggle in their round one matchup, and even if they make round two, James Harden will eat them up.

Emmett O’Malley:

The Portland Trail Blazers. At some point in the next two months, the Portland Trail Blazers are going to lose an NBA Playoff Series. And every time that happens, I am inconsolable.

Mack Liederman:

I watched the Nuggets play a couple games recently, simply out of my pure perplexity over how they have managed to stick at the top of the West. Simply put, this team looks good on paper, but does not pass the eyeball test. What I saw was very mediocre basketball. The first head-to-head playoff clash with star power will be the death of the Nuggets this year.

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