The regular season for the NBA came to a close on Wednesday night, with a few teams solidifying their postseason seeding ahead of the playoffs, which begin Saturday. Here’s the schedule for the entire first-round.
As you can see, there are going to be a few playoff matchups without any members of the BBNBA; PHI vs. BKN, HOU vs. UTA, and BOS vs. IND. As exciting as those three series should be, I’ll go ahead and give you a heads up, they won’t be covered with nearly as much effort as the other matchups. What we’re going to focus on is the former Kentucky Wildcats, so let’s list them real quick by matchup and give a bit of a preview to go along with it.
(1) Warriors vs. (8) Clippers
- This is already the first round matchup I’m most excited for, even if is likely to end in a Warriors sweep. But the Clippers are sneaky good. They have been all season long and the majority of it has been done without a bonafide All-Star. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going to get his first taste of the NBA playoffs on the biggest stage against the two-time defending champs. If you haven’t been able to watch SGA at all this year, get ready to be awestruck. I don’t expect the fear of going head-to-head with Steph Curry to affect him much. However, if the Clippers want any chance of stealing a couple of games, they’re gonna need a big outing or two from the former Kentucky guard. And that means posting major numbers against one of the all-time greats while also chasing him around the court for endless periods of time. The experience of playing in a playoff atmosphere – and not faltering under the pressure – is all I’m looking for from SGA.
- But it’s a different story for DeMarcus Cousins and the Warriors. This is going to be Boogie’s first ever playoff appearance in his eight-year career, and while he’s still working himself back into game shape, the expectations for him to perform at a high-level are going to be daunting. This is why Cousins shocked the basketball world and signed with the Warriors – to show out in the playoffs. He should expect a significant pay raise in the summer – although probably not the max deal he’d like – but it also depends on how well he does in the Warriors run to a three-peat. The Clippers don’t have a frontcourt player that can compete with Boogie on the block so he’ll have a significant overall advantage. This will be a great warm-up series that will allow us to get a better idea of how impactful Boogie can be on this loaded Warriors team if things get messy.
Prediction: Warriors in 4
(2) Nuggets vs. (7) Spurs
- This should be one of those “under-the-radar yet also extremely thrilling” type of series. The Spurs are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time and the Nuggets haven’t been in the playoffs since 2013. I’m not calling an upset here, but I’m also not going to be surprised if San Antonio steals more than one game off of Denver. But the Spurs don’t have any former Kentucky players. The Nuggets have three.
- Let’s go ahead and establish the fact that Jarred Vanderbilt isn’t going to play. It’s been awesome to see him finally get some run on an NBA court and looking healthier than ever, but he’s not ready for this environment and there is way too much talent ahead of him. I’m not even so sure that Trey Lyles will see consistent – if any – minutes. He’d have a tough time guarding either of Davis Bertans (an excellent outside shooting big) or Rudy Gay (a quicker forward than Lyles) and his shooting has been a disaster for most of the season. The Nuggets will likely prefer to go smaller and faster, spreading minutes across to players such as Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, and probably Juancho Hernangomez.
- The X-Factor for Denver is going to be Jamal Murray. He had a brilliant yet frustratingly inconsistent third season. He’ll average 20 points in five straight games only to combine for 20 total over his next three. That absolutely cannot happen in the playoffs, especially against a Spurs backcourt that he towers over (and not the other way around). Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills can’t contain Murray. They physically can’t. You think Marco Bellinelli wants to exert any defensive effort to guard Murray instead of popping open for triples on the other end? Absolutely not. Derrick White is the only Spurs defender who can handle Murray – and White really is a good defender. This is Murray’s first playoff experience and he’s coming into it playing sound basketball. Let’s just hope he can keep it up.
Prediction: Nuggets in 5
(3) Trail Blazers vs. (6) Thunder
- Here we have the BBNBA special. Five former Kentucky players (two from Portland, three from OKC) will be featured in what will be a starstudded first-round series. However, odds are high we’ll only see two of the three actually play. Skal Labissiere played his heart out in the Blazers last regular season game against a bunch of G Leaguers and even without Jusuf Nurkic, I’d be shocked to see him play any meaningful minutes. His frontcourt counterpart, on the other hand, is Enes Kanter, and he’ll be in the starting lineup.
- Playing against his former team, Kanter is going to have his hands full against the physical beast that is Steven Adams. The good thing for Kanter (and his horrendous defensive abilities) is that Adams isn’t a scorer. The Thunder runs everything through Russell Westbrook and Paul George while Adams feasts on the boards better than 99 percent of the NBA. Keeping him off the glass will be Kanter’s biggest challenge and it could be the reason he gets played off the court. If the Thunder emphasizes attacking Kanter in the pick-and-roll on every other possession, he could be in for a long series. I think the Blazers are going to make this a fun series almost solely because of Damian Lillard (with a sprinkle of C.J. McCollum in there, as well), not because Kanter averages a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double, although that would be awesome (and probably necessary if the Blazers want to move on).
- As for OKC, Hamidou Diallo won’t play. It doesn’t look like Patrick Patterson will play much, either. It’s going to be up to Nerlens Noel to satisfy your Wildcat hunger. But Noel will play. He’s the primary backup to Adams and has thrived in his role. Noel averages less than 15 minutes per game on the season and I’d expect him to hover around that range in this series. He’ll be able to defend Kanter, Zach Collins, or Meyers Leonard with plenty of trust from his teammates and coaching staff. Noel is going to give his all every minute he’s on the court. That gives him a ton of value in a playoff setting.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
(1) Bucks vs. (8) Pistons
- Eric Bledsoe is the lone Wildcat between these two teams, but he plays a massively important role for Milwaukee. Bledsoe had his best season to date and was a borderline All-Star (in my opinion, he was an All-Star) as a starter on the best team in the NBA. The Bucks underwent an entire change in philosophy and approach once they hired head coach Mike Budenzholer and the results have been historic. Milwaukee is an elite offensive team backed by an even better defensive line. Detroit just kind of exists and Blake Griffin isn’t 100 percent healthy. Bledsoe could come out and lay a dud all series and the Bucks would still pull out a convincing sweep as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo plays half as good as he has been all year.
- Against Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Ish Smith, and any other mediocre backcourt player the Pistons decide to toss into the fire, Bledsoe will have no issue. He’s been decimating teams at the rim this season and none of the players just listed can prevent him from getting there. This is the only first-round series I don’t expect to see anything competitive from one side for four games and Bledsoe is a big reason as to why.
Prediction: Bucks in 4
(2) Raptors vs. (7) Magic
- This could have been soooo much better had Isaiah Briscoe not been forced into surgery due to a torn meniscus and subsequently released by the Magic. Instead, the only Kentucky product to cheer on will be Jodie Meeks, who was signed to Toronto a few weeks ago. But Meeks should find the court as a three-point specialist. He’s hit eight of his 18 attempted triples in eight games as a Raptor, playing 13 minutes per game. And that will be his role in this series, one the Raptors should win handily.
- Man… I really wanted to see Briscoe in the playoffs. Now it’s just going to be Kawhi Leonard overpowering a bunch of seven-foot forwards acting as wing players. Can’t wait…
Prediction: Raptors in 4
In reality, there’s only going to be six members of the BBNBA that will play significant time; SGA, Boogie, Murray, Noel, Kanter, and Bledsoe. These are the dudes to keep an eye on. And for what it’s worth, I’m taking Houston in 6 against the Jazz, Philly in 5 over Brooklyn, and Boston over Indiana in 6.
Once again, the playoffs start on SATURDAY. Let’s get it.