Hello, my name is Dr. Ross and I have a fever. And the only cure for this fever is playoff basketball. After a grueling 82-game regular season, 16 teams will head to the playoffs with the goal of winning four series over the next two months. Although not on the level of March Madness, the NBA playoffs are fertile ground for narratives to grow. I will be diagnosing each series, along with giving my opinion on the series outcome.
Toronto Raptors (#1) vs Washington Wizards (#8)
Remember the days when the Wizards were the next “young and fun” team? Those days could not be farther in the rearview mirror. The bright future of a backcourt featuring John Wall and Bradley Beal has been stunted by a seemingly frosty relationship between the two. Throw in Marcin Gortat’s loudmouth and Otto Porter’s exceedingly large contract and it is easy to see how the Wizards’ strengths have withered away. The Wizards are a team that need a big change, but it is hard to see where that would happen outside of trading Beal or Wall.
Toronto has the opposite problem. As the fifth straight playoffs for this core group of Raptors, Toronto’s team is the best in franchise history. With one Eastern Conference finals appearance over the past four years, people around the league expected the Raps to make a big move. Instead, their biggest move was continuity. Toronto trusted their core of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to elevate their games. They have also received huge contributions from their young players, as Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby have been killing opposing teams off the bench.
Diagnosis: Raptors in 5. Washington has enough talent to steal a game, but I expect the Raptors to surgically dispatch these Wizards.
Boston Celtics (#2) vs Milwaukee Bucks (#7)
Symptoms: Freak Accidents
The Celtics followed up one of the luckiest offseasons I can remember with one of the most unlucky seasons. Five minutes into Gordon Hayward’s team debut, he came down on someone else’s foot, and his foot ended up turned about 90 degrees further than it should. Good thing they traded for Kyrie Irving, right? Well … yes, Irving was spectacular, averaging over 24 points while shooting the highest shooting percentage of his career (49.1%). However, he too, had his season ended by injury. This leaves … Al Horford? Jayson Tatum? It remains to be seen who, if anyone, will step up in Irving’s absence.
Speaking of freaks, Milwaukee has the freakiest player in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak announced his arrival as a superstar this year, nearly single-handedly dragging the Bucks into the first round. It remains to be seen if anyone in the league, much less the Celtics, can contain Giannis and his fluid, 6 foot 11 frame.
Diagnosis: Bucks in 7. This series is going to come down to quantity vs quality. Will Giannis’ star power overtake Boston’s mob of solid role players? I say yes.
Philadelphia 76ers (#3) vs Miami Heat (#6)
The Sixers trusted the process, and here they are. Philadelphia enters the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league and is getting better by the day. The two players who loom incredibly large are Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Simmons has been a revelation in his first NBA season, flashing an upside on a level not seen since Anthony Davis, if not since Kevin Durant. Embiid himself continues to dominate, as long as he can stay on the court. It is unclear when Embiid will make his playoff debut, as he recently fractured his face.
Poor Miami. If they could have gotten the seven seed they might have had a chance of advancing against the Celtics, but I do not see it happening against the Sixers. They do have some interesting pieces. Hassan Whiteside will be a worthy foe for Embiid in the low post. James Johnson is one of few players who can realistically defend Simmons blend of size, speed, and vision.
Diagnosis: Sixers in 6. For as much talent the Sixers have, this is their first playoff series, and the Heat is a team full of guys who have been there before. Erik Spoelstra is a top five coach in the league, and he can affect the games with his coaching. But, again, Philly is way too talented to lose this series.
Cleveland Cavaliers (#4) vs Indiana Pacers (#5)
Here is the most important question for the Cavaliers: Does anyone care? Cleveland was able to sleepwalk to 50 wins in the regular season, but in this year’s Eastern Conference that is only worth the fourth seed. LeBron also has a very capable adversary in this year’s breakout player, Victor Oladipo. Oladipo will open eyes this postseason, as I expect him to carry the load on offense while still periodically checking LeBron on defense. Cleveland really just needs someone to inject some life into the team. Can it be Larry Nance Jr, dunking anything in sight? Could J.R. Smith break out of his full season slump and nail a couple of stepback threes? That remains to be seen.
Diagnosis: Cavs in 7. C’mon. You think I’m gonna pick against LeBron?
Houston Rockets (#1) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (#8)
How many different ways can this series give you a headache? 1. You can sit courtside at a Timberwolves game. If I can hear Tom Thibodeau yelling through the TV, I can’t even imagine how loud it would be in person. 2. You can watch Andrew Wiggins play basketball. The Timberwolves are paying him nearly $150 million over the next five years to … stand in the corner? 3. You can watch Derrick Rose take more shots per game than Karl-Anthony Towns. This will be the death of me. 4. You can have James Harden isolate 15 times a game. It\ is going to give me a headache to watch Harden cook the Wolves. 5. You can be a referee and deal with Chris Paul. In retrospect, it is downright amazing that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul played together, as they both spend the most amount of time in the league talking to the officials. 6. You can try to think of scenarios where the T’wolves could win this series.
Diagnosis: Rockets in 4. Hey at least we made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years!
Golden State Warriors (#2) vs San Antonio (#7)
Symptoms: Missing Limbs
The story of this series is less about who will be playing, and more about who will not be playing. Kawhi Leonard remains out for the Spurs in what is likely the weirdest storyline in an overwhelmingly weird NBA season. Leonard has been cleared to return for months, and communication between him and the Spurs seemed to dissolve completely. This is a team built around his skillset, and with him out, LaMarcus Aldridge has to shoulder the heavy load.
On the flip side, Stephen Curry remains out with a sprained MCL, but the team should definitely be conservative on his return. Even without Curry, the Warriors should be able to dominate the Spurs. Not having to worry about Leonard makes Kevin Durant all the more valuable, and Draymond Green will give Aldridge problems every minute they are in the game together. Even Curry’s replacement, Quinn Cook, has been spectacular in his short time as the Warriors starting point guard.
Diagnosis: Warriors in 5. Sigh. This series should have been so much fun. Alas.
Portland Trail Blazers (#3) vs New Orleans Pelicans (#6)
Symptoms: Overworked Heart
How much can Anthony Davis do? When Demarcus Cousins went down with an achilles injury a few weeks prior to the All-Star games, everyone wrote the Pelicans off. Instead, Anthony Davis went Marshawn Lynch and put the team on his back. The roster around Davis is hasf castoffs (Solomon Hill, E’twaun Moore), aging vets (Rajon Rondo, Emeka Okafor), and Jrue Holiday, who is by far the Pelicans second best healthy player. Davis and Holiday together have this ragtag bunch playing great basketball at the right time.
The Trail Blazers are very similar to the Pelicans, except this has been their team the whole season. To a casual viewer, Portland is a two-man show. Yes, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are that good, but they do have very good complementary pieces around them. Jusuf Nurkic is the kind of guy who can flip a game. Nurkic vs Davis will be an incredibly physical matchup to watch.
Diagnosis: Blazers in 7. As much at I want to pick Davis and the Pelicans, I just can’t get past the Pelicans other 11 guys.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz
Symptoms: (Possible) Failed Blood Transfusion
As of this story, Russell Westbrook is still the reigning MVP. However, I am completely unsure if he is good at basketball. Can he get a lot of rebounds and assists? Yes. Do people on Twitter apparently hate basketball players who get those stats? Yes as well. Does Russ set up Steven Adams nightly? Yes. Did Victor Oladipo get infinitely better from not playing with him? Yes again. Is Paul George playing spectacular basketball at the perfect time of year? You bet. Is Carmelo Anthony indisputably, irrevocably, unavoidably washed up? Absolutely. Is Russell Westbrook good? You can decide, but at this point, it is hard to know what kind of player should go alongside Mr. Westbrook.
I also have to admit. In nearly any other year Donovan Mitchell would be the Rookie of the Year—he is spectacular. Although he will have to take the runner-up behind Ben Simmons, Utah Jazz fans can sleep just fine knowing that they have a franchise guard to move forward with Rudy Gobert.
Diagnosis: Thunder in 6. Despite the fact that I know nothing about blood transfusions.