Monstrous dunks. Game-winning shots. Breathtaking ankle breakers. The 2017-2018 NBA season has been nothing shy of spectacular. However, the best is yet to come as the season comes to a turn and the playoffs begin. The post-season is when boys become men, greats rise to the occasion, and legends are born. Sixteen teams battle it out on the court, envisioning what it would be like to win it all. As fans, we are eager to witness greatness and simply lay back and enjoy the show. We watch, in awe, and even fill out brackets, predicting which teams will emerge victorious. Analyzing every match-up and predicting who will survive the first round is an arduous task, but I’ll try my best. 

Houston Rockets (1) Vs Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
As the Rockets blast off into the first round of the playoffs, they quite simply seem invincible. James Harden’s level of play has skyrocketed this season and bumped his team up to the number one seed in the West. They were clearly the best team during the regular season, but can “the Beard” and his fellow teammates keep up the impeccable work in the playoffs? On the other hand, the Timberwolves have had somewhat of a discrete season, but don’t let this fool you. Their team is jam-packed with talent, as Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony Towns look to upset the top-seeded Rockets. For my part, I believe that the Houston’s high by volume three-point shooting and Harden’s sweet step back will cook the Timberwolves and send them back to Minnesota empty-handed.

Golden State Warriors (2) Vs San Antonio Spurs (7)
Admittedly, the Warriors had a disappointing season and did not live up to their standards. Injuries and incidents added salt to the wound. Despite these struggles, specifically towards the end of the season, the Warriors fought their way to the second seed. The team, over the past three years, has had tremendous success and I don’t believe the trend will end now. The Spurs, led by a group of very experienced players, are looking to confuse and tire their opponent with great ball movements and quick decisions. However, they’re missing a key element: Kawhi Leonard. As the Spurs’ era of dominance is coming to an end with Kawhi’s antics and Tim Duncan’s retirement, I predict the Warriors will quite handily take down the aging Spurs.

Portland Trail Blazers (3) Vs New Orleans Pelicans (6)
Damian Lillard has probably had the best season of his career this past year. His team finished third, and he put up better numbers than he had ever put up previously. His partner in crime, C.J. McCollum, is also considered one of the best shooting guards in the league. The duo is a nightmare for the opposition because both players can score at an extremely high rate. The Pelicans, on the other hand, are known for having one of the most talented big men: Anthony Davis. The “Brow” can score and defend at a very high level and can also score at will. However, I believe that Portland’s backcourt will be too much to handle for the Pelicans and that the Trail Blazers will win the series. 

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) Vs Utah Jazz (5)
Oklahoma city’s new “big three” is not to be taken lightly. Russel Westbrook’s relentless play style along with Paul George’s elite scoring ability and Carmelo Anthony’s isolation game put an enormous amount of pressure on opposing defences. If Westbrook can keep putting up astonishing numbers and get support from his teammates, the Jazz will have a lot of trouble weathering the storm. However, Utah has a superstar in the making of its own in Donovan Mitchell. The comparisons between Westbrook and himself are completely justified and he’s been having one of the best rookie seasons of the past decade. The Jazz are running hot going into the playoffs, winning seven of their last nine regular season games, but I don’t think that the rookie-led team will stand a chance against the fast paced and high-scoring Thunder offense.

Toronto Raptors (1) Vs Washington Wizards (8)
As the Raptors crushed their opposition during the regular season, the entirety of Canada seems to be supporting Toronto. Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan are a dangerous duo and the addition of a great supporting cast could make one think that this is the Raptor’s year. Their offense has improved and, despite their previous struggles in the post-season, they look like a new team. Washington had a decent regular season considering John Wall missed a total of 41 games. Luckily, he is back for the playoffs and is looking to send the Raptors back to the reign of the dinosaurs like they did in 2015, when they swept them in the first round of the playoffs. However, in my humble opinion, the Wizards simply do not have the assets to take down the number one seed in the East.

Boston Celtics (2) Vs Milwaukee Bucks (7)
The Boston Celtics were devasted by Gordons Hayward’s injury during the first game of the regular season, but that did not stop them from going on a 16-game winning streak to start off their journey. They had a great season and their young players contributed greatly to their success. Sadly, Kyrie Irving is to miss the entire post-season following knee surgery. Do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have what it takes to make it past the first round? Milwaukee has its own superstar in Giannis Antetokoumpo. The “Greek Freak” can singlehandedly carry his team when things aren’t going too well. Jabari Parker, Chris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are players to look out for too. For my part, I think the young group of Celtics has what it takes to take down the Bucks.

Philadelphia 76ers (3) Vs Miami Heat (6)
The 76ers ended off their season scorching hot, winning all 17 of their last games. Despite Joel Embiid’s orbital fracture, Philadelphia has been crushing their opponents, mostly due to the outstanding play of Ben Simmons. The rookie has made a strong case for the rookie of the year award and is a pain to deal with on the court. Miami, on the other hand, have shown promise heading into the 2018 playoffs. Goran Dragic is a great leader on the floor and Dwayne Wade is still capable of scoring in many ways. However, I feel like “the flash” is getting somewhat old and that the 76ers will survive the Heat.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) Vs Indiana Pacers (5)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have battled their way through the difficult 82-game regular season. Lebron is showing no signs of slowing down, as he states, “I’m like a fine wine. I get better with age.” The contribution of their young, new, and active supporting cast is also an essential element for the Cavs to win. The Pacers, for their part, have had an amazing season considering the low expectations that most had regarding their season. With Paul George leaving the team, they were forced to make some changes. The arrival of Victor Oladipo was truly a blessing for the Pacers. He’s been playing all-star caliber basketball and is truly proving that the Paul George trade was not as bad as most Indiana fans thought. Lance Stephenson also has a history of getting into Lebron’s head and making it difficult for him. Despite Lance’s “ear blowing”, I think the “King” will remain unfazed and that the Cavs will take care of business.

The NBA playoffs are around the corner and fans are ecstatic. Players will give their blood, sweat, and tears on the court in order to get the ring they’ve long awaited. Upsets are inevitable, and every single team, underdog or favored to win, will battle it out for the next month. As a fan of the game, I cannot wait to see how things will turn out and who will step up when the lights shine brightest.

Analysis by Jonathan Akhras

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