The NBA Playoffs start on Sunday at 5:00am for those keen enough (like me) to wake up early enough to catch it. The eventual finals match-up and championship winner might seem obvious to you, but there are plenty of exciting series’ and moments to be had before we get there. And it’s the playoffs, so you never know! There might be a few surprises. NBA DFS Tips:
Pacers Vs Cavaliers
Cavs in 6
This series isn’t as exciting as the last time these two faced off in 2014, but it might be the most entertaining first-round series out East. The Paul George and LeBron duel is massively intriguing, but ultimately the series should be smooth sailing for King James and the defending champs. Especially if they can find that proverbial switch we’ve heard so much about.
From a fantasy perspective, the Pacers have slowed it down each month of the year with Nate McMillan integrating his style. By now they’ve established themselves as a strong, execution based offensive team, which bodes well for the playoffs. Likewise, the Cavs like to slow it down and play through LeBron in the playoffs. He will hold the ball, draw help and carve the defense apart all day, making life easy for the Cavs plethora of shooters. The pace of this series probably won’t be high which hurts the fantasy ceiling (and it might not be the game to target), but the individual duals could lead to some incredible individual performances.
LeBron averaged 32/8/8 against the Pacers in three games this year and he and George seem to take the dual personally (George averaged 25/9/6 against the Cavs this season). We also all know about play-off Kyrie and with the Pacers lack of guard stoppers and rim protection we could see the best of him. Likewise, his lack of defense makes Jeff Teague a chance to play well and if the Pacers have any hopes of making this a series it will be Teague who needs to perform.
Bucks Vs Raptors
Raptors in 6
The Raptors are deeper, more versatile and more talented than the Bucks, but regardless, the narrative for this series will mostly be about Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is a budding superstar and we are all looking forward to seeing his playoff chops. Giannis didn’t perform that well in the playoffs two years ago, but that young Milwaukee team pushed a decent Bulls team to 6 and the freak wasn’t even half the player that he is now. I fully expect a massive individual performance from Giannis who has shown this season that he thrives on the big challenges, so this playoff series should be the moment he breaks out as a superstar – if he hasn’t already.He lead the team in all 5 major statistical categories, while finishing top 20 in those same five categories for the entire league (a feat never accomplished).
I also expect a nice cameo from Khris Middleton, who’s calculated and probing offensive arsenal is perfectly suited to playoff basketball. he’s a great shooter and more than capable of exploiting size mismatches with a strong and in control post game.
For the Raptors, a healthy Kyle Lowry will prove to be too fast for Delly and Brogdon, which means Lowry could be the X-factor. I expect him to break the stigma about his past poor play in the finals with a massive performance in the first round that continues all the way through to the ECF. A great series from Lowry will be crucial, as DeRozan has also had his playoff struggles and the Bucks length could give him troubles. The Bucks have long defenders who should be able to refrain from biting on pump fakes, which is one of the massive keys in shutting down DeRozan. This is also a series that could be great for Jonas Valanciunas. There aren’t a great deal of match-ups for him and unless the Bucks resort to throwing Giannis at center I doubt he gets run off the floor.
Grizzlies Vs Spurs
Spurs in 6
Zach Lowe and David Thorpe believe that this series might be closer than we think – who am I to argue? The season series between the Spurs and Grizzlies was split 2-2 and their style of plays match up well against each other. If you look at the Spurs record they don’t have the greatest playoff track record over recent seasons, so it will be interesting to see if they can break that trend with play-off Kawhi. But what is this version of playoff Kawhi going to look like? He’s performed well in the past, but this is a different level of responsibility. I for one expect him to rise to the occasion and believe that he’s one of the better value superstars for DFS heading into the first round. It will also be interesting to see if we get a taste of the playoff LaMarcus Aldridge of old. We used to see it in Portland and he flashed a lot of potential early in the Spurs first round series last year against the Thunder.
Speaking of Aldridge, Marc Gasol should dominate all minutes vs him or his brother. Dedmon is the only Spurs big capable of slowing him down, and if he finds too much time against anyone else, Marc Gasol will make them pay. Him and Conley, as well as Zach Randolph are all great fantasy options for this match-up if the Grizzlies are to stand any chance. If the Grizzlies are going to cause an upset (like Lowe and Thorpe suggested could be possible) then Conley will need to live up to his contract and prove that he is good enough to dominate Tony Parker and Patty Mills. (Speaking of those two, Mills should see a lot of minutes if Parker doesn’t seem capable of slowing down Conley).
Jazz Vs Clippers
Clippers in 7
The best series of the first round will be a big test for the up-and-coming Utah Jazz. For as much criticism as the Clippers receive, they are an experienced and battle tested playoff team with three all-stars and potentially two top 15 talents. Everyone remembers the meltdown vs the Rockets in 2014-15, but the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin who played in the first round series against the Spurs are a threat to almost all teams outside of Oakland. If they can bring the defensive intensity and bench play that they flashed in the first month of the season then Utah will have a tough time containing them.
Luc Mbah a Moute has had huge success against Gordon Hayward this year and Chris Paul is a great match-up for George Hill. The Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan match-up is one to watch, but Rudy’s help defense may be negated with CP3 and Griffin so comfortable throwing lob passes every time he stops over. Unfortunately for the Jazz there’s no one else capable of helping the helper when Dj goes up for lobs 13 feet in the air.
I expect to see the incarnation of the Clippers from the first 20 games of this season – the one with elite defense and one of the best five man lineups in the league. And unfortunately I feel like the in-experienced Jazz might not be good enough, or ready enough, to beat that particular Clippers team. No slight on the Jazz – they’re on the way up – but this is the Clippers last chance with Paul, Griffin and DJ. They will be more desperate, they’re probably more talented and they should throw everything they have at this playoff campaign. If they don’t, then the Jazz are more than good enough to make this a series. With their versatility and depth they could even win (which is why they’re a popular upset pick). If Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and George Hill come up as big time playoff performers, they might prove to be better than I thought. But if we see the best of Griffin, DJ and CP3, then I’m not sure even a defensive juggernaut Jazz can stop them.
(Mo Speights may be the X-factor in this series as they will use his floor spacing ability to open things up and draw Gobert from the paint. If they can do that he will be a great value option and the Clippers will more than likely win.)