NBA postseason tip-off: Our top picks for the first playoff round
The Warriors are poised for a clean sweep in round one, while the slumping Cavaliers face a tricky series...
Golden State Warriors to sweep Portland Trail Blazers 4-0 -
The Warriors are rightly the favourites to win the title this season, and they should get off to a fast start against the overmatched Trail Blazers.
Golden State have beaten Portland in all four of their meetings this season by an average margin of 19.5 points.
There’s virtually no chance the Blazers steal a win in California, given that they have won just 16 of their 41 away games this season and Golden State have lost just five at home.
And it’s hard to fancy Portland holding their ground at home, too, as the Warriors ended the season with 15 wins in their last 16.
They should make it 19 in 20 relatively comfortably.
Washington Wizards to beat Atlanta Hawks -
In perhaps the round’s most evenly-matched series on paper, the Wizards’ stellar home record should see them advance.
They have won 30 games in Washington this season and lost just 11, while Atlanta have lost more than they have won on the road.
Washington have been one of the NBA’s best sides in the second half of the season, and would have earned a higher seed had they not opened with a run of eight defeats in 10 games.
Atlanta, meanwhile, closed with 15 defeats and just 11 wins since the All-Star break.
They lost three of the four meetings between these this season, with their only win coming during Washington’s shocking start.
The Wizards should come through a tough test here and reach the second round for the third time in four years.
Houston Rockets to beat Oklahoma City Thunder 4-3 -
This match-up of the NBA’s two leading MVP candidates looks almost too close to call.
Russell Westbrook has had an incredible season, racking up a record-setting 42 triple doubles and leading the Thunder in points, assists, rebounds and steals.
James Harden, meanwhile, has averaged 29 points and 11 assists per game for the Rockets – a team of role players built entirely around his strengths.
Crucially, Harden has been able to lift his team to a top-four seed in the West, and their 30-11 record in Houston bodes well for their chances here.
They have won three consecutive meetings with the Thunder, with their only defeat coming in Oklahoma City back in November.
Aside from the two stars, the Thunder have arguably the better supporting cast here and possess a definite advantage in terms of rebounding.
But Westbrook’s stat-stuffing has not translated into wins as effectively as Harden’s relentless scoring, so the Rockets should manage to squeak through.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers to last seven games -
No team is entering the playoffs with as little momentum as the Cavaliers.
The Eastern Conference’s second seed have lost four consecutive games – the worst streak of their season – and have won just 12 of 27 since the All-Star break.
The Pacers, meanwhile, finished the season strongly with a five-game winning run to claim the seventh seed.
Their home record of 29 wins and 12 defeats suggests they will be incredibly difficult for the Cavs to beat on their own court.
Cleveland’s star power gives them the edge here, and it would be a huge shock if LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and co were eliminated this early.
But Indiana have a star of their own in Paul George, as well as recent signing Lance Stephenson – an excellent defender who has pestered James in the playoffs before.
They have all the tools to take this series deep, and could even win it.