NBA Playoffs Challenge: Breaking down the First Round

Forget your Excel sheets and pen and paper Playoff brackets. The NBA is taking the bracket craze to a whole new level. They’re introducing the NBA Playoffs Challenge which you can play on their website.

You just log on to the Playoff Challenge site, register and start filling out your bracket. But the NBA adds a small twist to this. Rather than just filling out the respective winners of each match-up, you also have to pick how long each series will go. Points will be awarded based on the accuracy of your winners and the number of games.

To make things fun and interactive, you can create a league so that you can compete with your family and friends. The points and leaderboard will be displayed as the Playoffs progress.

You can also continuously change your winners and the length of each series. But every change results in a deduction of points. That way, you can take on the Playoff Challenge as the NBA postseason progresses.

Here are the breakdowns of my NBA Playoff Challenge First Round picks:

EASTER CONFERENCE

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards

1. Toronto Raptors vs. 8. Washington Wizards (Toronto wins 4-2)

The Toronto Raptors have ruled the East for Pretty much the entire season. The way they did it was to take a business-like approach to every game. They went to work, fulfilled their roles and got the job done. That’s the same mindset they’ll have against a tough match-up against the Washington Wizards. Washington isn’t an ordinary eighth seed. They have the talent an Playoff experience to win a few games. But ultimately Toronto’s chemistry and bench production (41.8 Bench ppg) will give them the edge over the Washington.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks

2. Boston Celtics vs. 7. Milwaukee Bucks (Boston wins 4-2)

The Milwaukee Bucks have the talent edge over the Boston Celtics. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. What they don’t have is discipline. That’s what the Boston Celtics have that will push them to the next round. Boston has an elite coach in Brad Stevens. He’s the game-changer. The Bucks will be able to take a few games with monster games by Antetokounmpo. But Stevens will adjust and find a way to shut down the Greek Freak (101.5 Defensive Rating).

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3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Miami Heat (Philadelphia wins 4-2)

This is an underrated series. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat have the same kind of roster make-up. They have a monster big man in Joel Embiid (If he does return in the First Round) and Hassan Whiteside. They have a bunch of talented, multi-skilled wings and forwards. Their coaches are both excellent. The game-changer is Ben Simmons. James Johnson is the closest player Miami has to Simmons but even then the rookie is on a totally different level. Philly will ride their regular season momentum to the Second Round (16 straight wins, 4th in Team Net Rating, 2nd in Assist Percentage).

Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers

4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 5. Indiana Pacers (Cleveland wins 4-1)

This is more straightforward. The Indiana Pacers are the feel-good surprise of the season. They have a bunch of nice young pieces moving forward. But they’re about to be introduced to Playoff LeBron James. It’s season 15 and James is showing no signs of slowing down (27.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 9.1 apg). He’s got young guns that can run with him and he’s going to lead the Cavaliers straight to the next round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets

1. Houston Rockets vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves (Houston wins 4-1)

The Houston Rockets just have too much firepower for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves aren’t the defensive juggernaut that everyone expected them to be under coach Tom Thibodeau. That means the Rockets have a more opportunities to run (2nd in Team Pace) and shoot (15.3 Three-pointers per game). Chris Paul and James Harden will carve up the Timberwolves defense en route to the second round.

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2. Golden State Warriors vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs (Golden State wins 4-1)

This is a totally different match-up from a the past few years. The San Antonio Spurs have struggled for most of the season before going on a late-season run to salvage a Playoff spot. The Warriors aren’t as dominant as before, partly because of injuries. Steph Curry most likely won’t be back for the first round to heal up. But even without Curry, the Warriors still have a 3-1 (Hehe) All-Star Advantage. They have more than enough talent to dispatch San Antonio (2nd in Team Net Rating, 1st in Team Assist Percentage). The Spurs are stubborn and proud enough not to be swept. But this just isn’t their year.

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3. Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Portland wins 4-2)

Out of all the match-ups in the Playoffs, this was the one I flip-flopped on the most. I just can’t see anyone on the Portland Trail Blazers roster that can defend Anthony Davis. Jusuf Nurkic is too slow and their slew of other forwards aren’t as talented to keep up with Davis. If this were one game, I could see how Davis can power the New Orleans Pelicans to the Second Round. But the Blazers have the tools to slow down the pace and beat-up Davis inside (98.83 Pace, 51.4% Rebound Percentage). They can grind out the Pelicans and rely on Dame Time in the final period to take games.

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4. OKC Thunder vs. 5. Utah Jazz (OKC wins 4-3)

This is the one series where I believe home court advantage comes into play. The OKC Thunder (27-14) and the Utah Jazz (28-13) have similar records at home. That’s why that one extra game at home could push the Thunder past the Jazz. During Playoff time, OKC gets really loud and that has helped them win home Playoff games in the past. This could definitely go either way as the Jazz are a talented, disciplined team that can push the Thunder superstars to the brink. But OKC still has a ball of fury in Russell Westbrook (25.4 ppg, 10.3 apg, 10.1 rpg)and he has more help and home court advantage to help him get past the first round.

Here is how my current Playoff Challenge bracket looks like:

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Photos from NBA.com

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