It’s the NBA playoffs, where games are most meaningful, but also go by the fastest. The first set of NBA playoff games just finished, so it’s time to do what any regular NBA fan would do — make way too early predictions that predict the result of the entire season, using such a small sample size (read: one game)!
That’s what makes the NBA fun as a whole: it’s crazy, and whatever we say now has a big chance of being false in a couple of days. But that won’t stop us from making ridiculous takes anyway, so let’s do just that. Here are some WAY TOO EARLY Hot Takes (that could eventually come true) after the first set of games:
Rockets vs. Timberwolves: James Harden will lead the Best Player in the NBA conversation
Coming into the playoffs, there were rumblings about whether or not James Harden could deliver come the postseason despite putting up (another) MVP worthy season. The worry was how Houston’s iso-heavy approach would get to Harden, and we’d get another burnt out Beard when it mattered most.
That was far from the case versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, as Harden came out with a bang and pumped in 44 points, four rebounds and eight assists to help the Rockets survive Game 1 of the playoffs. Andrew Wiggins was #BBQChicken all game long, as he couldn’t do anything to stop Harden’s rampage. Harden controlled the game like a puppet on a string. It’s that masterful command of the game that will push Harden to a deep Playoff run.
The days of Harden as a choker in the playoffs are over. This is his time, and he’ll likely end the post season holding the Larry O’Brien trophy, and a claim of being the best player in basketball today.
Raptors vs. Wizards: The Raptors are Finals bound baby!
Admit it: You were waiting for the Raptors to come out with a press release stating they were forfeiting Game 1 versus the Wizards, because what’s the point anyway right? They’re bound to lose that first game because it’s the most Toronto thing Toronto can do to kick off their nth attempt at beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs.
The Raptors didn’t look too good to start, falling to a 14-6 deficit against the Wizards to start off the game. ‘Aw shit, here come the Toronto Barneys!’ some people said. But instead, the Raptors fought back, kept the game close, and eventually pulled away thanks to a couple of key baskets made by the bench mob of Toronto.
YUP. THAT BENCH PEOPLE WERE DOUBTING, AND WERE SAYING WOULDN’T MATTER COME THE PLAYOFFS. *in Barney Stinson’s voice high pitched voice* WADDUP!
I’m calling it, the Raptors are making it to the Finals. They have the All-Stars to dominate when needed. They have a deep bench. They have the chemistry built from years of playing together. They have the experience, borne out of past Playoff failures.
The Cavaliers are as dysfunctional as ever, while the Sixers are too young right now. Say goodbye to the Barneys. Here come the Kings of the North (and East).
Warriors vs. Spurs: The Warriors new, defensive identity can bring them the championship, with or without Curry
Steve Kerr and the Warriors surprised everybody when it came out with a starting line-up of Javale McGee at center (hmm… okay), Draymond Green at power forward (normal), Kevin Durant at small forward (meh), Klay Thompson at shooting guard (this is getting boring) and Andre Igoudala at point guard (NOW YOU HAVE ME LISTENING).
Offensively, it didn’t look too intimidating, but where this line-up truly made its money is with its defense. It’s an incredibly lengthy and active line-up that beat the San Antonio Spurs to pieces, and left LaMarcus Aldridge as a laughing stock to the Spurs fans once more. It was what made Golden State so deadly during that stretch in December without Curry: Their sheer activity and length on the defensive end mitigated whatever they were missing offensively.
Defense wins championships. With this kind of performance and make-up, it looks like the Golden State Warriors won’t even need Curry when they face the Rockets. Length and activity for days. James Harden and crew don’t stand a chance.
Celtics vs. Bucks: The Boston Celtics are the anti-Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are a team that is brimming with talent, one that many project to contend for years led by their unicorn, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, are a team filled with rag-tag pieces, led by their uhhh, normal basketball player who’s more tito than All-Star, Al Horford. The Bucks are built to dominate. The Celtics, on the other hand, are built to just barely make it to the playoffs.
However, the opposite has happened, not just for game one, but all season long. The Celtics have looked like contenders, with Brad Stevens making the most out of his gritty group. The Bucks, on the other hand, have been disappointing, with their unicorn raising them a little past their floor rather than higher towards their ceiling.
On paper, it should have been a romp by the Bucks. But instead, we were treated to a thriller, with the Celtics coming out of top after game one. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was inspiring nonetheless. It was so inspiring, that it isn’t so crazy to think that the Celtics are the anti-Milwaukee Bucks. Not the most talented, but they have enough determination and grit to make it past the Sixers and the Raptors to make it to the Finals.
Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans: Anthony Davis and Playoff Rondo can lead the Pelicans past the Blazers AND the Warriors
Anthony Davis was viewed as broken goods. You needed to give him bubble wrap so he could survive in the NBA.
Rajon Rondo was viewed as a future PBA import, throwing lobs in a couple of conferences to Japeth Aguilar rather than to Anthony Davis.
Those ideas of Rondo and Davis are technically true. They’re flawed, some will even use the word “broken”. But their Playoff version? Utterly terrifying.
Both players, along with Jrue Holiday’s excellent defense, helped lead the New Orleans Pelicans against Damian Lillard and the Blazers after game one. They aren’t exactly known as a defensive team, but the trio led the way, making life uncomfortable for the guard duo of Portland.
With that kind of performance, it’s easy to have hope that maybe, MVP Davis, Playoff Rondo and DPoY Holiday can help lead New Orleans against the Blazers. Then win four games again versus Golden State. Like what Rondo’s old teammate said, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”
76ers vs. Heat: The 2018 76ers are better than the 2011 Thunder
Despite coming into the Playoffs with a 16 game winning streak, the 76ers still had a number of doubters who felt like their run was a result of the teams they were facing during that run. It felt too flukey, there was no way this young, Embiid-less 76ers would come in with as much fire against the battle-tested Heat.
Except, that was the case, as the 76ers continued their streak and ran the Heat off their home floor to the tune of a 27 point blow out. Ben Simmons was unstoppable, with no one in the Miami front line capable of manning even when they tried to sag. It was like watching a young LeBron James with better teammates, ones who could actually shoot the ball and are names we’re likely going to remember in ten years.
It’s also important to note, these Process Sixers don’t have Joel Embiid, their best player, yet. Once they have him back? Good Lord, it’s going to be TERRIFYING. The numbers don’t lie. The Sixers are nearly in the Top 10 on offense and 3rd on defense. They have Simmons who controls a game like James Harden (without the scoring) and a bunch of shooters to spread the floor. Again. They’re doing this without Embiid. So once they have their inside-outside, two-way big man back, their ceiling is raised even higher.
These Sixers have the potential to do something the Kevin Durant Thunder weren’t able to do: make it to the Finals and beat LeBron James in their first go around in the Playoffs.
Thunder vs. Jazz: Playoff P is a top five player in the league
Paul George gave himself a nickname for the upcoming postseason: Playoff P. It sounds ridiculous yet, but that’s exactly what Paul George was for his playoff debut as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was ridiculous, someone who could not be stopped by the stifling Jazz defense.
Joe Ingles was dead meat against George, while the likes of Jae Crowder could not do anything against Playoff P. He was locked in, someone who was terrifying on both ends of the floor and played second fiddle beside Russell Westbrook perfectly.
Mind you, Playoff P was a VERY good second fiddle. It could be argued that he was having a good shooting night. But George was aggressive in looking for his spots and playing with swagger the same way Westbrook does. A locked-in George can make life miserable for the Jazz on both ends of the floor.
With the way he played, George looked like a top five player, someone in the same pantheon as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden and Steph Curry. The Rockets are going to have hell, trying to find ways to shut down the duo of Playoff P and Beastbrook in the semifinals.
Cavaliers vs. Pacers: If the Cavaliers come out of the East, we can conclude that the conference is crap
Flip the switch, they said. The Pacers’ Cinderella run would be over against LeBron James, they said. Victor Oladipo’s performance was a fluke, they said.
He said, she said, whoever said. It didn’t matter, as Victor Oladipo and crew shocked the world, blowing out the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-80, stealing homecourt advantage in the most emphatic way possible. Flip the switch huh?
The Cavaliers looked out of it, with their big men failing to handle the speed of Oladipo and Myles Turner off switches. It was a painful sight for fans of the Cavaliers, while haters rejoiced, tempted to shout ‘I told you so!’ to those they warned.
Granted, the Cavaliers still have that LeBron dude. However, as super as LeBron is, other teams in the East have gotten better… at least that’s what they want you to believe. The rest of the Cavaliers look terrible. Rodney Hood has been frustrating, while drama surrounds Tristan Thompson at a very bad time. Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson, two young midseason pick-ups looked green in their first Playoff appearance. Not a good look for the Cavs.
Let’s say somehow, LeBron goes ABSOLUTELY berserk and leads the Cavaliers to the Finals. Props to LeBron, but come on now, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston. Really? Losing to THESE Cavaliers? You guys just proved that the East is absolute crap if you let that happen. Come on.
Photo from USA Today