NBA

Oklahoma City Thunder to sneak through while Houston Rockets pull off sweep in first-round predictions

Jay Asser 23:00 14/04/2018
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Russell Westbrook enters the playoffs after averaging a triple-double for a second straight season.

Houston v Minnesota

This may be a year when we see no sweeps in the first round, but if any series is capable of ending in four games, it’s this one.

The Timberwolves have star power working in their favour with their trio of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but they don’t match-up well with what the Rockets like to do – namely pick-and-rolls and isolations after drawing mismatches.

Towns is going to be in a bind defending on-ball screens and if Minnesota send help defenders to corral the roll man, both James Harden and Chris Paul will pick them apart with pinpoint passes to shooters.

Rockets in 6

Boston v Milwaukee

Conventional wisdom in the playoffs suggest riding with the team that has the best player on the court, which in this series will clearly by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The problem with that line of thinking in this match-up is the Celtics are definitely the better team, collectively speaking. They’re well-coached, scrappy and make you earn everything on the defensive end.

The Bucks are in many ways the opposite, with their ultra-aggressive defensive scheme often leading to easy looks for the opposition. If Boston can get a little bit of hot shooting, they should be just fine.

Celtics in 6

Oklahoma City v Utah

It would be a bit of a surprise if this series doesn’t go at least six games with how evenly-matched these teams are.

Oklahoma City went 3-1 in the head-to-head meetings during the regular season, but all of those games occurred before Christmas, with two of the Thunder’s victories coming when Rudy Gobert didn’t play. Gobert obviously changes the equation and will likely force Oklahoma City’s stars to settle for more mid-range jumpers.

On the other end, the Jazz have lived and died by rookie Donovan Mitchell, but in a playoff setting, he’s going to need more help.

Home court could sway this.

Thunder in 7

Cleveland v Indiana

This Cavaliers team might not be capable of flipping the switch, considering it’s largely a different squad the ones of past seasons. But they still have LeBron James and playoff LeBron is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

However, it looks like his five-year streak of not dropping a game in the first round is about to end because this Pacers team is very, very solid. Victor Oladipo transformed into a legitimate All-Star and All-NBA candidate, while big man Myles Turner is always an X-factor.

LeBron will advance as expected, but it won’t be as easy as he’s become accustomed to.

Cavaliers in 6

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