The NBA Playoffs is only weeks away with teams battling for position to have the upper hand in the first round and beyond. As soon as postseason action begins, everything goes back to zero except for a team’s true identity. Records don’t matter and head-to-head matchups don’t matter as much as many might think. Practically every playoff season has at least a couple of upsets that leave us wondering how that happened. It’s win or go home time and it’s the best time of the season!
Knowing that upsets are bound to happen doesn’t mean it’s easy to determine which teams are bound to failure and which are headed for glory. But we can speculate which ones are likely to fall at the hands of which team.
Though the seedings aren’t permanent at this point by any stretch, it’s fun to try and figure out which teams will upset the other when matched up. As good a barometer as the regular season may appear to be, it’s not the most accurate way of assessing the outcome of a series.
This is why we play the games regardless of a team’s seeming superiority over the other in the regular season.
Here are three that will most likely be upset in the 2019 NBA Playoffs:
Before the season started, many pundits believed that the Boston Celtics were going to take over the Eastern Conference crown with LeBron James moving out west, leaving the Cavaliers to rot as cellar-dwellers. Coming off of a competitive Game 7, which they lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals last season without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, everyone thought the Celtics would dominate the weakened conference now that both players are healthy once again.
Unfortunately for Brad Stevens, the Celtics hardly behaved like world-beaters recently. Though they are bound for the playoffs as the fifth seed, they are too inconsistent to consider them as threats to the throne vacated by Cleveland. A lack of cohesion stemming perhaps from having too many good players has made Boston one of the most puzzling teams in the league.
More than likely, if they face a team that plays team basketball like the Indiana Pacers, the playoffs won’t be in Beantown for long.
You might be wondering why the Pacers as the fourth seed in the East would be considered the underdogs against the fifth-seeded Celtics. That’s easy. When these two teams meet, who do you think the media and the fans think will win the series? I thought so.
The Pacers lost All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury in January and everyone believed it was going to be the last we’ll hear of the Pacers. But the team has responded to adversity by playing like a wounded tiger and has continued to win without its star player. Everyone has been waiting for the time when Indiana falls down the standings but it’s been two months since Oladipo’s injury and no one has figured out how to truly get a handle on them.
Their secret is in their defense which is third in the league (105.2 defensive rating). Without Oladipo to anchor their offense, the Pacers have relied on a gritty, no-holds-barred defense that can and will shut down the most vaunted offensive attack. At the center of this is Myles Turner whose 2.73 blocks per game leads the league. Additionally, they are tied for 4th in opponents turnovers at 15.1 a night.
When it comes to the offensive side of the court, Bojan Bogdanovic has taken over for Oladipo as their primary scorer with 17.9 points per game. He shoots 42.3 percent from deep which is 12th overall. Led by Bogdanovic, the Pacers are 5th in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.2 percent.
Perhaps more than any team, Indiana is the epitome of unselfish basketball. Faced with this kind of team that knows their roles and plays to their strengths, the Celtics are destined to bow out of the first round.
Prediction: Pacers in 7
The Denver Nuggets are battling it out with the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the West. If the Nuggets end up with the second seed instead of the first, they are going to have a tougher time in the postseason than they would like.
As the second seed, the Nuggets are most likely going to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and that’s going to be a huge problem for them. The Thunder have more experience playing in the postseason and are led by veterans who know what it takes to win when the lights are brightest. Despite their recent string of losses, there’s a huge possibility that OKC will be able to upset the favored Nuggets in the first round.
Denver is untested with many of its players inexperienced in the playoffs. The fact that some of their core players are 24 years old and below (they have a whopping 12 players at that age range!) the Nuggets are a postseason disaster waiting to happen.
Led by Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Thunder have two of the most dynamic and explosive players in the league. Both players are capable of taking over a game at any given time. George is the scorer who may be the toughest matchup for the Nuggets. Though they have lost each of their first three meetings with the Nuggets, he still scored 27.0 points an outing against them.
Westbrook is a tough cover for any of the Nuggets’ guards. For the third straight season, the 6-foot-3 point guard is averaging a triple-double with 23.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 10.4 assists. His strength, speed and athleticism will pose a problem for the Nuggets’ guards on both ends of the court. There are few who can keep up with his aggressiveness and ability to control the tempo of a ballgame.
What’s great about the Thunder is that their two best players are also two of their best defenders.
More than the last two seasons, this Thunder team knows its identity and they enjoy playing with one another. Granted that they are somewhat missing some of their mojo of late, they have had quality wins against some of the league’s best teams including the Warriors, Houston Rockets, L.A. Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors.
At 114.3 points per game, they own the league’s 7th most potent offense and on defense, they are 1st in steals at 9.5 and 1st in opponents’ turnovers at 16.2. If the Thunder can wreak havoc on the defensive end, and dictate the tempo on offense, the Nuggets could be in a world of trouble in the first round.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
1. Milwaukee Bucks beat Golden State Warriors in 2019 NBA Finals
Ok, so the Milwaukee Bucks own the best record in the league at 56-19 and are supposedly better than the Warriors (50-23) in the regular season, at least. But Milwaukee is still an underdog especially if they meet Golden State in the NBA Finals. Coach Steve Kerr and his boys are veterans who know what it takes to win a championship, going to the Finals four consecutive times and winning the title thrice.
The Bucks are babes compared to the Warriors but that doesn’t mean they can’t compete with them on the biggest stage.
All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the catalyst to the success that the Bucks are enjoying thus far. The Most Valuable Player candidate is averaging career highs with 27.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists while adding 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Then there’s forward Khris Middleton who is averaging 17.8 points and shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range, and point guard Eric Bledsoe whose 15.8 points, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals a night are invaluable to the Bucks. They’ve also added important pieces to their roster over the last few months such as veteran forward/center Pau Gasol and a stretch four in Nikola Mirotic.
The Bucks have one of the NBA’s stingiest defenses ranking 1st in defensive rating at 104.2, 1st in opponents’ field goal percentage (43.1), 2nd in blocks (6.0) and tied for 15th in opponents 3-pt field goal percentage (35.4 percent). On offense, they are 3rd in offensive rating at 113.4, 3rd in field goal percentage (47.6 percent), 1st in scoring (117.4) and 7th in assists (26.0).
Common sense says to continue to place your bet on the Warriors should they reach the NBA Finals even if the Bucks have a better record. Unfortunately, the Bay Area squad isn’t exactly cruising on its way to the postseason right now. The addition of Cousins in the summer supposedly made them invincible. But the truth is, they’re not used to playing with a big man who can be a threat down low and one who can’t switch as easily as their other bigs from seasons past.
As good as the Warriors are at bombing away from the outside, Milwaukee will hound Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant from the outside while letting their non-shooters such as Draymond Green and Cousins to fire away at will from beyond the arc. Unlike the Cavaliers of the last four years, the Warriors will be tested by a team that has a more balanced attack and one that’s hungrier to win than they are.
When the Finals rolls around and these two teams meet, don’t be surprised to see the Bucks as the one left standing in the end.
Prediction: Bucks in 6