NBA Playoffs: First Round Watchability Rankings
The NBA playoffs are finally upon us! But not all playoff series are equally enjoyable, especially in the first round. Here’s a quick rankings guide to help you keep up with the more watchable series, organized from least watchable to most.
Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8)
Let’s keep this simple. The Bucks have the league’s best record, number four offensive rating, number one defensive rating, a deep roster, a Coach of the Year candidate, and arguably the league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Pistons don’t even have their best player, Blake Griffin, who is likely out for the series. Game 1 was a snoozer where the Bucks led by as much as 41. Games 2 through 4 don’t project to be more interesting, and I won’t even entertain the chance of a Game 5. Either catch up on shows you’ve missed due to more interesting playoff series (you know Game of Thrones is back right?) or enjoy a nice nap.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (8)
Similar to the Bucks vs. Pistons, this isn’t a series with much intrigue. The Warriors slept through the regular season and still were the number one seed in the West. The Clippers meanwhile are just happy to have made the playoffs to get the reps and show free agents they’re a destination. Game one was a beatdown where the only thing interesting was the beef between the Clippers’ Pat Beverley and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant that resulted in some early playoff techs for Durant. There’s a slim chance the Warriors fall asleep and give up a game to the Clippers, but most likely this is an uncompetitive sweep. Not quite the dumpster fire Bucks vs. Pistons is, but not much better.
Boston Celtics (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)
Finally we start to get to a series with some legs. The Celtics are an underperforming team hoping to come together for a deep playoff run, while the Pacers have over performed following the season ending injury to their best player, Victor Oladipo, and want to crash the fun for another team. The Pacers are exactly the kind of hard-nosed tough team that can take advantage of an inconsistent team like the Celtics to pull off an upset. This series projected to be a defensive slugfest and game one lived up to that with the Celtics winning 84-74. I dinged this series a bit for being defensive focused, which is aesthetically less watchable. If you long for the days of low scoring playoff games, this is your series.
Houston Rockets (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
The Rockets and Jazz both started the season slow, underperforming, but turned it up over the course of the year to finish strong going into the playoffs. A repeat of last year’s semi-finals, the Jazz projected to have the kind of defense that could give James Harden and the Rockets some issues, maybe even an upset. Game 1 didn’t do them any favors though, with the Rockets pulling away in the second half to blow the Jazz out while Harden was limited to scoring only 29 points on 26 shots. There’s still time for the Jazz to adjust their defense to make this series more interesting, but there’s definitely a feel in the air that the Rockets have them figured out.
Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Orlando Magic (7)
At first glance, this series didn’t seem that interesting. The Raptors were set up to go deep into the playoffs, at least the conference finals, while the Magic were happy to make the playoffs after years of rebuilding. Then game one happened, a close game where the Magic squeaked a win at Toronto on the back of DJ Augustin’s 25-point explosion and an ice cold 3-pointer to win the game.
For years the Raptors have been haunted by playoff collapses, usually to LeBron James. In typical fashion, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry went 0-7 from the field. Chances are the Raptors right the course and win this series; it wouldn’t be surprising to see them win the next four. But until they do that, speculations will persist that maybe the Magic can pull off the craziest upset of the year.
Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
We finally arrive to the latter portion, where the more interesting series lie. With the injury to the Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic and the Thunder’s combination of star power and defense, the Thunder came in feeling confident they could win the series against the higher seed. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Paul George is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that’s sapped his outside shot, which severely limits their chances. Game 1 was a close game that came down to the wire, where Blazers’ Damian Lillard hit an insane 29-foot shot to swing momentum and take the first game.
Even with the injuries to both sides, this series looks like it could go six, maybe seven entertaining games.
Denver Nuggets (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
Despite barely missing the playoffs last year, the Nuggets took a huge leap this year to get the second seed in the West. Meanwhile for the Spurs, who traded away franchise player Kawhi Leonard over the last offseason, it was business as usual making it back to the playoffs again, even at a lower seed than normal. This is a matchup between the younger more talented team and the grizzled veterans led by a mastermind coach in Gregg Popovich. The Spurs stole Game 1, already leading to questions about whether the Nuggets are really ready to go deep into the playoffs. This is going to be a chess match between Popovich and Nuggets coach Mike Malone, the outcome of which will make for great playoff basketball.
Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
Last but certainly not least, the 76ers vs. the Nets. What the 76ers lack in chemistry they make up for with an impressive starting five, possibly the best outside of the Warriors. What the Nets lack in top-level talent they make up for with chemistry, a modern 3-point heavy system, and a great head coach in Kenny Atkinson. Game 1 was a shocker, with the Nets cruising to a double digit win despite the efforts of Jimmy Butler to keep the 76ers in the game. Ben Simmons was a no show for the game while Joel Embiid battled health concerns that limited his minutes, but expect Simmons to play better and Embiid longer as the series progresses. This series features two high-powered offenses, and has the coaches capable of making adjustments to make this series go six or seven entertaining games. This is the must watch of the first round.