By Aaron J McGregor

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs Orlando Magic (8)

Regular Season : Bucks win 4-0

Injuries : Bucks – None. Orlando – Mo Bamba (COVID Complications) Jonathon Isaac (ACL and Meniscus Tear)

Notes : Aaron Gordon (Ankle) and Terrence Ross (Hamstring) are both expected to play for Orlando, worth keeping an eye on how the injuries effect them.

Prediction : Milwaukee in 5

Best Bets : Fournier 3 pointers made around 4-5 a game. Giannis Double/Double. Vucevic PRA under 35.5

On paper, this should be a clean sweep for Milwaukee. However, they were very unimpressive in the bubble. They look like they have no idea what they are doing and not at all like the team with the best record in the association. I would be very concerned about this Milwaukee team moving forward if they don’t figure it out quickly.

Giannis is obviously going to dominate in this series. Isaac and Bamba were the best chances Orlando had of stopping him. With them both out, you can continue to expect a double double from him in every single game. At least 30 points and 15 boards you would have to think. It’s time for the other guys to step up and contribute big. It’s now or never for Middleton to really establish himself as the second best guy on the team. Eric Bledsoe as well, he is a borderline all-star talent. It’s time to prove it.

If Orlando has any chance in this series, its going to come from outside shooting. Bucks have excellent interior defence, but as result they allow the most 3’s in the league. Unfortunately, Orlando are one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the NBA. They average 11 made 3’s a game, which isn’t going to cut it. They will need to look to guys like Fournier, Ross and Augustin to really step up as shooters. The shots will be there, they just need to make them. I am expecting Vucevic to be shut down by the Lopez brothers in this series. He’s a solid player but always struggles playing against taller guys. He cannot make jump shots with any consistency. Last year in the playoffs, Gasol shut him down. He will really struggle against this defence.

Most predictions have the Bucks sweeping Orlando. I cannot see that happening with the way Milwaukee have been playing. I think Orlando are being disrespected and will come out with something to prove. They did manage to steal a game from the Raptors last year, and all it will take for them to do the same here is to have a good night shooting. I would be very surprised if they can’t manage to win at least one game, especially with how the Bucks are struggling. I really want to take Bucks in 6, but they are a tough matchup for Orlando. If it was any other team I would, so I’m taking the Bucks in 5. 

Toronto Raptors (2) vs Brooklyn Nets (7)

Regular Season : Raptors win 3-1

Injuries : Raptors : None. Brooklyn : Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan

Notes : None.

Prediction : Raptors in 5

Best Bets : Jarrett Allen Double/Double. Joe Harris 3 pointers made around 3-4 a game

This will be a fun series! Two teams that were both slept on and have both continued to impress. Both squads are well coached and play hard. This will be a scrappy series. Will the Game 1 curse continue for Toronto? Surely not, but I’ve said that for years and it always shows up. The Nets are gonna grab a game here, why not the first one?

It’s time for Pascal Siakam to really be the guy for Toronto. The Raptors are obviously the superior team and have a clear advantage here. Nothing will come easy though, Siakam is going to have to step up and dominate. Raptors play a similar style defence to Milwaukee, so there are going to be lots of shots for Brooklyn. Unfortunately for Toronto, the Nets come in on fire! They have been shooting the ball really well. Toronto are going to have to use this to their advantage. 3 point shooting won’t carry a team an entire series. They are going to cool off but won’t have an option but to keep shooting. The Raptors are going to have use this to their advantage. Take the rebounds and push out on the fast break. This is a really undermanned squad. Raptors will have to take advantage and play fast. The more tired the Nets get, the more 3’s they will take and the more they will miss.

The fight shown by this Nets team is amazing. As I mentioned, they are shooting the ball really well right now. They have an excellent chance to come out and smack Toronto in the mouth. Caris LeVert plays this team incredibly well. He was the last guy to score 30+ against them. Nick Nurse will be well aware of this and I expect the Raptors to deny LeVert the ball as much as possible. The Nets will need Harris to take advantage of the 3’s he is going to get and they will need Jarrett Allen to dominate the inside. 

This series will be a good test and a good chance for the Raptors to prove themselves. They have played very good basketball recently and I see no reason for that not to continue. This will be a hard fought series but the Raptors are well coached and have all the keys to win. They are smart enough to respect an undermanned opponent and they will play that way. The Raptors could sweep this series, but the scrappiness of the Nets and the Game 1 blues have me taking Toronto in 5.

Boston Celtics (3) vs Philadelphia 76ers (6)

Regular Season : Philadelphia win 3-1

Injuries : Boston : None. Philadelphia : Ben Simmons (Knee)

Notes : Joel Embiid is expected to play but is coming off an ankle injury.

Prediction : Boston in 4

Best Bets : Jayson Tatum 30+ points. Philadelphia Total Points under 112.5

In the regular season, the 76ers always seemed to have Boston under control. However, Philadelphia are falling apart at the seams and Boston are looking good! They had a very impressive bubble and with Simmons gone, it’s time for the Celtics to get some revenge. Get your brooms out!

The big question is which Joel Embiid is going to come to this series? With Simmons out, there is no doubt he is the best player the sixers have. He is also the biggest cause of drama and issues both on and off the court. He could come out and dominate or he could come out and sulk. It’s hard to say with him. This might be the revenge series for Al Horford, going up against his old team. Philly should play through him, he is an intelligent player and passer. However, he has struggled shooting the ball and at 34 years of age, it’s hard to see him making a massive impact in this series. If Philly are to have any chance in this, they will need to slow the Celtics down and turn this into a half court game. Even then, it’s hard to see them getting the advantage. Celtics have way more depth and basically win every position matchup. 

This is the perfect round 1 matchup for Boston. They have an incredible defence and Philadelphia have struggled offensively, that’s only going to be worse without Simmons. Speaking of which, in the regular season, Simmons was great on Tatum. He took him out of the games completely. This is Tatum’s series now. With Simmons gone, he should feast. I am expecting big games from him. The Celtics have two options with Embiid, one is to try and deny him the ball. The second is to let him feast and take everyone else out of the game. Either way, I can’t see it making a difference. I expect they will try and deny him. Get in his head early and he will take himself out of the series. 

Ignoring the regular season, there is no reason to believe the 76ers can take a single game here. They are a mess and look lost on and off the court. The Celtics are firing on all cylinders. This series is theirs. They have every single advantage you could want. All they have to do is go out and take it.

Miami Heat (4) vs Indiana Pacers (5)

Regular Season : Miami win 3-1 (2 bubble games, split 1-1)

Injuries : Miami : None. Indiana: Domantas Sabonis (Foot)

Notes : Is Victor Oladipo going to suit up for the Pacers?

Prediction : Miami in 6

Best Bets : TJ Warren under 20 points a game. Bam Adebayo Double/Double. Malcolm Brogdon over 20 points a game

It’s hard to make an accurate prediction without knowing for certain if Oladipo plays. All signs point to yes but he has remained uncommitted to the bubble. I don’t think he will make difference to the result of the series, but he will definitely impact the length. 

Lets start with Miami. A bit of a surprise team in the east, but these guys just work hard. They believe in one another and it shows on the court. They have some excellent young 3 point shooters in Robinson and Herro, and as a team they lead the NBA in 3 point percentage. They are going to outshoot Indiana and they are going to get to the free throw line more. To go along with this, Miami play excellent defence. They will be a tough opponent for anyone in the playoffs.

Indiana have taken a massive blow by losing Sabonis. He was going to be a key player in this series. With him gone, you have to imagine Miami will easily have the rebound advantage in these games. TJ Warren has been a star in the bubble, but Jimmy Butler has his number. It’s personal between these two and Jimmy is going to use that. Plus, TJ has never experienced a playoff game before. I think Jimmy is going to make it his mission to take him out of the series. Malcolm Brogdon is the guy who will have to step up for the Pacers. He is the team vet and has the playoff experience. They will look for him to lead their offense, he should average around 20 points this series. Another key matchup will be Bam Adebayo and Myles Turner. Bam allegedly holds a grudge ever since Turner took his spot for team USA. I don’t know if I buy into that, but Bam is a great defender and you’d look for this to continue. Myles was not impressive in the bubble. 

It’s easy to say that Miami will win this series, it’s harder to say how many games it will take. I believe Miami have it in them to sweep this series, but I also believe the Pacers could push them to 7 games. Especially if Oladipo plays. My main concern for Miami is their rookie shooters. With no playoff experience, they could easily go cold for a game or two. When Miami relies so heavily on them for success, it could be a hard obstacle to overcome. However, I believe they have the defensive capabilities to do so. Jimmy leads this team well and he will lead them to victory. Give me Miami in 6.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs Portland Trail Blazers (8)

Regular Season : Lakers win 2-1

Injuries : Portland : None. Lakers : None

Notes : Avery Bradley (L.A) and Trevor Ariza (Portland) both opted out of the bubble. It is rumoured Ariza will try and apply for a late arrival but will likely be denied by the NBA. Bradley will not join the Lakers.

CJ McCollum is playing with a fractured vertebrae. Zach Collins is expected to play with an ankle injury.

Prediction : Lakers in 6

Best Bets : Jusuf Nurkic Double/Double. Carmelo Anthony 15+ Points

This is a tough series to call. If Portland were healthy throughout the regular season, they would likely be a 4th or 5th seed in the rankings. Recent performance would have you select the Trail Blazers, they have been red hot. The Lakers have really struggled in the bubble but how much of that is because none of it mattered to them?

The obvious factor for Portland is their backcourt of Lillard and McCollum. Dame has been incredible so far. He is also playing well over 40 minutes a game, as is CJ. I know they are only 9 games into the restart, but this will obviously be taking a toll on them. Especially CJ with his injury. Lillard really needs some help. How much more does he have left in the tank? It was promising to see CJ take the clutch shots against Memphis in the play in game. Carmelo Anthony has also shown he can be relied upon to sink shots when he is needed. Nurkic has been key for the Blazers since returning from his injury after 16 months off. He is playing very hard on both ends of the floor. Outside of those 4 guys, not much is happening for Portland. They will need their role players to step up if they have any chance to take this series. Collins needs to start making some shots, he was not impressive in the bubble.

The Lakers are struggling big time on offense. They ranked in the bottom 3 of bubble teams for scoring. A pretty concerning sign considering they were one of the top 5 teams in the regular season. I’m not sure how worried to be about this. Maybe they just really didn’t care? They basically had the top spot locked down. They definitely have the advantage of being the more fresh team. AD needs to stop playing outside and get inside the paint. Same with LeBron. Outside of Nurkic, no one is playing defence for the Blazers. The Lakers need to take advantage of this and play inside out. Once they start getting the layups, the rest of the shots will hopefully start to fall for them. 

It’s hard to bet against Damian Lillard right now, but I can’t see the Blazers taking this series. I believe this is LeBron’s last real chance at one more ring. I’m sure he knows this and will cone out motivated. That being said, its going to be a real tough series to win. I think all the minutes Lillard has played will come into to play at some point in this series. The Lakers will also know they need to try and get the ball out of his hands. I have the Lakers winning it in 6.

Los Angeles Clippers (2) vs Dallas Mavericks (7)

Regular Season : Clippers win 3-0

Injuries : None

Notes : None

Prediction : Clippers in 6

Best Bets : Luka Doncic PA Over 38.5. Kristaps Porzingis PR Over 38.5

Offense vs Defense. As Paul Bryant once said “Defense wins championships”. It’s always hard, especially in the playoffs, to win a game on offense alone. However, this Mavericks team is one of the best offenses the NBA has ever seen. I don’t think it’s enough to get them past the Clippers, but it should make for an interesting series.

Luka Doncic is a clear MVP candidate and has a great second option in Kristaps Porzingis. It’s the first time for both in the playoffs but I’m not expecting either to miss a beat. One thing to watch is Luka in a close game. He forces a lot of difficult threes upon himself and as a results, misses a lot of big shots. That being said, he is one of the freak shooters in the NBA. What’s a bad shot for Luka? However, all of his clutch shooting stats are down compared to the rest of the game. Free Throws, Threes and Jump Shots. He needs to relax and let the game come to him. Kristaps is capable of sharing the load, Doncic has to let him. If Dallas has any chance in this series, they need to get out and run. They are gonna have to play fast and try and get some easy shots in transition. Curry, Barea and Hardaway JR are all going to have to step up and make some shots. 

I’m sure Dallas will hang around in most of these guys. I’m also sure that when its go time, this Clippers team will know how to end a game. This team is deep. They have an advantage at basically every position and their defensive abilities are some of the best. Leonard, George and Beverley are all elite defenders. All the way down the bench, you will find guys who know how to defend. It’s the Clippers best weapon. On the other end of the court, they have all the same guys who aren’t afraid of the moment and they know how to score points when it matters most.

There isn’t much else to say about this series. It’ll be a good experience for Dallas, they will be a playoff mainstay for many years to come. I am sure that Dallas will make this a competitive series and will take a couple games in this series. They are too good not to. It’s gonna be hard to stop this Clippers team though, I think they’ll take it in 6.

Denver Nuggets (3) vs Utah Jazz (6)

Regular Season : Nuggets win 3-0

Injuries : Nuggets : Gary Harris (Hip). Will Barton (Knee). Utah : Bojan Bogdanovic (Wrist). Ed Davis (Knee)

Notes : Unsure of the status on Harris and Barton. It looks like they will play in this series, I’m just not sure when.

Mike Conley has also just left the bubble for personal reasons. If he comes back, he will miss at least 3 games.

Prediction : Nuggets in 5

Best Bets : Nikola Jokic PRA Over 36.5. Total Points under 218.5. Jamal Murray 20+ Points

I think this will be the worst first round series of basketball. Both of these teams should be better than they are, but they are prone to laziness and inconsistency. Usually a closely contested series comes down to who wants it more, but I question if either of these teams actually want it at all. Apparently, this was the matchup both teams wanted. Hopefully, they play like it. 

Utah have lost one of their top 3 players (I’m talking about Bogdanovic, not Conley) which will make consistent scoring for them more difficult then it already is. Donovan Mitchell is going to have a very heavy load to carry. I don’t think Joe Ingles can consistently contribute to this squad. Look to some of the other guys to carry some of the burden. I think Jordan Clarkson is a great option, hopefully he can contribute 15-20 points a game. The Nuggets can be pretty lazy defensively, but I don’t think Utah will punish them for it.

Nuggets get the advantage in this series because of 3 guys : Jokic, Porter JR and Murray. Jokic gets results. He plays like he doesn’t feel pressure and if the Nuggets need a basket, they can count on him to get it. I don’t think Utah can say the same of anyone their team. MPJ has been a great story for Denver. This will be his first playoff series, but I am hoping because of his time spent around Denver last season he will be able to avoid most of the first time nerves. Jamal Murray is the x factor. He plays with a lot of confidence and when he goes well, Denver goes well. Last year in the playoffs he played 14 games and Denver split those games. In the 7 victories, Murray scored 24+ points. In the 7 losses, he scored 18 or less. I’m certain with the experience of last year under his belt, he will have an excellent series.

Like I said, I don’t think this will be a good series to watch or a good series for betting. This could easily be a seven game series. The Nuggets are the better team and I am hoping that they step up and show signs of the dominant team they can be. They have the advantage of Jokic and his abilities in crunch time. There might be a blowout or two in this series but I think most of them will be close games. Jokic will get the Nuggets over in these, taking the series in 5.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs Houston Rockets (5)

Regular Season : OKC win 2-1

Injuries : Houston : Russell Westbrook (Quad Strain). OKC : None

Notes : Not sure how many games Westbrook will miss, likely at least 2.

Prediction : OKC in 6

Best Bets : Steven Adams Double/Double. Harden 40+ points. Chris Paul PA 25+. OKC to win the series.

I was and am really excited for this series. It’s too bad that Westbrook will miss the first couple of games, hopefully he makes a speedy recovery. This will be a closely contested series, I am very surprised that OKC are the underdogs heading into this.

Steven Adams is going to have the time of his life in this series. He is the biggest player by far and I am sure OKC are well aware of this fact. He should be having 20/20 games every single time. The one concern for Adams is foul trouble. He needs to be disciplined. It’s no secret that Harden likes to drive and take trips to the free throw line. Adams is the Thunder’s best weapon here and he needs to play smart. I’m sure he will. Speaking of playing smart, Chris Paul needs to control the pace of this game. Houston will want to get out and run, Paul cannot let them. He needs to make this a half court game. I expect him to get plenty of assists from feeding Adams.

Houston have taken a massive blow with Westbrook. If they are to have any chance in this series, they need him back ASAP. Harden is a dominant scorer and a proven player in the playoffs. It’s no doubt he knows how to score. OKC should just let him. It doesn’t matter if Harden scores 50-60 points a game. This team has no depth. Who will step up for the Rockets? Especially when Harden is on the bench. Without Westbrook, this team has no clear second option. The best hope they have is to push the ball in transition and try and get some easy looks for Gordon, Tucker and Rivers. However, transition basketball usually starts with a rebound and I think Adams will be taking most of those. 

OKC have all the advantages you could want. They are smart, they control the matchups and they know how to play with a lead. I have no doubt that Harden will take a game for the Rockets and when Westbrook comes back I am sure they will take one more. No way are they winning this series though, give me the Thunder in 6.

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