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NBA Playoff Predictions: Plenty of Warriors love…and Bucks, too

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It’s prediction time… and of course we’re talking Golden State Warriors a lot.

How could we not? They are the most talented team, they’ve won the last two titles, and they are the clear favorites for good reason. However, we’ve got love for the Bucks (and Raptors) and see a few upsets along the way.

Here are our predictions:

Do you predict an upset in the first round (lower seed beating a higher seed)?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: While I think Indiana can push Boston — especially with Marcus Smart out injured — there will be no first-round upsets in the East. There is too big a gap between the top four and bottom four (if Indiana had a healthy Victor Oladipo, this could be a different conversation.

Dan Feldman: No. The top four of the East is loaded. The bottom three is… not. Though I do predict with Marcus Smart out, the fifth-seeded Pacers will push the Celtics to seven — the home team winning every game.

Dane Delgado: I could certainly see the Indiana Pacers beating the Boston Celtics in the first round. Boston will be without Marcus Smart for at least the first two playoff series, and the Celtics are a mess internally. Rotationally, they still haven’t fully recovered from Gordon Hayward‘s injury, and they have not shown the flashes of brilliance that they did last year. We still don’t know if Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown will step up the way they have in the past, and this team only won one more game than the Pacers. Indiana is spunky and is playing without their best player. I wouldn’t count on it, but the Celtics are weirdos and the Pacers are a capital “T” Team.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Denver’s gambit to get the Trail Blazers the three seed (and put the Rockets on the Warriors side of the bracket) helps out Oklahoma City. The Thunder have stumbled and struggled since the All-Star break, with Paul George‘s shoulder issue a big part of that, but OKC is a team better built for playoff basketball. Combine that with Portland being without Jusuf Nurkic and the Blazers will fall again in the first round. Also, while I think Houston will be Utah, that series will go deep and be close.

Dan Feldman: Thunder over Trail Blazers. It’d be different if Jusuf Nurkic were healthy, but Portland is not the same on either end of the court without him. It’s not that I especially like Oklahoma City. I don’t. But the Thunder swept the Trail Blazers in the regular season, and Portland tried to avoid this matchup. It’s as if the Trail Blazers know what’s likely coming.

Dane Delgado: The West is almost the opposite of the East. Three out of the four first-round playoff series could end with the “lower” seed beating the “higher” seed. Utah could strangle the life out of Houston’s offense. The Oklahoma City Thunder have swept the season series with the Trail Blazers, who are also missing Jusuf Nurkic. The Denver Nuggets are a fast-paced team with no playoff experience going up against the stalwarts of the playoffs in the Spurs. If I had to pick a series to go south, I would go with the Spurs beating the Nuggets in a major upset. Or the Thunder. Hmm… can I get back you?

Who will win the conference finals?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: Toronto over Boston. These are not the Raptors that fall short in the playoffs, new coach Nick Nurse has worked all season to find different lineups that make this team more versatile, plus they have a closer now in Kawhi Leonard. I’m predicting Boston to beat Milwaukee in the second round, but if Malcolm Brogdon is back healthy and Marcus Smart is not, the Bucks will win that series. Either way, I’ll take the Raptors to represent the East.

Dan Feldman: Bucks. I really like these Raptors. The 76ers and Celtics have the requisite talent to have a chance. But Milwaukee has been the NBA’s best team throughout the season. We ought to take that more seriously.

Dane Delgado: The Milwaukee Bucks. Many times it’s reasonable to expect that teams with no playoff experience won’t be able to plow through the postseason the way a more veteran team might be able to do. But the East is riddled with flawed teams top to bottom, particularly at the top. Milwaukee is the most complete team in the conference with the best player.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Denver. The only things that will beat the Warriors are injuries or boredom, and I don’t think they will get that bored. It’s trendy to pick Denver to get upset in the first round, but I believe in this team and they set themselves up with an easier path to the conference finals (I would have picked Houston over Denver, but that’s not how the seedings shook out).

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Houston could test them in the second round, but there’s no way to pick anyone else. The Warriors have all the talent and experience anyone could want.

Dane Delgado: Who would pick against the Golden State Warriors at this juncture? Unless something affects this team’s health, they should make their way to the Conference Finals and beyond. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the cakewalk it’s been in the past. The Warriors still need to flick the proverbial switch into playoff mode, so there is some doubt cast about their readiness for this moment. It might take them few games to ramp up, and the second round could actually be their biggest test, but I expect to see them in June once again.

Who will win the NBA Finals?

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Toronto, but this is going to go six or seven games. For the first time in a couple of years, the Warriors biggest test will be on the biggest stage in the NBA Finals, but in the end they just have too much and they know they are trying to win one more before this team breaks up this summer.

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Whether to pick Golden State or the field is a tough question this year. There are teams that can beat the Warriors. But if asked to pick a single team, there’s no way I’m choosing anyone else.

Dane Delgado: There’s no reason to bet against the Golden State Warriors… until there is a reason. This team still has the most talent, the most experience, and the best track record. Health is the biggest thing with the Warriors, and when Stephen Curry rolled his ankle the last week of the season Golden State fans collectively gasped for their playoff lives. Still, Kevin Durant seems ready, Draymond Green is rested up from not doing anything all season long, and Andre Iguodala still is able to contribute. My heart wants the Milwaukee Bucks to win this whole thing, but my head says they will have to wait.

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.

 

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant absolutely destroyed Aron Baynes with dunk (VIDEO)

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We may have a new Dunk of the Year.

Memphis rookie Ja Morant is an athletic freak, one confident enough in his skills to go right at a big switched onto him. Say Phoenix’s Aron Baynes. On a critical fourth-quarter possession.

RIP Aron Baynes.

Memphis won the game 115-108.

Victor Oladipo not near return to Pacers rotation

Associated Press
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“But he’s still a ways away.”

Those are not the words Pacers fans want to hear about Victor Oladipo. Their team is playing well — 15-9 with a top-10 defense — but they are not a real postseason threat without their best player, who is recovering from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Before the season, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said he was “hopeful” Oladipo would be back in December or January.

It looks like it’s going to be the back end of that timeline. At best. From J. Michael of the Indy Star, speaking to coach Nate McMillan.

Oladipo will have to be eased back in when he does return, he’s not going too hit the ground running at 40 minutes a night.

The Pacers look like a lock playoff team in the East even without Oladipo, they can afford to bring him along slowly. The hope would be to have the All-Star up to speed and integrated into the offense when the playoffs do start. If that happens, the Pacers become that team that the elite squads want to avoid early.

Lakers outscore Magic 26-9 in the first quarter. It got uglier after that.

Associated Press
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As has gotten a lot of publicity this season, the Lakers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, sixth in the league in defensive rating coming into Wednesday night. Their combination of length and activity has thrown teams off their games.

Less well publicized, the Orlando Magic have been bad on offense this season, fifth-worst in the NBA.

What happens when the immovable object met a very soft force on Wednesday night, well…

Orlando shot 4-of-21 in the first quarter, missing all six of their threes, plus turned the ball over four times just to make things a little worse. It’s not that the Lakers were exactly tearing it up, as a team they shot just 35.7 percent in the first quarter (Orlando is a good defensive squad), but Anthony Davis saved their bacon with seven points plus three assists (all for threes, so 16 points generated by him in the first).

The Lakers stretched that out to a 24-point lead in the second quarter before a combination of Orlando stepping up their play and the Lakers taking their foot off the gas a little led to an 18-3 Orlando run that cut the lead to 13 at the half. LeBron James had 16 points to lead the Lakers.

By the middle of the third, Orlando had made a game of it.