NBA playoff matchups look to provide exciting action



Cleveland Cavaliers’ Darius Garland goes up for a shot during the first half against the Brooklyn Nets in the opening basketball game of the NBA play-in tournament Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

By Michael Stoll, Sports Reporter

The best time of the year for NBA basketball is about to begin: the playoffs. There are a lot of interesting matchups to keep an eye on, but a lot to take in. Don’t worry though, I am here to give you a run-down on every series slated to begin starting April 16 so you’re all caught up and know what to expect.

No. 1 Miami Heat vs No. 8 TBD

The Miami Heat finished the regular season with the one seed, allowing the path through the Eastern Conference to run through them. They achieved the one seed with their absurd collection of deep talent, from all-star forward Jimmy Butler, to Defensive Player of the Year candidate center Bam Adebayo to the likely Sixth Man of the Year guard Tyler Herro. Their elite team defense and head coaching should cause them to be a very tough out.

They face the runner-up of the play-in tournament, which could be the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks or Charlotte Hornets. The most likely matchup would be the Atlanta Hawks, with guard Trae Young leading the way for the underperforming Hawks. This team could be a dangerous first round matchup, however, as Young has cemented himself this season as one of the premier offensive talents in the league, and this team just a year ago challenged the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Don’t sleep on Ice Trae.

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs No. 7 TBD

After last-game jockeying in seeding, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a three-way tie for the two-seed. But their scorching-hot play since the new year allowed them to win the tie-breaker, so they now look to face either the Nets or Cavaliers, depending on who wins that play-in game. The keys to success for the Boston Celtics include just how high forward Jayson Tatum can ascend, along with how elite their defense can stay without starting center Robert Williams for the foreseeable future. Boston ranks first in defensive ratings and scoring differentials since the new year. 

Their most likely opponent is the Brooklyn Nets, who were actually the title favorites from the East when the season began. Their Hall-of-Fame talented stars in guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant are sure to be scary for any opponent. Add in the rumored first-round return of former all-defensive guard Ben Simmons, and you have the brewing of a very dangerous team. They just have to take care of business in the play-in first.

No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs No. 6 Chicago Bulls

Last year’s champions will look to quickly take care of business against their division rival Chicago Bulls when the playoffs begin. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has played the season like he is the best player in the league, his supporting cast is fully healthy, and they have shown flashes as a team of their former champion-selves in many marquee matchups throughout the regular season. The concern is that they have only shown flashes. They have not been as dominant as last season. But champions often have a “switch” that they can hit when it gets serious.

For the Bulls, I think they are just really happy to be here after a five-year playoff drought. Forward DeMar DeRozan has been nothing but sensational all year for them, but center Nikola Vucevic will have his hands full trying to guard the bigger Bucks. Add in missing guard Lonzo Ball, and a tweaked knee for all-star guard Zach LaVine, and you have what many sports analysts are feeling to be a short first-round series. Chicago has a historic losing record versus the top six seeds in each conference, so they will look to shock many in this matchup.

No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers vs No. 5 Toronto Raptors

Philadelphia will definitely have themselves quite the challenge with the feisty Raptors in this matchup. Center Joel Embiid is having himself an MVP-worthy season, but he’s going to need help from his former-MVP teammate guard James Harden, who has only struggled since his first four games with the 76ers after he was traded to them mid-season. Their shaky bench production is another area for concern, and their defense will take a huge hit on the road, as all-defensive guard Matisse Thybulle will be unable to participate in road games as he is unvaccinated for COVID-19, a requirement to enter Canada.

Toronto plays amazing, locked-in, lengthy team defense with their plethora of lanky players like rookie forward Scottie Barnes, forward OG Anunoby, and likely All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam. Their head coach Nick Nurse has also shown tremendous talent in coaching chess-match-like series throughout his playoff career. I think this is the most exciting playoff series in the first round, and I expect it to go seven games. Look out for the Raptors’ upset.

No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs No. 8 TBD

We may be overthinking all of the playoffs when we talk about who is set to win it all. The Phoenix Suns are healthy, deep, star-studded and experienced, à la their Finals run last year. They also cleared the regular season with ease, winning a franchise record 64 games. The path to the title solely runs through their home court. They have that locked-in revenge tour mentality like the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. This team is my favorite to win it all.

Phoenix will await the winner of the L.A. Clippers-Minnesota Timberwolves play-in game. The Wolves will have home court advantage in this game, and I expect the combination of their young lottery picks center Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Anthony Edwards to continue their solid play of late to force the Clippers to play the winner of the second play-in matchup, the San Antonio Spurs against the New Orleans Pelicans.

That leaves Phoenix with the Clippers, the favorite against either the Spurs or Pelicans. Guard Paul George just returned and looks like he hasn’t lost a step. So the Suns will surely have their hands full with the feisty and sneaky-deep Clippers. But beating the best team in the league this season four out of seven times is unlikely, especially without former Finals MVP forward Kawhi Leonard, who isn’t expected to return in time to play. Besides, these two teams matched up last year in the Western Conference Finals and the Suns dispatched the Clippers, and both these teams look almost identical personnel-wise from last season.

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs No. 7 TBD

Guard Ja Morant has taken an incredible leap this season, finding himself in MVP talks all year, and leading his young team to a high seed and impressive regular season record. Despite the team being incredibly young, from top to bottom the team plays with cohesion, tenacity and explosiveness. I feel they are set to shock many and make a lot of noise this postseason.

The Grizzlies will play the winner of the first western play-in game, and as stated above, I feel that is going to be the Wolves. This matchup would be hard to predict exactly, as both teams are young, inexperienced and edgy. It’s sure to be a very exciting matchup, but in the end I think the better team with the best star wins, and in this case it looks to be Ja and his boys.

No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Golden State started the season so incredibly well, and just couldn’t stay healthy after guard Stephen Curry broke the all-time three-point record around a third of the way through the season. Curry should be returning from an ankle injury in time for round one, so it all comes down to how quickly he, guard Klay Thompson and forward Draymond Green can reignite their infectious championship chemistry. They surely are a threatening force. 

Reigning-MVP center Nikola Jokic seems to not give a damn about who his teammates are. He nearly single-handedly dragged this team into the postseason, avoiding the play-in, despite missing their next best players guard Jamal Murray and forward Michael Porter Jr. I’m sure Jokic will average a near-triple-double against the small Warriors, but the talent disparity should be too much for the Nuggets. Expect them to bow out in round one fighting hard, and getting ready to get both healthy and slightly retool for a monster season next year.

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs No. 5 Utah Jazz

The final matchup to cover for this coming postseason, we have sensational guard Luka Doncic leading the Mavericks against guard Donovan Mitchell, center Rudy Gobert and the struggling Jazz. This series simply comes down to Doncic’s availability. He tweaked his calf in the final regular season game, and it is still unclear if he will be able to play in this series. If the injury is serious, expect Utah to take care of Dallas, as Dallas’ offense is incredibly reliant upon Doncic, almost to a fault. If Doncic can return, however, expect the Mavericks to take care of the Jazz by hunting down Gobert on every pick and roll switch.

For Utah, their hopes of finally putting together an impressive playoff run with this current core relies heavily upon how hot they can get from three with their perimeter shooting, and ultimately the decision making that Mitchell makes with the ball. He often settles for deep jumpers, and struggles to get the ball to his bigs on sealed mismatches in the paint. But Dallas doesn’t exactly have a rim protector, and Gobert is big enough to either finish over smaller defenders, or put Dallas’ thinner front court into foul trouble if he’s given the ball more.