The NBA playoffs have entailed a definite trend in the first round: the higher-ranked seeds end up eating the lower-ranked seeds. A first-round sweep is a great way for championship-bound teams to gain momentum and get a feel for playoff season playtime. As of April, there are five teams on their way to a sweep: the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, the Atlanta Hawks, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the San Antonio Spurs. At the end of the first round, I think two teams will remain undefeated, three tops.
The Cavs are the first seed in the East going against the Pistons, the eighth seed. This sweep is almost a guarantee. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see articles about how the Cavaliers aren’t championship-worthy start coming out of the woodwork following a Piston victory. Lebron James, in my humble opinion, is still the best player in the NBA and has the level of talent to take on the entire Pistons team almost singlehandedly. Throw in Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith and you’ve got a good enough combination for James to sit out the remainder of the series if necessary.
In their 107-90 Game 2 win over the Pistons, the Cavs shot 38 three-pointers, making about 20 of them. This is great practice, especially if they were to meet up with the legendary three-point team in Golden State. In Game 1, James, Irving and Love combined for 81 points – but they can’t be expected to produce at such a high level constantly. The gaps must be filled in by the rest of the team, which should have sufficient practice in the upcoming games.
The Spurs are the second seed in the West, going against the seventh-seed Grizzlies. For 12 years, the Spurs have held the Grizzlies to franchise lows in total points. In other words, the Grizzlies are a practice team for the Spurs, and have been for over a decade. The past two victories over the Grizzlies have been 30 and 26 points respectively…and this is with coach Gregg Popovich telling his team to “play with some pride” to not completely blow them out. I imagine a Spurs defeat in the series is going to be followed by Popovich going into the locker room and beating all his players with a belt. The Spurs are taking this series lightly and have distributed their victories among their entire team: every player on the bench got some playing time and scored some points in their comfortable Game 2 victory.
Now the third team could very easily be the Heat, the Hawks, the Clippers, or none of the above. I’m going to go with my hometown team and favorite team the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade is a phenomenal leader on the team and Hassan Whiteside continues to impress his critics every game. Whiteside had a franchise playoff record when he went 8-for-8 from the field during Game 2. The reason this prediction can get a bit hazy is that the Hornets’ Kemba Walker has been playing at a phenomenal level, keeping pace with D-Wade. He scored one more point than Wade, but had less than half the assists in Game 2.
If there was a runner-up to the runner-up, I would go with the Los Angeles Clippers. Their 102-81 victory in Game 2 over Portland was due to their bench, which scored 43 points. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin enjoyed reinforcements from the bench, and in turn allowed the bench to get into a good rhythm. This is critical: building the bench’s confidence and rhythm early on in the playoffs is the best way to prepare them in future matchups. The bench, led by Jamal Crawford – who just won NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award – is going to play a huge role in the team’s advancement.