NBA playoffs preview: Who’s playing who in the East and West

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The 2017-2018 NBA Regular Season has come to an end and 16 teams—eight from the East and an equal number in the West—made it to the post season.

The playoffs is the postseason tournament of the world’s oldest and biggest professional league. The 2017-2018 season began in October 2017 last year. The playoffs will begin on Saturday, April 14, (Sunday, April 15 in Manila). It will end with the 2018 NBA Finals.

For the first time in the past four seasons, the favorites to win the championship this year are not the Golden State Warriors, winners of two of the last three finals and the Cleveland Cavaliers, victors in 2016 but losers in 2015 and 2017.

Advancing in the East Conference are the Toronto Raptors, who topped the elimination round, Boston Celtics (2nd), Philadelphia 76ers (3rd), Cleveland Cavaliers (4th), Indiana Pacers (5th), Miami Heat (6th), Milwaukee Bucks (7th) and Washington Wizards (8th).


James Harden No. 13 of the Houston Rockets AFP PHOTO

The Houston Rockets topped the Western Conference followed by the defending champions Golden State Warriors (2nd), Portland Trailblazers (3rd), Oklahoma City Thunder (6th), San Antonio Spurs (7th) and Minnesota Timberwolves (8th).

Following the team standings based on the qualifiers’ win-loss records going into the preliminary rounds of the playoffs, the Raptors and Rockets should hurdle their respective assignments in their divisions and advance in the best-of-seven title series.

Each conference’s bracket is fixed; there is no reseeding. All rounds are best-of-seven series; the team that has four wins advances to the next round. As stated above, all rounds, including the NBA Finals, are in a 2–2–1–1–1 format. Home court advantage in any round does not necessarily belong to the higher-seeded team, but instead to the team with the better regular season record.

If two teams with the same record meet in a round, standard tiebreaker rules are used. The rule for determining home court advantage in the NBA Finals is winning percentage, then head to head record, followed by record vs. opposite conference.

The Manila Times had followed the games through the wonders of electronics media since the season started and prepared a comprehensive study on the playoff matchup—outlook and who’s playing who in the East and West that might interest its readers.

Eastern Conference matchups
Toronto Raptors (1) vs Washington Wizards (8) — The Raptors have all sorts of pressure on them this postseason, but they couldn’t have done much better than facing the fledgling Wizards at the start. Washington, which has lost 14 of its last 21 games, welcomed five-time All-Star John Wall back on March 31 after he missed more than two months with a knee injury. Still, Toronto — which was third in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating this season — should be able to survive. Season head-to-head, 2-2.

Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7) — Boston, which is without five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving for the playoffs and guard Marcus Smart until at least late April, has its hands full against these Bucks. Milwaukee’s 106-102 win over Boston on April 3 serves as the best evidence of how they match up at the moment. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo will be looking to advance past the first round for the first time (he’s 0-for-2 thus far). Season head-to-head, 2-2.

Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Miami Heat (6) – Philadelphia comes in as the league’s hottest team, having won 16 games in a row. Never mind that All-Star big man Joel Embiid went down with an orbital fracture in his left eye eight games into the stretch, the Sixers just kept rolling. When Embiid was asked if he might be able to play for Game 1, he told Season head-to-head, 2-2.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (7) –LeBron James is no stranger to memorable playoff matchups against the Pacers, but this is a different version of the familiar story. With coach Nate McMillan and All-Star guard Victor Oladipo leading the way, the Pacers were a wonderful surprise this season. Season head-to-head, advantage Indiana, 3-1

Western conference matchups
Houston Rockets (1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (8) — The Rockets dominated the season series against the Timberwolves, but only one of those games (a 126-108 win on Feb. 13) included Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler from beginning to end. The four-time All-Star tore his meniscus in their second matchup on Feb. 23, then missed the final two meetings before returning on Friday. The Rockets, meanwhile, lost key defender Luc Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder on Tuesday, and he’s expected to miss the first round—if not longer. Season head-to-head, Houston, 4-0.

Golden State Warriors (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7) — This is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals in name alone, as Golden State is without two-time MVP Stephen Curry this time around and the Spurs’ franchise missing marquee player, Kawhi Leonard, remains out after playing just nine games this season. But if anyone is capable of creating a game plan to upset the ailing defending champions, it’s San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. His Spurs had the fourth-best defensive rating this season. The Warriors, meanwhile, have lost 10 of their last 17 games. Season head-to-head, advantage Warriors, 3-1.

Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (6) — The Trail Blazers lost seven of their last 12 games, but the regular season finale win over Utah was enough to earn them the No. 3 seed. Portland, which had the league’s ninth-best defensive rating this season, will have all it can handle with the way Pelicans star Anthony Davis has been playing (a league-leading 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game since DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury Jan. 26). Season head-to-head, 2-2.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5) — The Jazz boasted the NBA’s best defense for the final few months of the regular season, and now they’ll try to stop a star-studded Thunder squad that finished 10th in offensive rating. But the Jazz have to score too, and therein lies the most pressing question of their postseason: Can rookie guard Donovan Mitchell be the same star-caliber player on this stage? Utah certainly needs him to be.

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