Four series get going today in the NBA playoffs, which, if you don't recall, is the post-season tournament the league uses to determine its champion. Those ping pong balls are for something else. Let's get started!
Wizards at Raptors
11:30 am CDT
Probably the most likely to be forgotten series tips off first. These are two teams that by and large struggled over the latter part of the season, and the bloom is largely off the rose. The Wizards, of course, are coached by everyone's favorite Randy Wittman, and are in some ways the Eastern Conference version of the Wolves, except with more talent. A team that eschews the three pointer in favor of two point jump shots, but John Wall and a decent front line led by Marcin Gortat was enough to get them the 5th seed in the East. The Raptors were 24-7 at one point, but stumbled home 25-26 the rest of the way. They feature a potent offense (4th in the league) but struggled defensively. Most of their scoring comes from the perimeter trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Louis Williams (off the bench). Jonas Valanciuanas seems to have stalled out some, and Amir Johnson has struggled with some injuries.
I like the Raptors in 6 here.
Pelicans at Warriors
2:30 pm CDT
The best team in the league against one of the best, most exciting and versatile players in the league. The truth is, this shouldn't be close. Golden State has been consistently great all year, while the Pelicans barely made the playoffs on the last day of the season. Making the playoffs in the West is an accomplishment, and if they have a healthy Jrue Holiday they are a better team than they were for much of the season, but still. Golden State's balance and talent and ability to play fantastic ball at both ends should be too much for the post-season newcomers.
Warriors in...eh, 5.
Bucks at Bulls
6:00 pm CDT
Go Bucks! Actually, I will be rooting for them as I find them a fun team to watch (though a little less so since trading for Michael Carter-Williams). Giannis Antetokounmpo is super fun regardless of his actual quality, and I like that this team rose from the depths this season despite the early season ending injury to their prized rookie, Jabari Parker. Ultimately, the Bulls are probably going to win, because they are a better team. Pau Gasol has had a terrific season, as has Jimmy Butler. They are probably about as healthy as they can be, which will likely be enough to beat the offensively challenged Bucks.
Nonetheless, I'll root for the upset: Bucks in 7
Mavericks at Rockets
8:30 pm CDT
The Mavs had their struggles this season on the defensive side of the ball, but they can still score with anyone. They have also had to try to work Rajon Rondo into the mix following a mid-season trade for the point guard. All of this landed them in the 7th spot in the West, though 50 wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Rockets, of course, are led by MVP candidate James Harden, and have been working to get Dwight Howard healthy for the post-season. The Rockets...they are the team that I have the hardest time getting a handle on. One minute I can see them rampaging to the Finals, the next I see them bowing out ignominiously to the Mavs. They play fast, they turn it over like crazy, but they bomb threes and get to the line like nobody's business, and they have actually improved defensively a great deal. The problem is if they have a few cold nights from three...Still. Dallas probably isn't good enough, especially on the boards where they have struggled badly all season.
Rockets in six