NBA Roundtable: Previewing Round 1
NBA Roundtable: Previewing Round 1

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Round 1 edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.

Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we break down the storylines heading into Round 1 of the NBA postseason.

Which first-round series do you think will be the most competitive?

Nick Whalen: I don't think any of the higher seeds in the East will have much trouble, so I'll go with OKC/Portland. That's probably the cliche answer, but the Blazers missing Jusuf Nurkic partially offsets how shaky the Thunder – and Paul George's shoulder – have been since the All-Star break.

James Anderson: Blazers/Thunder. I could see a case for Rockets/Jazz, but I don't think the Jazz will be able to keep score with Houston. Damian Lillard is playing better right now than any player on the Thunder, and Russell Westbrook is an incredibly flawed postseason player, so I think anything could happen in this series.

Alex Barutha: Nuggets vs. Spurs. It's a lower-seeded team with a ton of playoff experience versus a higher-seeded team with very little playoff experience. The season series was also close this year in the first three appearances, with the Spurs only up by 6 total points, though the Nuggets slaughtered the Spurs in the final matchup by 28 points.

Mike Barner: I could see the Celtics and Pacers going six or seven games. The Celtics have depth, but losing Marcus Smart is big.

Jeff Edgerton: I'll go out on a limb and avoid a 4/5 match.I think the Magic are playing well right now, and they split the regular season matchups with the Raptors, 2-2. If Leonard and Lowry struggle at all early on, the Magic could make this a series.

Ken Crites: Nuggets-Spurs will surprise folks and go seven games.  Denver lacks playoff experience. I bet Pop has some tricks up his sleeve.

Adam King: I think the 3-6 matchup in the West could go the distance. The Trail Blazers are without Jusuf Nurkic which certainly hurts their chances. However, Paul George appears to be struggling with an ongoing shoulder injury. Both teams have a lot to prove after suffering first-round losses in 2018 and will like their chances against either the Nuggets or the Spurs in the second-round.

Shannon McKeown: Nuggets vs. Spurs. They split the season series and the Spurs finished the regular season on a 15-5 run. Portland/OKC and HOU/DEN also deserve consideration. The 2-7 battles out West will be fun to watch.  

Alex Rikleen: Celtics-Pacers and Jazz-Rockets. Either or both series could easily go to seven games. Out East, it's a matchup between two heavyweights who, due to injury or other reasons, have not yet come close to the best-case versions of themselves. In the West, it's two teams that are independently good enough to make it to the Western Conference Finals, but instead one will get eliminated in the first round.

Of the eight series, which is the least intriguing to you?

Whalen: Tie between Bucks/Pistons and Warriors/Clippers.

Anderson: Bucks/Pistons. The onus shouldn't be on me to explain why this is an incredibly boring series. This is awful, plain and simple.

Barutha: Bucks/Pistons. Blake Griffin is playing on one knee and the Pistons don't have a winning record. The Bucks are one of the best regular-season teams ever. This should be over quickly.

Barner: I'm not too pumped about the Bucks/Pistons series. Not because I don't like either team, but because I believe it will be heavily one-sided and drama free.

Edgerton: It's a personal preference, but I just don't enjoy watching the Pacers, and I think this series could end up as another lopsided affair.

Crites: Two days ago I would have said Boston will sweep Indy, but the Marcus Smart injury has me concerned. I bet the Bucks sweep Detroit, despite a couple missing parts for the Bucks.  Milwaukee swept them in the regular season. Griffin is banged up. The Pistons' wings can't keep up with the Bucks.

King: The Warriors are hitting their stride at the right end of the season and should be able to take care of the Clippers with ease. The Clippers themselves have put together a solid season but feel as though they have overachieved down the stretch.

McKeown: Warriors/Clippers. The Clippers have been a fun story, but they will be swept by the Warriors with relative ease. In their final two meetings during the regular season, the Warriors won both contests by a combined 45 points.

Rikleen: Again a tie, this time between the two matchups that are most likely to be sweeps: Warriors-Clippers and Raptors-Magic. The Clippers deserve a ton of credit for getting here, but the reason they deserve that credit is because they are not a team made up playoff-talent-level players. The Magic will win exactly as many games as Kawhi Leonard lets them win.

Will any first-round series end in a sweep?

Whalen: Bucks will sweep the Pistons and Toronto will sweep Orlando. Golden State should sweep the Clippers, but the Warriors have a history of letting one game slip in the early rounds.

Anderson: Bucks will sweep the Pistons. Raptors will sweep the Magic. Warriors will sweep the Clippers.

Barutha: Bucks/Pistons.

Barner: Bucks will sweep the Pistons.

Edgerton: Warriors/Clippers. Assuming Curry's injury isn't too serious, I don't see how the Clippers muster a win with Golden State firing on all cylinders.

Crites: Bucks will sweep the Pistons.

King: Both 1-8 matchups could be over within four games. The Warriors are playing some of their best basketball right now and will certainly be looking to limit the minutes for their superstars. Meanwhile in the East, the Bucks are going to without a number of players but could get Nikola Mirotic back sooner rather than later. They swept the Pistons during the regular season and Blake Griffin is struggling with a knee injury which has limited him over the past two weeks.

McKeown: Warriors/Clippers will be a sweep. Bucks/Pistons and Raptors/Magic have strong potential for a sweep, too. If Blake Griffin were healthy, the Pistons might have been able to steal one game, but he hasn't been right for weeks.

Rikleen: Spoiled this with my last answer - but yes, both the Warriors and Raptors should sweep.

Which player(s) has the most to prove in Round 1 and beyond?

Whalen: If he wants serious consideration in the Best Player in the League debate, James Harden needs to get out of the first round, and probably past Golden State in Round 2. Giannis is already in that conversation, but these playoffs will be his opportunity to truly snatch the crown away from LeBron James. Meanwhile, players like Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic will all have a chance to elevate their profile from star to true superstar on a national level.

Anderson: Of the players in series that their teams could realistically lose, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic all would look bad (to varying degrees) with a first-round exit.

Barutha: Russell Westbrook. The Thunder got swiftly taken down by the Jazz last season, and Westbrook shot below 40 percent from the field and had a worse than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio for the second straight playoffs. If he can't play well and/or beat the weakened Blazers in Round 1, people will start to wonder if he's just a box score guy, if they haven't already.

Barner: There is a lot of pressure on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to at least get out of the first round. If they lose to the Nets, it would be a colossal disappointment.

Edgerton: That's a tough call. I think Kawhi needs to show he has what it takes to lead his own team to the finals. The same could be said for James Harden. This was supposed to be the year they gave the Warriors a challenge, and right now that seems like a long shot.

Crites: Is Kyrie Irving really a superstar if the Celtics sputter? I suspect the Knicks will throw max money at him either way, but a first or second round departure would scream "I can't lead without LeBron!"

King: Kawhi Leonard has basically been treated with kid gloves throughout the regular season as a means of keeping him healthy for a deep playoff run. His future is uncertain at this stage and his performance during this postseason will be closely monitored by a number of prospective suitors.

McKeown: In Round 1, Damian Lillard. Back-to-back Round 1 exits would be tough on his reputation. OKC swept the regular season series, so there's a good chance Portland sees another early exit. Beyond the first round, Giannis and Harden have the most to prove.

Rikleen: Harden needs to get out of the first round. No other player has anywhere close to as much on the line as he does. It doesn't matter that the Jazz are a really good team that could potentially make the WCF if they were on the other side of the bracket. It doesn't matter that there is a minority out there that thinks the Harden playoff storylines are nonsense. If he doesn't get out of the first round after this maybe-MVP campaign, there is nothing he can do for the rest of his career that will wash this blemish in the eyes of a wide swath of the NBA fan-base.

In the Eastern Conference, which higher-seeded team is most likely to be upset?

Whalen: It has to be Boston, by default, but if Joel Embiid misses time, then Philadelphia's depth will be put to the test.

Anderson: The Celtics, because they're the ones playing the Pacers

Barutha: I really think these will all be quick series, but I'll choose the Celtics. They have the least top-end talent, and the Pacers have still proven to be a tough matchup.

Barner: I don't think there will be an upset in the East, but the Nets are going to be a tough out for the Sixers. If Joel Embiid's knee injury lingers and he's forced to miss any games, the Nets have the best chance of pulling off an upset in my eyes.

Edgerton: I think it could be the Raptors. The Magic's starters are trending up, andthey have a deep bench. They could be the big playoff surprise.

Crites: The Sixers. I can see D'Angelo Russell and the Nets getting hot from three and simply outworking the 76ers. Throw in concerns about Joel Embiid's knee and Jimmy Butler having one eye towards free agency, and I see an opportunity for Brooklyn.

King: I don't see any of the top-four teams in the East losing but if I had to pick a potential upset, it would have to be the Nets over the 76ers. This is not the best matchup for the 76ers who rely on their size to overpower opponents. Joel Embiid will almost certainly put up big numbers but it will be whether the 76ers are able to defend the wings that could ultimately decide the series. To me, Jimmy Butler is still a curious fit for the 76ers but it could be his defense that determines the result. The Nets defeated the 76ers twice during the regular season but will need their backcourt to fire to have any chance.

McKeown: Boston. The Celtics have been in disarray for much of the season and the loss of Marcus Smart will be more damaging than most expect.

Rikleen: The 76ers. Two weeks ago the answer would have been the Celtics by a mile, but Gordon Hayward has finally rediscovered his powers and the off-court noise has quieted a bit. The Marcus Smart injury hurts, but even without Smart and a less-than-good Hayward they are just so much more talented, top to bottom, than the Pacers. As for the 76ers, it always takes superteams a while to mesh, and this team has had barely two months together. The Nets are probably the most talented team among the bottom three. But I'd still pick the 76ers to win.

If you had to pick a first-round upset, which lower seed are you most confident can advance?

Whalen: The Nuggets have the talent and depth, but if San Antonio can take Game 1 or 2 in Denver, I think they'll be in position to pull the upset.

Anderson: The Thunder, because they're the ones playing the Blazers. I'd take a fully healthy Blazers team over the Thunder, but the Jusuf Nurkic injury is a big blow.

Barutha: This is the easy answer, but I think the Thunder will beat the Blazers. The loss of Jusuf Nurkic is huge, and the Thunder are 4-0 against Portland this season.

Barner: I'll go with the Thunder over the Blazers. Even though they are the lower seed, the Thunder should be favored to win this series with the Blazers missing Jusuf Nurkic.

Edgerton: Same answer as before, I think the Magic have the most potential for a first-round upset.

Crites: I'm confident the Thunder get by Portland. In 2017-18, the Blazers swept the Thunder in the regular season. But in 2018-19, the Thunder swept the Blazers. The Nurkic injury really hurts Portland.

King: I don't know if I would call the Thunder winning an upset but if that is the case, I think they could almost definitely push either the Nuggets or the Spurs. The Thunder appeared headed for a top-four finish until a late-season slump caused them to slide down the rankings. The health of Paul George is going to be pivotal for the Thunder.

McKeown: Thunder, Spurs, Jazz, Pacers, Nets, in that order. I expect the Thunder to advance and view the Spurs/Nuggets series as a true toss up. The others are long shots.

Rikleen: The Thunder, by a wide margin. They have the star power and they have Steven Adams. Damian Lillard will be blanketed by Paul George, and Steven Adams has literally eaten men larger than anything the Blazers have to offer at center. If that answer feels too obvious, then I'd say Nets, but I feel a lot worse about that one.

Predictions: Which teams will play in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals?

Whalen: Bucks/Raptors and Warriors/Thunder.

Anderson: Warriors and Nuggets out West, Bucks and Raptors out East. I might have picked the Celtics to beat the Bucks if they were fully healthy, but the Marcus Smart loss is huge.

Barutha: Bucks vs. Raptors; Warriors vs. Thunder

Barner: East: Bucks and Raptors. West: Warriors and Nuggets.

Edgerton: Nuggets/Warriors and Bucks/Sixers

Crites: I'm not going chalk. The Rockets will upset the Warriors and make the WCF versus Denver. Out East, the Celtics will battle Toronto.

King: Bucks/Raptors and Warriors/Nuggets.

McKeown: Warriors/Thunder and Bucks/Sixers

Rikleen: Warriors/Thunder; Raptors/Bucks

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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