NBA Playoffs 2018: Ranking every first-round series, from No Holds Barred to Let's Get it Over With
The NBA playoffs are nearly here once again, with the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors set to tip off the festivities Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. For a complete look at the playoff bracket, as well as schedules and TV times for every game, .
And now, ahead of that opening game, here’s a look at every first-round series, ranked from most to least intriguing.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz
This series is going to be a bloodbath. Both teams finished in the top 10 in defensive rating with big, tough centers inside. They aren’t afraid to use their physicality when necessary and have home crowds that will be absurdly rowdy. There’s plenty of star power on the court, there are enough storylines to write a book — Thunder trying to show Paul George he should stay, Carmelo Anthony’s return to the playoffs, the Jazz’s redemption tour after Gordon Hayward’s departure, etc. — and the teams are evenly matched to the point that this series should probably go seven games.
2. Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans
While Thunder-Jazz feels like it’s going to be a brawl, Blazers-Pelicans projects more like a beautiful basketball ballet, with Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and CJ McCollum awing crowds with crafty displays of finesse and skill, outperforming their opponents more than overpowering them. There’s a lot to like here with this series, including all of the aforementioned talent. These two teams are evenly matched and played four closely contested games in the regular season. This one should be a lot of fun.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat
The 76ers are entering the playoffs on a 16-game winning streak, which is an absurd thing to type. And in their first playoff series since 2012, they’ll meet the wily Heat, led by Erik Spoelstra. This is such a perfect matchup between the up-and-coming Sixers led by two elite rookies, and the veteran-laden but star-hungry Heat. With Joel Embiid — which gives the Heat a chance to steal a game in Philly — the legit feud between Embiid and Hassan Whiteside that figures to explode at some point once Embiid gets back and the suddenly immense pressure on the Sixers to live up to the expectations they’ve created for themselves, we have all the makings for a dramatic series.
4. Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards
What an interesting series. At the start of the season, you could have seen this as a dark-horse matchup in the Eastern Conference finals, or at the very least a second-round series. That these teams are meeting in the first round is a testament not only to how good Toronto was this season, but how disappointing Washington was. Still, the Wiz are healthy, and this is basically the same team that was a 26-point performance from Kelly Olynyk away from going to the East finals last season. They have the talent to push the Raptors, and the Raptors have some mental hurdles to get over with their postseason performance. Toronto is the clear favorite, but all the pressure is on. Can the Raptors handle it?
5. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers
The result of this series really isn’t in doubt — the Cavs have LeBron James and the Pacers don’t — but there’s still plenty of intrigue. For one, with this new-look squad? He has won 21 straight first-round games and has never lost a first-round series. Another big question is the Cavs’ defense. They’ll need to lock in on that end in the playoffs if they want to get to a fourth straight NBA Finals, and this series will give us a good indication if they’re capable. Plus, it will just be neat to see Victor Oladipo leading a playoff team after his season-long redemption tour. Lot of fun stuff in this series.
6. Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This series has some things going for it, namely Giannis Antetokounmpo, who might be the most fun player to watch in the entire league. It’s also — due to the Celtics’ injuries — pretty evenly matched, which can often make for a dramatic series. Unfortunately, those Celtics injuries really sapped a lot of the excitement from this series, but it could still wind up being pretty fun.
7. Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The only reason this series isn’t last is because the Timberwolves are making their first playoff appearance since 2004, which has to count for something. The atmosphere in Minny is going to be tremendous. The games, on the other hand, will not be — at least not for the Wolves. The Rockets are going to score like 300 points a night and this series will be done in four games, five at the most if the Rockets decide to take a night off on the road.
8. Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
If everyone was healthy, this would be a fantastic series. Then again, if everyone was healthy they wouldn’t be meeting in the first round. Unfortunately this series feels more like a chore than anything else. The shorthanded Warriors will eventually do enough to get rid of the shorthanded Spurs, and then in a few weeks everyone will forget this series even happened. Sorry if you expected that to be uplifting.