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First Round Predictions
The 2016-17 NBA Playoffs begin this weekend as 16 teams will look to capture the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

While the eight spots in the Western Conference were decided last week, the Eastern Conference wasn’t locked up until the final day of the regular season this past Wednesday.

Despite a great second-half, Miami missed out on the postseason while Indiana and Chicago captured the seventh and eighth seeds in the East respectively. Unfortunately for those clubs, they’ll open against a pair of heavyweights in the East. Boston captured the No. 1 seed on Wednesday as Cleveland conceded down the stretch and opted for the second seed. The Celtics will meet the Bulls while the Cavaliers face the Pacers. NBA senior handicapper and analyst Tony Mejia isn’t sold on the top pair in the East and believes they’ll both be tested right out of the playoff chute.

He explained, “Neither Boston nor Cleveland played the role of dominant conference power down the stretch and won't suddenly be able to find another gear. Although the Bulls struggled with chemistry for most of the season and just got Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo back from injuries, they're a tough No. 8 seed due to the playoff experience many of their key guys have, not to mention them playing with nothing to lose considering that they appeared to be headed to the lottery before winning seven of their last nine. They beat the Celtics twice this season at home and won't be intimidated, so expect the 1-8 East series to be competitive.”

“Similarly, Cleveland struggled down the stretch, blowing must-win games and displaying brutal communication on defense. Tristan Thompson just returned from the first significant injury of his pro career, while Edy Tavares played exactly one game since being signed to replace Larry Sanders in a rim protector role off the bench that was expected to be filled by Andrew Bogut before he was injured in his first minute wearing a Cavs uniform. Paul George is one of the few players in the league that thrives in meetings with LeBron James as opposed to shrinking from them, so you can count on a strong series from him. Look for the Pacers to test Cleveland before the defending champs finally find their rhythm.”

Chris David, VI Editor and NBA contributor, is leaning with Mejia’s analysis in the East but doesn’t expect either series to go past six games.

Senior VI handicapper and writer Kevin Rogers agrees with Mejia and David on the first three series but offers a different take on the Atlanta-Washington matchup and he’s leaning with the underdog.

Rogers added, “The Hawks have made the playoffs each of the past 10 seasons, while winning in six games of the first round the last two years. Although Atlanta lost three times to Washington, the Hawks overcame a late seven-game losing streak to win six of its final nine games of the season. The Wizards put a 2-8 start behind them by finishing with 49 wins, while owning a home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time since the 1979 NBA Finals. As long as Atlanta is facing Cleveland, I have faith in the Hawks to have a puncher’s chance to move on.

In the Western Conference, our trio of experts have a different take on how each series will play out and David isn’t expecting any of the opening round matchups to last longer than five games.

“In the last three years, there have only been eight sweeps in the NBA Playoffs and six of those took place in the first round,” said David.

“Golden State and San Antonio have clearly been the best two teams all season and they both enter the postseason with great form plus I like their matchups. The only way the Trail Blazers take a game from the Warriors is if they shoot a ridiculous percentage and I don’t see that happening, especially against Golden State’s underrated defense.”

“I’m well aware that the Grizzlies split their season series 2-2 with the Spurs but I don’t like the form of Memphis heading into the playoffs. They’ve gone 3-9 down the stretch and they dropped eight of their last 10 road games. Even though David Fizdale has done a great job in his first coaching season with Memphis, he’s outmatched against Pop and company,” added David.

Rogers and Mejia are both leaning to the Warriors and Spurs as heavy favorites but they offer different opinions from David on the Los Angeles-Utah and Houston-Oklahoma City matchups.

Mejia believes the Jazz are going to advance with a Game 7 win at Los Angeles.

“The Clippers are going to need that homecourt edge they secured on the regular season's final night to hold up in a series-deciding game against the Jazz, who won 50 games despite an injury-filled season. Chris Paul will be counted on to make the difference in helping his team overcome Utah's defense, but George Hill is one of the top defensive point guards in the league. Now that the Jazz are healthy, it wouldn't be surprising to see them advance. If Derrick Favors hits the ground running and helps Rudy Gobert control the paint, they'll pull the upset,” said Mejia.

Meanwhile, Rogers believes the Thunder can knock off the Rockets in the first round.

Rogers noted, “Oklahoma City came within one victory of reaching the NBA Finals last season, as the Thunder avoid a rematch with Golden State until potentially the conference finals. Even though Kevin Durant is with the Warriors, Russell Westbrook still carried the Thunder to 47 wins. Houston has lost four of its last six playoff series since 2013, as one of those victories came in the second round against the Clippers in 2015 after trailing, 3-1. The Rockets won three of four meetings with the Thunder this season, but three of those matchups were decided by three points or less.”

Below are each analyst’s predictions for all eight opening round series:

Eastern Conference
Matchup Kevin Rogers Chris David Tony Mejia
1 Boston vs. 8 Chicago


2 Cleveland vs. 7 Indiana


3 Toronto vs. 6 Milwaukee


4 Washington vs. 5 Atlanta


Western Conference
Matchup Kevin Rogers Chris David Tony Mejia
1 Golden State vs. 8 Portland


2 San Antonio vs. 7 Memphis


3 Houston vs. 6 Oklahoma City


4 L.A. Clippers vs. 5 Utah


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