The NBA Playoffs are just under a month away and this season’s series is shaping up as one of the most unpredictable yet.
There’s the fight for seeds in the West, Jimmy Butler’s injury woes, and what in the world is going on in Cleveland.
Here are my five bold predications for the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
Harden breaks Jordan’s record
NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan currently holds the sing-game playoff scoring record, thanks to his 63-point effort against the Celtics in Game 2 of the 1986 Eastern Conference quarter-finals.
Expect the 32-year-old record to be broken by projected 2018 MVP James Harden.
‘The Beard’ has been scoring for fun this season, averaging 31 points per game, headlined by back-to-back 50-point games and his notorious 60-point triple-double.
Often criticised for not showing up in big games, Harden will be out to prove his critics wrong and with Houston poised to make a deep playoff run, the Rockets guard will take his offensive game to another level and break MJ’s record.
Sixers steal a series
The endurance Philadelphia fans have displayed through ‘The Process’ finally appearances set to reap rewards.
Led by All Star Joel Embiid and Aussie sensation Ben Simmons, the 76ers currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference, with a 39-30 record.
They have been more than competitive and with the late additions of sharpshooters Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, Brett Brown’s side have the veteran playoff experience that they desperately lacked.
If the cards fall the Sixers’ way and they avoid the Cavs in the first round, then snag a series against a John Wall-less Wizards outfit or an untested Indiana Pacers side, Philly have a serious chance.
AP Photo/Kim Raff
Warriors out early
Most people have the Golden State versus Houston pencilled in for the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
But the Spurs, Trailblazers, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, Clippers and the Rockets have all come out victorious against the defending champions at least once this season.
Golden State have been beaten convincingly a number of times, including a 30-point drubbing at the hands of possible first-round opponents, Utah.
Concerns also remain around two-time MVP Stephen Curry’s right ankle, which he injured four times throughout the regular season. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have also missed games recently due to injury.
An unhealthy Warriors side is going to have problems in a stacked Western Conference.
If they are left with an unfavourable match-up in the first two rounds, and the injury issues continue, the Warriors could be set for an early exist.
Houston Rocket in the Wild West
Houston has rocketed to the top of the NBA with a league-best 56-14 record, setting them up as the Golden State’s biggest threat.
The Rockets have only dropped eight games to conference opponents and have Mike D’Antoni’s three-point orientated gameplan firing on all cylinders.
Led by stars James Harden and Chris Paul, and littered with high-class bench players like Eric Gordon, Gerald Green and Joe Johnson, Houston have only lost one game following the All Star break.
Anticipate them to taking out the Western Conference with ease.
LeBron fails to make the NBA Final, but so do the Celtics
LeBron James has ruled the East since 2010 – nothing screams dominance like seven-straight NBA Finals appearances.
But in 2018 ‘The King’ will fail to make basketball’s biggest showdown – though not due to the Celtics.
It’s no secret that Cleveland are not the same championship-winning team of 2016, but with the Celtics struggling with injuries and lacking playoff experience, expect the Toronto Raptors to be crowned champions of the East.
It’s not often a conference-leading side fly as under-the-radar as the Raptors have this season. While the media have focused on the vulnerability of the Cavs and Boston’s injury problems, Toronto have all but secured the number one seed in the East.
The Raptors have titivated their offence this season, with All Star guard DeMar DeRozan empowered to take more three-point shots.
Since the New Year, DeRozan is attempting 4.4 three-point shots a game, up from 1.7 last season and is drawing more attention, giving his teammates more space and creating a free flowing offence.
The Raptors now have the best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating in the conference as well as the statistically best bench in the NBA.
If Toronto’s revamped offence carries into the Playoffs, the Raptors deserve the favourites tag in the East.