THE much-awaited 2018 NBA playoffs are now four days old, and already we’re seeing teams making the most of their homecourt advantage.
Surprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not among them.
But as all NBA fans should know by now, it’s still too early to tell.
1. Toronto Raptors vs. 8. Washington Wizards
Unlike in the previous years, Toronto is built for a long playoff run that could finally lead to an Eastern Conference title.
While DeMar De Rozan and Kyle Lowry remain as the leading men, the Raptors now have a great supporting cast capable of producing playoff-worthy performances when needed.
And this is exactly where Washington is lacking.
John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. will form a formidable triumvirate, but the Wizards will struggle heavily to find secondary contributors from the bench.
As one NBA said in his assessment, reserves still matter, and Toronto’s has been the best in the league.
Prediction: Toronto in five games.
2. Boston Celtics vs. 7. Milwaukee Bucks
This is the matchup that could provide the biggest surprise in the first round, if there will be one.
While Boston had 11 more wins than Milwaukee during the regular season and took the series opener 113-107 in overtime, this No. 2 vs No. 7 matchup could provide some of the most exciting playoff matches in the first round.
On paper, the Celtics have the better team despite the absence of superstar Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart.
The Celtics starting unit of Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Aaron Baynes remain dangerous under head coach Bead Stevens.
But Boston’ will now have to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the “Greek Freak” and his explosive one-man show that often lead to victories.
If Kris Middleton and Eric Bleddoe deliver, the Bucks will be real good.
The Celtics remain the favorites here, but the Bucks are unfazed.
Prediction: Boston in six.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6.Miami Heat
Philadelphia, which won a franchise-record 16 straight games heading into the playoffs, should be favored to win this series -- no doubt Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid head the 76ers’ youth-laden but playoff-ready roster that ranks No.3 in offense and No. 2 in defense since March.
The 76rs also boast the services of JJ Redick, Dario Saric and Robert Covington in the starting five, and an equally-talented bench that counts on Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Markelle Fultz, Amir Johnson, and T.J. McConnell.
Miami and its brilliant head coach Erik Spoelstra should be able to make the playoffs interesting, but may not have enough to keep pace.
Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk and even veteran Dwyane Wade will surely have their moments enough to make it competitive.
Goran should be able to continue to play like an All-Star and Wade should provide some spark off the bench with his leadership skills.
Prediction: Philadelphia in six.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 5. Indiana Pacers
If you don’t have NBA superstar LeBron James in the lineup, teams will always find it hard, impossible even, to get a favorable review against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You don’t have to an expert to know it.
While Cleveland struggled to the finish line in the regular season despite mid-seasons acquisitions, and finished nine games behind top seed Toronto, James can make things right overnight.
A four-time MVP, James has never lost a first-round playoff series throughout his Hall of Fame career. In fact, he only needed a Game 6 in the first round only twice -- 2006 and 2008.
Well, Indiana’s 98-’80 win in last Sunday’s playoff opener did end James’ record of five consecutive 4-0 sweeps.
The Pacers are enjoying a phenomenal season with Most Improved Player candidate Victor Oladipo, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic leading the way.
But they don’t have King James.
No disrespect to the Pacers, really. But no upset is in the script and the Cavs should advance.
Prediction: Cleveland in six.
If our crystal ball turns out right, the East semifinals should be breath-taking: Raptors vs Cavs and Celtics vs 76ers.
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Congratulations to Team 90s, which dominated Team 80s in both the basketball and volleybal competitiosn in the ERJHS Alumni Sports Club “Battle of the Generations” held at the Barangay N. S. Amoranto covered courts in Malaya St., Quezon City.