Thankfully, another silly season is in the books and the regular season is finally over. I will take a moment to say that I won the prestigious Ultimate Basketball Challenge (UBC) fantasy league, easily besting David Klyce in the Finals with a roster full of scrubs for the last 10 days of the regular season. I’ve come close to winning this league a few times during the 15 or 16 years that I’ve played it, but finally got over the hump! There’s no prize money to go along with it, but I beat some of the industry’s best minds, and it simply feels good to add that win to my portfolio. Outside of winning the 30-team experts league (30 Deep) back in 2011, winning the UBC this year ranks right up there with it. And props to Mark Smith of Explosions in the Sky for kicking my butt in our Finals matchup in the Rock and Roll Fantasy Hoops League. Follow me on Twitter right here!
The real NBA Playoff brackets are finally set, so let’s take a look at the matchups and my predictions. And in case we haven’t said it enough around here, based on the laundry list of stars sitting on Wednesday night, as well as the last few weeks in general, fantasy hoops leagues should not be playing Weeks 25 & 26, and would be better served to also exclude week 24. The buzzkill is that it makes the fantasy season way shorter than any of us would like, but at least you can play most of your studs down the stretch, without having to gamble on guys like Luke Kornet, Mario Hezonja and JaKarr Sampson to win you a championship. And yes, I won a championship with Sampson in my lineup, despite the fact that he wasn’t even on an NBA roster Wednesday night.
1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. 8 Detroit Pistons (Milwaukee won 4-0 regular season)
Giannis Antetokounmpo had an incredible season for the only team to finish with 60 wins. Call me old school, but that’s what MVP is all about - the best player on the best team - and he's my NBA MVP. As for this series, the Pistons are literally limping in, with Blake Griffin playing on one leg (when he plays), and Andre Drummond going crazy (and making free throws) on a nightly basis. The Pistons will put up a fight, but Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez should roll over Detroit, and will get some help from guys like George Hill, Tim Frazier, Pat Connaughton, Tony Snell and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks should cruise easily. If Griffin’s still on one leg for this series, guys like Luke Kennard and Thon Maker will step up, but the Pistons are simply overmatched. Ish Smith is a DFS sleeper for the playoffs, although Reggie Jackson has played pretty well for most of the season. And I’m still trying to figure out how the Pistons are going to stop Giannis, or who will guard him. Lastly, Mike Budenholzer is my pick for Coach of the Year.
Prediction: Bucks in 5
2 Toronto Raptors vs. 7 Orlando Magic (2-2 regular season)
The Raptors had to settle for the No. 2 seed and the Magic are just thankful to be in the playoffs. Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam (my Most Improved Player winner), Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Danny Green should roll in this one, especially with home court. The Magic had a nice season and D.J. Augustin held his own all year, while Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic all contributed to the Magic’s success. Vucevic might be the most underrated fantasy big man in the league, and had I not lost Victor Oladipo in 30 Deep, I might have been able to pull of another win behind Dipo and Vuc. Congratulations to Rotoworld’s Matt Stroup, by the way, who captured his second 30-Deep title on Wednesday.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6 Brooklyn Nets (2-2 regular season)
Joel Embiid’s knee injury is a bit mysterious, and while there’s a good chance he’ll be ready for Game 1, he’s still a little iffy for that one. He’s gotten plenty of rest lately and had a monster 34-13-13 triple-double on April 4, and I think he’s going to be ready to go. The Sixers’ success likely hinges on the health of The Process, but this is the playoffs, and I fully expect him to step up. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are incredible complements to Embiid, and if they’re all healthy and clicking, the Sixers could win the East and go to the Finals. The Nets made the playoffs behind an incredible season by D’Angelo Russell and overcame Caris LeVert’s devastating ankle injury that cost him much of the season. LeVert is healthy, Russell is in the zone, and Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, DeMarre Carroll, Rodions Kurucs and Jarrett Allen are going to be ready to put up a fight against the Sixers. But I’m banking on Embiid being healthy and for his teammates to do their jobs in Round 1.
Prediction: Sixers in 5
4 Boston Celtics vs. 5 Indiana Pacers (Celtics won 3-1 regular season)
As an Indy native, I’m a bit mesmerized by this matchup, as Indiana’s own Brad Stevens, who is still the best coach in the league, in my mind, will face the Indiana Pacers. If the Pacers hadn’t lost Victor Oladipo to a season-ending knee injury, they might have been in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the East. And now the Celtics have lost Marcus Smart (oblique) for the first two round of the playoffs, if not longer. The Celtics, who have home court advantage, will be looking for Terry Rozier to step up in Smart’s absence, while Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Al Horford will all be instrumental for Boston. The Pacers need good play from Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis, and great play from Myles Turner if they’re going to win. This series could go either way, and I’m rooting for both teams. The Celtics have been a bit dysfunctional this season, and I blame Kyrie a lot more than Stevens for it, and I think it could end up being their downfall. I think this is going to be a great series, I can see it going either way, and I think it will go seven games. And I’m not going to lie – I changed this pick a couple times before settling on:
Prediction: Celtics in 7
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8 L.A. Clippers (Warriors won 3-1 regular season)
The Clippers did a great job of making the playoffs after moving Tobias Harris and they just have to be happy to be playing postseason basketball. But LAC is facing the Warriors, who should not lose many games on their way to the Finals. Stephen Curry’s foot is banged up, but I don’t think it’s going to matter much, and I don’t see the Clippers slowing the Warriors down for a game, if at all. And the fact the Warriors get to play a team so close to their home is also a factor, as they’ll spend very little time on airplanes bouncing between Oakland and L.A. Patrick Beverley is a difference maker for the Clippers though, as you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s going to be in Curry’s face a ton, trying to goad him into doing something stupid. But it still doesn’t matter. Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and JaMychal Green should all contribute for the Clips.
Prediction: Warriors in 4
2 Denver Nuggets vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs (2-2 regular season)
This series makes me a little nauseous just thinking about it. I didn’t think the Spurs would even make the playoffs this season, but they pulled it off, despite the loss of Dejounte Murray. Just another display of the greatness of Gregg Popovich. The Nuggets are crazy deep, especially in the backcourt, featuring guys like Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Mikal Beasley, Monte Morris and Isaiah Thomas, while Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee will hold things down in the front court. The Spurs will get plenty from Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, while Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Rudy Gay, Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl will also help the stars. Going against one of the greatest coaches of all time aside, I don’t think the Nuggets can blow this one. Jokic is just too much of a beast, and Murray is a stud.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder won 4-0 regular season)
The Blazers will have to face the human triple-double machine, Russell Westbrook, along with Paul George, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder. PG-13 is dealing with a shoulder injury, but I’m not worried about it. C.J. McCollum (knee) is still banged up for Portland, and I don’t really trust Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, Jake Layman and Enes Kanter. The Blazers still have stud Damian Lillard, but the loss of Jusuf Nurkic (broken leg) was devastating, and the Thunder are going to take advantage of the loss. Westbrook is just incredible, and in any other NBA season outside of the last three, would be heading for his third straight MVP Award after averaging a triple-double for three straight years. I never thought we’d see anyone do it once in my lifetime, but Westbrook has actually made it look kind of easy in three straight seasons. And the point guard, who remarkably averaged 11.1 rebounds this season, will refuse to lose.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
4 Houston Rockets vs. 5 Utah Jazz (2-2 regular season)
The Rockets have to be psyched about getting the Jazz, as James Harden simply can’t be stopped, regardless of who is trying to guard him. The Rockets have a better home court record than the Warriors and will come into this one fully healthy. Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker will hold it down for Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and they’ll get some help off the bench from Austin Rivers, Iman Shumpert, Gerald Green, Danuel House and Kenneth Faried, and the home-court advantage should be plenty, if it even comes into play. As for the ‘Harden for MVP debate,’ he’s the most dynamic offensive player I’ve ever seen play. But Giannis and the Bucks had the league’s best record, and that’s all I need to know. The Jazz are 8-2 over their last 10 games and look great, but no one can stop Harden, which is a huge problem. Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are going to lead the way for the Jazz, while Jae Crowder, Royce O’Neal and Kyle Korver will offer some help off the bench. But D’Antoni’s offense will be just too much for the defensive-minded Jazz to handle, despite the fact the Jazz went 2-2 vs. Houston this season.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
The Rest of the Playoffs
1 Milwaukee vs. 4 Boston – Bucks in 6
3 Philadelphia vs. 2 Toronto – Sixers in 6
1 Milwaukee vs. 3 Philadelphia – Bucks in 7
1 Golden State vs. 4 Houston – Warriors in 6
2 Denver vs. 6 Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6
1 Golden State vs. 6 Oklahoma City – Warriors in 6
Golden State vs. Milwaukee – Warriors in 6 – And there’s your champion. Not a very innovative or risky pick, but I don’t see how anyone beats the Warriors if they can stay healthy.
Rookie of the Year
I guess I have to pick a Rookie of the Year here, so here goes. You guys know that I've been team Luka Doncic all year, but I've seen what Trae Young has done over the last few months, especially since I'm in Georgia and hear it from my buddies every day. He's been incredible, while Luka's inability to hit free throws, missed games, and general struggles of late (oh, and a bunch of triple-doubles) have also been pretty fun to watch. I'm still going with Luka for the ROY Award, but I would not be mad at all if Trae wins it. And if they somehow are named Co-Rookies of the Year, I would be pretty happy. In any case, I can't wait to watch them both play for the next 15 years or so (but I'm still team Luka, for now).
Look for more in-depth playoff breakdowns hitting the pages of Rotoworld in the very near future, and enjoy your fantasy playoff leagues, and DFS endeavors. And I sincerely hope that Rotoworld and our dedicated hoops crew helped you win some leagues again this year. Good luck!