(1) Houston vs. (8) Minnesota
Why the Rockets win: The Timberwolves’ roster is built to play at a much more uptempo pace, yet head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers his methodical system. Houston runs a worn down Minnesota team out of the building, shreds Minnesota’s routinely putrid defense, hits a barrage of 3s and MVP James Harden and Co. advance to the next round.
Why the T-Wolves win: Thibs decides to run his offense through Karl Anthony-Towns and Towns goes ballistic, showing off his versatility, which could lead to upstart big man Clint Capela leaving the cup and getting into foul trouble -- eliminating Houston’s rim protection. Not only that, Andrew Wiggins finally plays to his potential on both ends of the floor, and the Timberwolves use their length, toughness and athleticism to run Houston off the 3-point line and force bad shots.
Who wins: Houston in six.
(2) Golden State vs. (7) San Antonio
Why the Warriors win: Despite Steph Curry’s absence, Kawhi Leonard isn’t walking through that door.
Why the Spurs win: KAWHI LEONARD.
Who wins: Golden State in five.
(3) Portland vs. (6) New Orleans
Why the Trail Blazers win: Dame Dolla and CJ combine to average 55 and Nurkic dominates the glass and at least tries to limit Anthony Davis to 25.0 ppg. It’s really as simple as that. Portland was surprisingly stingy during the first 82, allowing a mere 103.0 ppg -- fifth in the NBA -- which could suffocate a perimeter-oriented New Orleans squad. Add that with premium bench contributions from Shabazz Napier, Evan Turner and Co. and hello Round 2.
Why the Pelicans win: New Orleans can score with anybody. With that being said, “The Brow” has to continue to play at a MVP-level while Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo hound CJ and Dame. A motivated Hornets supporting cast is talented enough to give the Trail Blazers fits, but if these first two things don’t come to fruition, it’s curtains.
Who wins: Portland in seven.
(4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Utah
Why the Thunder win: Oklahoma City has too much firepower within its Big 3 -- even though Melo’s had an up-and down year -- and Stephen Adams is a beast. Utah’s been a nice surprise story, but let’s be honest, they’re a couple pieces away from sending a Thunder team with a incensed Russell Westbrook home in a series.
Why the Jazz win: Utah’s been one of the best stories of the 2017-18 season despite losing Gordon Hayward in free agency. Donovan Mitchell is a machine whose shown the guts to deliver in big-time moments, while Ricky Rubio’s enjoyed the best year of his life -- a much-improved outside stroke -- and rim-protector extraordinaire Rudy Gobert is a shoe-in for Defensive Player of the Year. All three of these guys have to play out of their minds and the Jazz’s supporting cast has to step up. Joe Ingles could be huge in this series, and if Alec Burks has a couple big games, we could be talking upset.
Who wins: Oklahoma City in six.