Will the NBA’s best player return to the Finals, or will it be the league’s newly crowned best team that returns for another championship run? Will Kevin Durant see another Finals appearance next year or will it be LeBron James duking it out for the top spot against some other star-studded lineup? Will the Cavs and Warriors complete a best of three series of championship runs next year? The possibilities might initially seem endless, but in reality, it’s not too tough to imagine the teams that will be showing up in next year’s NBA playoffs. But identifying their rank will be tough, and identifying which teams will advance to the Finals will be even tougher. Here, we’ll project both as we give you the rundown for the entire 2018 NBA postseason.
Sure, Cleveland and Golden State are the unquestioned top 2 teams in the NBA right now, and they’ll both be top ranked teams heading into next season. But a lot can change before their next playoff run. First, we’ve got to assume that some help will be given to the underperforming teams through offseason signings and the draft. Then there will be injuries and midseason trades that will continue to shake up everything we thought to be true. But still, the landscape of the NBA doesn’t seem to change much when looking at the teams at the top. Sure, a lot of the aforementioned reasons will cause some shakeups next year. Here, we’ll let you know where those shakeups are going to happen and which teams are going to remain at the top throughout the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
15 EASTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 1 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. NO. 8 NEW YORK KNICKS
Result: Cleveland wins, 4-1
Boston is going to get a lot better before the start of next season. But the Cavs have the power and the will to win as they will no doubt give absolutely everything in a year that could be LeBron’s last season in Cleveland. The regular season won’t provide many challenges for 2017’s second-best team. Of course, early on the Cavs will likely see some struggles as the hangover from the recent Finals run will be prevalent. But the team is just too good to let that affect them in any type of meaningful way.
The Knicks, on the other hand, will be riding high off a season that a lot of teams would consider a bust. But Knicks Nation will take pride in the turnaround this team will post after a 31-win showing this past season. The Knicks will surprise some folks as they manage a win on their home court, but that’ll just happen once as James and company ease through the opening round.
14 WESTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS. NO. 8 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Result: Golden State wins, 4-0
After what we saw during this past postseason run, it’s tough to imagine any other outcome than victory for every game the Warriors will enter next season. One tough part is retaining and maintaining all of that talent that was on the court this past season. Regardless of who the Warriors will deploy on the court, they are going to finish with the top seed in the 2018 playoffs and won’t have any issue taking down the Pelicans in four-straight games.
New Orleans was on the cusp of a postseason run last season, but failed to finish strong and missed the playoffs by seven games. It’ll be a step in the right direction for the young and growing team, but it’s not time for them to make waves in the postseason just yet.
13 EASTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 2 BOSTON CELTICS VS. NO. 7 MIAMI HEAT
Result: Boston wins, 4-1
On the Eastern side of things, these first two matchups are better than what we’ve been seeing in recent years. With the Knicks and Heat occupying the lower seeds, we will see some pretty powerful teams occupying the lower spots of this playoff bracket. It’s going to provide for some early entertainment in what’s normally some pretty boring opening play, but there won’t be any upsets just yet.
Sure, the Heat will be reeling off a turnaround season and will have the capabilities to steal a game or two. But Boston was dangerous last season and the Celtics are staged for an offseason with a lot of upside given their draft predicament. Good things are in store for the Celtics, and they’ll start off the 2018 playoff run with a 4-1 victory in the first round.
12 WESTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS VS. NO. 7 UTAH JAZZ
Result: San Antonio wins, 4-0
The Jazz will fall from a lot of the success they saw last season. It’s going to be a grueling regular season followed by a quick departure from the postseason. It seems like a continuing trend in the Western Conference, but once again the top two teams will cruise through the opening round. This dominance will enforce the idea that the top two teams should get a bye, and the playoffs should be structured around 12 teams … but the NBA is too money hungry for that to ever happen.
As the Jazz limp into the postseason, the Spurs won’t show any weaknesses in this matchup. But like this past year, the teams at the top of the Western Conference really don’t have much competition at the bottom. There’s just too much of a divide for the lower ranked teams to make a run.
11 EASTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 3 WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. NO. 6 TORONTO RAPTORS
Result: Washington wins, 4-2
Here we look at what will be the closest matchup of the first round in the 2018 playoffs. In this matchup, we look at one team that improved on last season and another team that will take a step back. In the case of the Wizards, Washington will build on the successes seen this season and continue to ride that glorious wave throughout the regular season.
Toronto still will have talent, but the team will begin falling apart late into the season and will be almost unrecognizable when compared to the Raptors team we just saw this past season. It’s going to be a tough fall for the Raptors, but the Wizards will be taken seriously after they route Toronto in six games to open their playoff run.
10 WESTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS VS. NO 6 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Result: L.A. Clippers win, 4-3
In what will be the most highly anticipated opening round of any NBA playoffs ever, here the Clippers and Lakers duke it out to become the king of L.A. It’s sort of a sad thought, but this will be the highlight of a majority of the postseason in 2018. With how good the top teams are in each conference, it’s tough to imagine that we’re going to have to sit through it all again just to see Golden State and Cleveland finish on top.
But this matchup will infuse some much-needed hype into the opening round of the playoffs. As these two teams alternate jersey colors to identify the home team in the shared arena, fans across the nation will tune in for the opportunity to watch the guys in L.A. battle it out for the top spot. And the series won’t disappoint as it will take all seven games to identify the winner of this one. For the Lakers, they’re still just a bit too young and inexperienced to advance any further.
9 EASTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 4 MILWAUKEE BUCKS VS. NO. 5 ATLANTA HAWKS
Result: Atlanta wins, 4-3
Milwaukee verse Atlanta is an awfully boring matchup that won’t get much credit even though both of these teams will prove worthy to be here by the end of the regular season. Both teams have been quietly getting better and both will be knocking on the door of the top teams in the East. But neither will break into that elite group, and this will prove to be another punishing first round season.
This will turn into another first round seven-game series, which will ruin Atlanta’s chances moving forward. But if we’re being brutally honest, neither of these teams had a chance at getting passed the second round, even if they managed a sweep in the opening round. Although the Hawks will get the honors of taking on Cleveland, the Bucks wouldn’t have been any better suited to take on that second round matchup.
8 WESTERN CONFERENCE: NO. 4 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER VS. NO. 5 HOUSTON ROCKETS
Result: Oklahoma wins, 4-3
These two teams flipped positions and ranking, but will face each other again in the 2018 playoffs. After how one-sided the higher seeds took down their opponents, these middle seed matchups will enforce our love for the NBA playoffs. This will be the third series in the first round to go seven games, and it will be just as anticipated as the battle in Los Angeles.
With this matchup, the highly anticipated rematch of Russell Westbrook and James Harden will prove to be just as explosive as the last. Improvements in the offseason will prove to give the Thunder a slight edge in their regular season record, and it will be the extra push needed to get past the Rockets in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
7 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. ATLANTA HAWKS
Result: Cleveland wins, 4-0
There’s an upset coming in this round, but it’s certainly not coming during this matchup (and Golden State, obviously, will win that series so don’t be thinking the upset is coming at the hands of one of our top two teams). Of course, Cleveland will be knocked for giving up a game in the opening series and that will cause many people to severely question how good LeBron and the Cavs are.
No matter what the Cavs doe this offseason, there just doesn’t seem to be a way that the team will turn into this “superteam” that we saw out of Golden State last year. But, LeBron James is the type of player who will likely be in the Finals for the rest of his career. Don’t expect that to change here, especially in the semifinals.
6 WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Result: Golden State wins, 4-2
This is sort of an upset. For the first time in a very long time we will start to see some weaknesses beginning to build up for the Warriors. These won’t be major shortcomings, but the Thunder will begin to expose potential avenues for Golden State’s demise. But we’ve got to expect that the Warriors are going to have another greatly talented squad hitting the court. Until Steph Curry moves on, he’ll likely be the perfect guy to attract other talent for this so-called “superteam.”
This is where Russell Westbrook will truly hit his wall and he will begin publicly calling for help in order to take on the West’s best team in 2019. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, this might mean that Westbrook will be looking to move on after this season.
5 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS: BOSTON CELTICS VS. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Result: Washington wins, 4-3
Here we have the second rematch from the 2017 playoffs. Sure, Washington lost last year against Boston, but there was a lot of good that came out of that series for the Wizards. The Wizards really looked like they were going to take down the top team in the East, before they faltered out of the postseason.
Sure, the Celtics are going to likely get some type of high-profile young talent that will fuel the team through this point of the season. Washington, though, will also likely bring in some guys to build on the success of last season, too. But in this series, Washington will prevail, using last year’s defeat to fuel the revenge and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in years.
4 WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS: SAN ANTONIO SPURS VS. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Result: Los Angeles wins, 4-3
This is going to be really good for the NBA. The city of Los Angeles is arguably the best town for basketball in the NBA … but the teams that occupy the same arena have seen their fare share of struggles in the last decade. Having a team from L.A. back in the Western Conference Finals is nothing but a good thing for the NBA.
Sure, the Spurs will put up quite the fight. But the veteran talent that got San Antonio to this point will prove to not have enough to get the team any deeper in the postseason. This loss will be tough for the Spurs, but it will force them to focus on the future and bring in more young talent. The Clippers, on the other hand, will be moving on to try and dethrone the NBA’s best team.
3 EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Result: Cleveland wins, 4-0
The Wizards have had a rough road to get here. On the other hand, the Cavs will have easily slid through the first couple of rounds by this time in the playoffs. This won’t come as a shock to the league when it happens, but the Cavs led by LeBron James will just be too fueled up to give up a game in this series. Throughout the entire postseason, Cleveland won’t lose on its home court and it will be tough to take them down on the road.
This will be a point where Cleveland Nation will be clamoring for a Golden State victory. Sure, it’d be fun to watch an L.A. vs. Cleveland championship series. But even more entertaining would be a round three matchup of the Cavs and the Warriors.
2 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Result: Golden State wins, 4-0
After playing two seven game series, the Clippers just won’t look like a team that’s meant to be this far in the postseason. It’s not their fault, but playing 14 games in the first two playoff series will really take a toll on the minds and bodies of every Clipper on the court. Even if they’re somehow able to use a mostly healthy lineup, guys will just be way too tired to keep up with Golden State’s overwhelming presence.
Sure, there will be a lot of groans around the league before Golden State secures this series. It’s likely that everyone will be arguing for a rules change as the same teams enter the Finals for the third-straight year. But after we all watch Cleveland and Golden State dominate in their respective conference finals, we’ll all be glued to the screens awaiting this matchup.
1 NBA FINALS: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS VS. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Result: Cleveland wins, 4-3
This is going to be huge for LeBron James as it will likely be the last time in a Cleveland jersey before he retires. It will be an overwhelmingly huge series for LeBron as he will want to leave the city on a high note, unlike the awful departure last time. Here, both teams got a breather in this one. We can’t remember the last time this happened, but both teams entering the Finals in 2018 will be coming of sweeps in the previous series. That means each lineup will be coming in well rested, and likely at full health, making for a great round three to this high powered matchup.
This series, like everyone will expect, will be a back-and-forth fight for the finish. They will trade wins and it will come down to a game seven on whatever team finishes with the best postseason record. But it doesn’t matter, LeBron isn’t going to let this slip for the second year in a row. And he’ll bring a championship back to Cleveland before heading to Los Angeles to bring many more championships in for the Clippers.