Here’s a brief guide to every first-round series, including records, seeds, and some brief notes on where each squad stands.
No. 1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
From the moment the season started in October — well, almost that moment, anyway — the Warriors have been the class of the NBA. Yes, that’s what was expected when general manager Bob Myers supplemented the All-NBA core of the winningest regular-season team in NBA history with former MVP and historically excellent scorer Kevin Durant. But incumbent stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green had to learn how to play with Durant, head coach Steve Kerr had to integrate a bunch of new second-unit pieces, and everyone had to figure out how to coalesce into a whole greater than the sum of their high-wattage parts.
So far, so good. The Warriors finished with the NBA’s best record for the third straight year, becoming the first team in league history to win 65 or more games in three consecutive seasons. Golden State also boasted the league’s most efficient offense and second-stingiest defense while playing at one of the fastest paces in the sport; navigated the loss of Durant, who’d been putting up MVP-consideration-worthy production on both ends of the floor, for 5 1/2 weeks thanks to the re-emergence of MVP Steph Curry; and who enter the postseason with their top guns firing on all cylinders, their bench in fine form, and Durant having gotten to spend a few games knocking the rust off. They are heavy favorites to win this series, and in short order.
The Blazers, on the other hand, stumbled early in their encore to last year’s surprising run to 44 wins and the second round of the playoffs. Portland entered 2017 at 14-21, with the NBA’s worst defense, and sat 10 games under .500 at the All-Star break. Terry Stotts’ club redeemed itself with a second-half tear fueled by the excellence of point guard Damian Lillard and the emergence of midseason trade acquisition Jusuf Nurkic, the bruising Bosnian center who provided the two-way spark that helped propel the Blazers past the Denver Nuggets (the team that traded Nurkic, natch) and into the West’s No. 8 seed.
It’s not yet clear whether Nurkic will be back in the fold after suffering a fracture in his right leg at the end of March. He’ll be re-evaluated Friday, and Stotts said Tuesday he had “no idea” if Nurkic would be available for Game 1 against the Dubs. Whether or not he is, Portland will look to put up points in bunches behind Lillard, who averaged a shade under 30 points, six assists and five rebounds per game after the break, and shooting guard C.J. McCollum, who give the Blazers one of the NBA’s most explosive backcourts, and the kind of firepower that can tilt games in the postseason.
• Game 1 @GS: 3:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 16 (ABC)
• Game 2 @GS: 10:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, April 19 (TNT)
• Game 3 @POR: 10:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22 (ESPN)
• Game 4 @POR: 10:30 p.m. ET, Monday, April 24 (TNT)
• Game 5 @GS: TBD, Wednesday, April 26 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @POR: TBD, Friday, April 28 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @GS: TBD, Sunday, April 30 (TBD)*
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (51-31) vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz (51-31)
The Clips began the season with a blistering 14-2 start that helped stoke hopes that this really would be the year they’d put it all together and challenge for a title. They’d cool over the holidays, though, suffering several convincing defeats between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve to settle into the middle of the Western Conference pack. Injuries to stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul kept L.A. from fielding its full squad from Christmas through the All-Star break, but Doc Rivers’ veteran crew has started to hit its stride of late. The Clippers owned the league’s fifth-best record over the final month of the season, outscored opponents by nearly nine points per 100 possessions — only Golden State boasted a better net rating — and finished off a 3-1 win in their season series with the Jazz.
Picked by many over the summer as the team most likely to rise in the West, Utah managed to fulfill those preseason expectations despite fielding its full expected starting five for fewer than 15 games. All-Star playmaker Gordon Hayward, power forward Derrick Favors, smooth swingman Rodney Hood and offseason acquisition George Hill all missed chunks of time due to injury, but the Jazz stayed afloat, thanks largely to the towering defensive presence (and significantly improved offensive game) of 7-foot-2 center Rudy Gobert in the middle of what has ranked all season long as one of the NBA’s three best defenses.
General manager Dennis Lindsey built a deep, versatile roster chock full of long-limbed, athletic and skilled players capable of handling multiple assignments, and head coach Quin Snyder has juggled his rotation beautifully all season long to get Utah to this point. Now, with all of his top guns healthy and ready to go, we’ll find out just how much noise the full-strength Jazz are capable of making.
• Game 1 @LAC: 10:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 15 (ESPN)
• Game 2 @LAC: 10:30 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 18 (TNT)
• Game 3 @UTA: 10 p.m. ET, Friday, April 21 (ESPN2)
• Game 4 @UTA: 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 23 (TNT)
• Game 5 @LAC: TBD, Tuesday, April 25 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @UTA: TBD, Friday, April 28 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @LAC: TBD, Sunday, April 30 (TBD)*
No. 3 Houston Rockets (55-27) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35)
Two of the most gifted and dominant playmakers in the NBA will square off in the opening round, as former Thunder teammates and Most Valuable Player favorites James Harden and Russell Westbrook lead their teams into battle in perhaps the opening round’s most highly anticipated matchup.
The Rockets rebounded from a disappointing 2015-16 campaign to become one of this season’s best stories, led by Harden’s surge to historic levels of scoring and facilitating production as the full-time point guard of new head coach Mike D’Antoni’s pedal-to-the-metal spread pick-and-roll attack. The Thunder rebounded from their own pretty significant disappointment — losing longtime franchise centerpiece Durant to the Warriors in free agency — through sheer force of Westbrook, who became the NBA’s answer to must-see TV en route to becoming the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double over the course of a full season … while also leading the NBA in scoring for the second time in three years.
Houston’s had the better, deeper, more consistently explosive team all season long. Oklahoma City has Westbrook. If you’re having a tough time deciding which way to bet, I’m guessing you’re not alone.
• Game 1 @HOU: 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 16 (TNT)
• Game 2 @HOU: 8 p.m ET, Wednesday, April 19 (TNT)
• Game 3 @OKC: 9:30 p.m. ET, Friday, April 21 (ESPN)
• Game 4 @OKC: 3:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 23 (ABC)
• Game 5 @HOU: TBD, Tuesday, April 25 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @OKC: TBD, Thursday, April 27 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @HOU: TBD, Saturday, April 29 (TBD)*
No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (43-39)
Even without the legendary Tim Duncan, the train just kept rolling in San Antonio, as a team led by MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Kawhi Leonard won 60 games for the third time in four seasons, won 50-plus for the 18th straight year, and made the postseason for a remarkable 20th consecutive campaign. They were the second-best team in the NBA all season long, but after two straight exits before the Western Conference finals, the Spurs enter this postseason with their sights set on a return to playing meaningful games in late May and June for the first time since their 2014 championship run.
While veteran big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol offer shooting, scoring and rebounding help, franchise legends Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still keep the trains running on time while providing sparks of playmaking, and guards Danny Green and Patty Mills light it up from the perimeter, this is now very clearly Leonard’s team. The Spurs will only go as far as he will carry them; it is the Grizzlies’ task to exact a pound of flesh from the San Antonio star along the way.
Grizzlies fans probably aren’t too thrilled to be seeing San Antonio in the postseason again. The Spurs have ended Memphis’ season twice in the last four years, including in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Unlike last year, though, this Grizzlies team doesn’t enter the series as a collection of the walking wounded.
First-year head coach David Fizdale’s attack will feature a healthy core group built around the inside-out talents of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who can control games for the Grizzlies on both ends of the floor. San Antonio’s tendency toward playing big might mean chances for longtime Memphis linchpin Zach Randolph to stay on the court and eat, Tony Allen’s going to be around to foment chaos and wreak defensive havoc, and the Grizz split their four-game season series with the Spurs. Memphis will be a heavy underdog in this series, but the Grizzlies have faced down those kind of odds before and come out on top. Could history repeat itself here?
• Game 1 @SA: 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 15 (ESPN)
• Game 2 @SA: 9:30 p.m. ET, Monday, April 17 (TNT)
• Game 3 @MEM: 9:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, April 20 (TNT)
• Game 4 @MEM: 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22 (ESPN)
• Game 5 @SA: TBD, Tuesday, April 25 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @MEM: TBD, Thursday, April 27 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @SA: TBD, Saturday, April 29 (TBD)*
No. 1 Boston Celtics (53-29) vs. No. 8 Chicago Bulls (41-41)
Just four years after trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets to mark the end of their New Big Three championship era, the Celtics are once again back on top of the East, clinching the No. 1 overall seed on the final night of the season. Boston’s one of the most balanced squads in the league, one of just five teams — alongside Golden State, San Antonio, Toronto and Utah — to finish in the top 12 in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re deep, versatile, capable of playing both big and small lineups, and they’ve got a dynamite closer in All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose late-game exploits this season earned him the “Game of Thrones”-inspired nickname “The King in the Fourth.” The hope in Boston, obviously, will be that the C’s will be able to handle the often-sputtering Bulls well enough in the early going that IT will need to rise from his throne.
Chicago clinched its seed on the final night of the season, too, blowing out the Brooklyn Nets to eliminate the Miami Heat and lock in the No. 8 spot. As our Kelly Dwyer wrote last month, these Bulls have been pretty underwhelming all season, and skated into the playoffs due in part to the softest closing schedule in the NBA and in part to the brilliance of All-Star small forward Jimmy Butler, who cemented himself as one of the most complete game-changers in the league in carrying Chicago over the finish line. Their prize: a date with the East’s top seed, against whom they split their four meetings this season, most recently taking a 20-point loss in March.
• Game 1 @BOS: 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 16 (TNT)
• Game 2 @BOS: 8 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 18 (TNT)
• Game 3 @CHI: 7 p.m. ET, Friday, April 21 (ESPN)
• Game 4 @CHI: 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 23 (TNT)
• Game 5 @BOS: TBD, Wednesday, April 26 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @CHI: TBD, Friday, April 28 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @BOS: TBD, Sunday, April 30 (TBD)*
No. 4 Washington Wizards (49-33) vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
Washington’s first season under new head coach Scott Brooks offered just about everything Wizards fans could have hoped it would. John Wall and Bradley Beal stayed healthy throughout and proved that, when fully operational, they still deserved consideration among the NBA’s best backcourts. Otto Porter Jr. had a breakout year, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris proved a menacing frontcourt pairing, and reserve swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. came into his own as a key two-way reserve as the Wiz turned in the franchise’s first division championship since 1979. Their bench depth is sketchy, but their starting five’s one of the best in the business, and in a postseason that tends to see rotations shorten and minutes ratcheted up for teams’ top guns, a Wizards squad led by fringe MVP candidate Wall and near-All-Star Beal could have a real shot at making the Eastern Conference finals.
After rebooting the franchise in the summer by saying goodbye to Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks alternated success and struggle in their first year led by the bookend pairing of center Dwight Howard and point guard Dennis Schröder. Atlanta struggled to score all season long, finishing in the bottom five in the league in points scored per possession, but stopped the opposition at an elite level, ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency. All-Star Paul Millsap remains one of the league’s most quietly awesome and effective players, and Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha and Taurean Prince make for an interesting group on the wing. But head coach Mike Budenholzer has his work cut out for him figuring out how to both stop Washington’s high-powered attack and generate consistently good looks with cramped spacing against a Wizards starting lineup that has clamped down at a top-five level this season.
• Game 1 @WAS: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 16 (TNT)
• Game 2 @WAS: 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday, April 19 (NBA TV)
• Game 3 @ATL: 5:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22 (TNT)
• Game 4 @ATL: 8 p.m. ET, Monday, April 24 (TNT)
• Game 5 @WAS: TBD, Wednesday, April 26 (TBD)*
• Game 6 @ATL: TBD, Friday, April 28 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @WAS: TBD, Sunday, April 30 (TBD)*
No. 3 Toronto Raptors (51-31) vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks (42-40)
The Raptors won five fewer games this year than they did during their franchise-best 2015-16 campaign, but they might be just as well positioned for another run to the conference finals — if not better equipped this time around. Toronto’s All-Star backcourt is back in full force, with triggerman Kyle Lowry returning before the end of the regular season to pair with midrange marauder DeMar DeRozan in one of the league’s most dynamic guard pairings. While the Raptors’ offense cooled a bit over the course of the season after its historically potent start, its formerly flagging defense has grown much more formidable of late, thanks in part to the trade-deadline additions of shot-swatting stretch power forward Serge Ibaka and pitbull swingman P.J. Tucker, two veterans who have helped put a snarl into a Toronto defense that has ranked fourth in the NBA in points allowed per possession since the All-Star break.
The task facing that revamped and reloaded Raptors defense? Figure out how to slow down Milwaukee’s evolutionary monster, “The Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The 6-foot-11 do-everything destroyer did everything from running point to protecting the rim for the Bucks this season, becoming the first player in NBA history to finish in the league’s top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Still just 22 years old, Antetokounmpo emerged as one of the league’s premier matchup nightmares this season, and got some help down the stretch from returning swingman Khris Middleton and Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon to help turn Milwaukee’s season around in a whirlwind March that made the Bucks the team nobody wanted to play in the first round. If Giannis plays to his potential — read: if he’s clearly the best player on the floor in this series — the Bucks could have a chance to pull the upset and reach Round 2 for the first time since 2001.
• Game 1 @TOR: 5:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 15 (ESPN)
• Game 2 @TOR: 7 p.m. ET, Tuesday, April 18 (NBA TV)
• Game 3 @MIL: 8 p.m. ET, Thursday, April 20 (NBA TV)
• Game 4 @MIL: 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22 (TNT)
• Game 5 @TOR: 7 p.m. ET, Monday, April 24 (NBA TV)*
• Game 6 @MIL: TBD, Thursday, April 27 (TBD)*
• Game 7 @TOR: TBD, Saturday, April 29 (TBD)*
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers (42-40)
After leading the East for most of the season, the defending NBA champions slid down the stretch. Cleveland went 12-15 after the All-Star break and lost its final four games — the final two of which came with superstars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving resting — to drop from the top line in the Eastern bracket to the No. 2 spot.
The Cavs clearly feel confident that they can go into anybody’s gym and win in the postseason; lest we forget, this is a team that has gone 11-3 on the road in the Eastern Conference playoffs over the past two postseasons, and that won two games at Oracle Arena in the 2016 Finals, including Game 7. And you can understand that, considering they still have LeBron freakin’ James. Still, given how much Cleveland has struggled to stop anybody of late — only the Los Angeles Lakers allowed more points per possession after the All-Star break — you wonder whether they’re playing with fire by adopting a somewhat lackadaisical pose entering the playoffs and banking on flipping the switch when the bright lights come on.
Their first opponent in the playoff spotlight will be the division rival Pacers, who surged to the finish line with five straight wins and clinched their playoff berth on the final night of the season. Paul George ended the campaign on an absolute tear, averaging 29.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game over his final 15 outings, shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range to lead the Indiana offense. After a disappointing spell late in the season, the Pacers found a rhythm and a spark after bringing back prodigal guard Lance Stephenson, who has added defensive toughness and supplementary playmaking off the bench and helped an Indy squad that had seemed somewhat swaggerless for much of the season to rediscover the edge that had once propelled the Pacers to consecutive Eastern Conference finals.
|Kevin Durant’s back from his knee sprain in time for Round 1 against Portland. (AP)|
2017 NBA Playoffs: Key dates, schedule, matchups and news
Are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors on a collision course for their third straight NBA Finals showdown, or is an upset brewing along the way? We've got you covered for each series all postseason long.
April 15: First round begins
May 1: Conference semifinals begin
May 16: Conference Finals begin (could move to May 14 or 15)
May 16: NBA draft lottery
June 1: NBA Finals begin