Not all playoff series are created equal, and this year is no exception.
The Western Conference, once again, looks like a bloodbath. On the other half of the bracket we have the Eastern Conference, which, in comparison to the West, looks like a children’s birthday party with balloons and a bounce house and okay fine maybe that sounds more fun than a bloodbath but that isn’t what we’re talking about right now.
Anyways, back to basketball. There’s going to be an awful lot of basketball over the next few weeks, and it’s vital that you know how to prioritize what games to watch and what games it’s okay to skip on a daily basis. Here’s the definitive playoff series watchability rankings, from worst to first.
8) #1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #8 Brooklyn Nets
This is way more about the Nets than it is about the Hawks. Atlanta had a phenomenal regular season, entering the playoffs as only one of two teams with 60 regular-season wins. Brooklyn, meanwhile, enters the postseason six games under .500 and was in serious danger of dropping the regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic to miss the playoffs until they made a run in the fourth quarter. The Hawks went 4-0 against the Nets in the regular season, and I see little reason to believe that’ll be any different in the playoffs. The Hawks will be fun to watch, but this series shouldn’t be close.
7) #3 Chicago Bulls vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bulls went 3-1 against the Bucks in the regular season, with the lone loss coming just two weeks ago in a game where the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and got basically nothing out of Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic. Rose looks like he’ll be good to go for Round 1 which, under normal circumstances, would be must-see TV, but his health is still in question. Add that to the fact that this series could end in five games and I’m just not going to make a point of watching these teams go at it. If you need to justify watching these squads to yourself, I’d suggest starting your case with Giannis Antetokounmpo and try and figure it out from there.
6) #2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #7 Boston Celtics
Surprise! Another Eastern Conference series. This series is just oozing individual talent. LeBron James is appointment viewing in the playoffs. We have no idea what Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas are capable of in the postseason, but they’re sure to produce more than their share of highlights. This series will last five games at the most (and I’d be a little surprised if it made it that far, honestly), but any of those three could explode at any moment, which would certainly be worth watching.
5) #4 Toronto Raptors vs. #5 Washington Wizards
I can’t believe we live in a world where the four worst series to watch all take place in the Eastern Conference. Do something about this, NBA.
As for the series at hand, this looks like the one series that’ll actually be competitive in the Eastern Conference. Neither team is exactly in top form right now, but this one could legitimately go seven games, and a Game 7 in Toronto against John Wall and Bradley Beal sounds like an awful lot of fun to me.
4) #2 Houston Rockets vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
Our first Western Conferences series! Even as the injuries piled up for the Rockets this season, they never seemed to miss a beat. Now, entering the postseason, they have Dwight Howard back and James Harden still cooking, and Houston looks like a potential force as the second seed. Dallas, meanwhile, went just 14-13 after the All-Star break, which, extrapolated over a full season, would have left them on the outside looking in to the playoffs. This series will certainly have it’s fun moments and could turn out to be one of the more aesthetically pleasing series, but Houston should roll when push comes to shove. Oh, and for those of you who love narratives, you have Chandler Parsons against his former team. And will Playoff Rondo show up? So much drama!
3) #4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a giant elephant in the room when anybody talks about the Grizzlies right now – are they healthy? Mike Conley didn’t play Wednesday night and there’s “no timetable for his return.” The exact same is true of Tony Allen. Memphis had no problem handling the Pacers in the regular-season finale, but the Grizzlies are facing a whole different animal in LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and the Blazers, although Portland is hurting as well. Marc Gasol and ZBo should be enough to keep this competitive, but if Memphis winds up being without Conley and Allen, things could get ugly.
2) #1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans
There isn’t a more fun player to watch in the NBA than Stephen Curry. You could make a case for a variety of players to come after Curry, and Anthony Davis is certainly one of those players. This series is another one that probably won’t go more than five games, but the games are going to be incredibly entertaining when they do happen. The Pelicans are good enough to keep these games close, which means we should get plenty of awesome individual moments in an otherwise short series.
1) #3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs
I can’t even find the words to explain how awesome this series should be. These are arguably the two hottest teams in the NBA entering the playoffs, and the talent level is through the roof. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Pop, Doc … Oh my. In the first round! That’s insane. And amazing. The two teams split the season series at two games apiece, and I see no reason for the playoff series to be any different. This one could easily go seven games, and if it does, it could wind up being the best series of the entire postseason.