With just two of the higher-seeded teams in the lead in the eight first-round series, the NBA playoffs are off to a great start.
I'm inclined to believe the unpredictable start is a trend more than it is an aberration. I have several teams locked in to advance further in these playoffs than their seeding suggests.
In case you need to get caught up on the standings, here is a live bracket.
Portland Trail Blazers, No. 5 Seed
The Portland Trail Blazers won a thriller in Houston in Game 1. They took the Houston Rockets to overtime and emerged with a 122-120 win. It was an impressive performance on the road for a team that doesn't boast a lot of playoff experience.
LaMarcus Aldridge was unstoppable. He went for 46 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks, but he wasn't a one-man army. If it was just Aldridge leading the way, the Blazers would be in trouble against the talented Rockets.
With his length and shooting, Aldridge is an impossible matchup, but the Rockets have the bodies to make it tough for him to get into the paint. This is where 23-year-old point guard Damian Lillard comes in.
The rising star put up 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his first taste of playoff action. The two put on an historically great performance, as the Elias Sports Bureau (via SportsCenter) points out:
Obviously, those are strong numbers for Lillard, but his value goes beyond that.
Lillard is poised beyond his years and gives Portland a steady hand in big moments. He is obviously not overwhelmed by the stage. Lillard said, per CBS Sports' Royce Young:
I've said it all along, I'm just going to be myself. I'm not going to try and do too much. But I'm going to be aggressive. I came out and just played aggressive and let the game come to me and played in the flow and trusted the game would work out.
He is also fearless and aggressive. Lillard dumped in 10 points from the line because he continually looked to work the ball in the paint.
This helps open up things for Aldridge and gives the Blazers a foundation for consistent success, and with Patrick Beverley suffering a knee sprain in the opener, it's not like the Rockets' defense on Lillard is going to get better.
Now, the Rockets have the firepower to score on the Blazers' vulnerable defense, and this is going to be a great series, but they won't be able to do so with the consistency of the Blazers.
The Blazers would potentially face the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Their journey would end at that point, but this up-and-coming team will make its statement in the first round.
Washington Wizards, No. 5 Seed
The Washington Wizards got a favorable path in these playoffs. Just ask ESPN's Bill Simmons. Here are his thoughts on the Wizards, as provided by Scott Allen of the Washington Post:
I feel like they would go into round two against Indiana and believe that they could win that series and go to the conference finals. In my opinion, that’s this year’s threat to become the random Memphis that gets into the conference finals and everyone’s just confused. Like: 'Wow, Washington’s in the conference finals. What just happened?'
It makes sense. We'll get to the Wizards in a second, but look at their opponents first. They have the overachieving Chicago Bulls in the first round. Chicago has had an admirable season while claiming the fourth seed in the East, but this team really misses the services of injured point guard Derrick Rose in the postseason. The Wizards lead that series 2-0, and it isn't that big of a surprise.
The Indiana Pacers loom as a potential matchup in the second round. The Pacers are the No. 1 seed, but that team has lacked consistency and cohesion down the closing stretch and into the start of the playoffs.
The Wizards will beat the Bulls, and then have a strong chance of ousting the suddenly vulnerable Pacers.
John Wall is a dynamic leader at point guard. He is surrounded by shooters, which are led by Bradley Beal. The Wizards also have an inside presence to help balance this out with Nene Hilario. Hilario is an especially bad matchup for Carlos Boozer and the Bulls.
The Wizards are a fun team to watch, and they can shoot themselves out of games as quickly as they shoot themselves into games. They will provide excitement in these playoffs and at least one upset.
Miami Heat, No. 2 Seed
This one is almost too obvious to list. With the Pacers' increasing issues, the Heat are a strong favorite in the East.
The two-time defending champions are currently leading the Charlotte Bobcats 1-0. They would face the winner of the series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets in the second round. The Nets are a possible upset contender in the first and second round.
Brooklyn swept Miami in the regular season, but that aging roster won't hold up against the Heat in a seven-game series. The Nets beat the Heat four times this season. Three were by a point and the second was in double overtime. With the Heat in playoff mode, they will turn those narrow margins into victories.
Then, in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat won't be threatened. The Wizards loom as a possibility, and that would be a fun matchup. Washington has the athletes to battle Miami, but the young Wizards can't match the Heat's swagger and they will drown in their inexperience.
Then there are the Pacers. At times this season, the Pacers have proved capable of giving the Heat everything they could handle and then some, but the Pacers have been a shell of that team down the stretch.
To outplay their seeding, the Heat have to reach the Finals. That is a solid bet.
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