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NBA Playoffs 2018: Schedule Guide, Standings and Predictions for Round 1 Results

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 14, 2018

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left drives past Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 108-99. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The NBA's 82-game marathon is over. Now, the four-round distance run begins.

The postseason—in some eyes, the real season—runs rampant with compelling storylines, dominant stars and, perhaps, a wider championship field than expected.

The Golden State Warriors still have the deepest collection of stars. The Cleveland Cavaliers still have the best player in the game. But both carry an air of vulnerability into the Big Dance, with Stephen Curry missing in action for the foreseeable future (sprained MCL) and LeBron James lacking a sidekick on the Kyrie Irving/Dwyane Wade level.

Whether that will prevent a fourth consecutive Finals clash between them is anyone's guess. For now, we'll tighten our focus to the opening round.

                 

2018 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Schedule

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards

Game 1 at Toronto: Saturday, April 14 at 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 2 at Toronto: Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. (NBA TV)

Game 3 at Washington: Friday, April 20 at 8 p.m. (ESPN 2)

Game 4 at Washington: Sunday, April 22 at 6 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Toronto: Wednesday, April 25, TBD

*Game 6 at Washington: Friday, April 27, TBD

*Game 7 at Toronto: Sunday, April 29, TBD

                  

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks

Game 1 at Boston: Sunday, April 15 at 1 p.m. (TNT)

Game 2 at Boston: Tuesday, April 17 at 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at Milwaukee: Friday, April 20 at 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4 at Milwaukee: Sunday, April 22 at 1 p.m. (ABC)

*Game 5 at Boston: Tuesday, April 24, TBD

*Game 6 at Milwaukee: Thursday, April 26, TBD

*Game 7 at Boston: Saturday, April 28, TBD

                  

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat

Game 1 at Philadelphia: Saturday, April 14 at 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 2 at Philadelphia: Monday, April 16 at 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at Miami: Thursday, April 19 at 7 p.m. (TNT)

Game 4 at Miami: Saturday, April 21 at 2:30 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Philadelphia: Tuesday, April 24, TBD

*Game 6 at Miami: Thursday, April 26, TBD

*Game 7 at Philadelphia: Saturday, April 28, TBD

                       

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers

Game 1 at Cleveland: Sunday, April 15 at 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Game 2 at Cleveland: Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at Indiana: Friday, April 20 at 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4 at Indiana: Sunday, April 22 at 8:30 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Cleveland: Wednesday, April 25, TBD

*Game 6 at Indiana: Friday, April 27, TBD

*Game 7 at Cleveland: Sunday, April 29, TBD

                          

Western Conference

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

Game 1 at Houston: Sunday, April 15 at 9 p.m. (TNT)

Game 2 at Houston: Wednesday, April 18 at 9:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at Minnesota: Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4 at Minnesota: Monday, April 23 at 8 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Houston: Wednesday, April 25, TBD

*Game 6 at Minnesota: Friday, April 27, TBD

*Game 7 at Houston: Sunday, April 29, TBD

                     

No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

Game 1 at Golden State: Saturday, April 14 at 3 p.m. (ABC)

Game 2 at Golden State: Monday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at San Antonio: Thursday, April 19 at 9:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 4 at San Antonio: Sunday, April 22 at 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

*Game 5 at Golden State: Tuesday, April 24, TBD

*Game 6 at San Antonio: Thursday, April 26, TBD

*Game 7 at Golden State: Saturday, April 28, TBD

                          

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans

Game 1 at Portland: Saturday, April 14 at 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 2 at Portland: Tuesday, April 17 at 10:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3 at New Orleans: Thursday, April 19 at 9 p.m. (NBA TV)

Game 4 at New Orleans: Saturday, April 21 at 5 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Portland: Tuesday, April 24, TBD

*Game 6 at New Orleans: Thursday, April 26, TBD

*Game 7 at Portland: Saturday, April 28

            

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Game 1 at Oklahoma City: Sunday, April 15 at 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 2 at Oklahoma City: Wednesday, April 18 at 8 p.m. (NBA TV)

Game 3 at Utah: Saturday, April 21 at 10 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4 at Utah: Monday, April 23 at 10:30 p.m. (TNT)

*Game 5 at Oklahoma City: Wednesday, April 25, TBD

*Game 6 at Utah: Friday, April 27, TBD

*Game 7 at Oklahoma City: Sunday, April 29

All times are eastern

*If necessary

                  

Bracket Standings and Predictions

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Toronto Raptors (59-23) vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards (43-49)

Predicted Winner: Toronto Raptors

No. 2 Boston Celtics (55-27) vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks (44-38)

Predicted Winner: Boston Celtics

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers (52-30) vs. No. 6 Miami Heat (44-38)

Predicted Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32) vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers (48-34)

Predicted Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers

                  

Western Conference

No. 1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)

Predicted Winner: Houston Rockets

No. 2 Golden State Warriors (58-24) vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs (47-35)

Predicted Winner: Golden State Warriors

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers (49-33) vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans (48-34)

Predicted Winner: New Orleans Pelicans

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz (48-34)

Predicted Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

                    

Two Series to Watch

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 8: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against the Miami Heat  on March 8, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using t
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Come for the Joel Embiid-Hassan Whiteside beef, stay for the playoff debut of the red-hot Process.

The Philadelphia 76ers last lost on March 13, a feat made even more remarkable by the fact Joel Embiid (orbital bone fracture) hasn't suited up since March 28.

Even without Embiid (who's been ruled out for Game 1), Philly boasts an impressive roster. Ben Simmons is a nightly triple-double threat and perhaps the Rookie of the Year favorite. J.J. Redick, Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli are flamethrowers from three. Robert Covington is one of the league's top three-and-D wings. And last summer's top pick, Markelle Fultz, triple-dipped in the series finale.

The Sixers own the league's best net rating in 2018 (plus-9.5), while their season-long efficiency rankings are third on defense and 11th on offense. They've been maturing at a rapid rate, and it'll be fascinating to see if that can carry over into their first taste of playoff hoops.

"There's something about watching an exciting young team make its maiden voyage into the tumultuous waters of the postseason," ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz wrote. " ... The Sixers have been building for this moment for years, and they not only have the energy of youth but also the momentum of a 16-game winning streak propelling them into the series."

The Miami Heat should be a good first test. They're light on stars and mediocre in efficiency (17th), but this veteran core is masterfully coached by Erik Spoelstra. Miami will look to control tempo and rely on its seventh-ranked defense to keep the contests close. If the Heat get the engaged Whiteside for this series, they'll have one of the better defensive options to throw at Embiid.

Still, this is a series the Sixers should win. They have more on-paper talent and better on-court success. The Heat don't back down from anyone—they took down Philly twice in the regular season—but their lack of a go-to scorer could be their undoing against these up-and-coming Sixers.

Prediction: 76ers in five

                       

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 23: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball against the Utah Jazz on December 23, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

This has seven-game potential with the most evenly matched teams locking horns in the first round. They not only finished with identical records, they also occupied two of the top eight spots in efficiency (Utah was fifth, Oklahoma City ended eighth).

The Thunder have better two-way balance, ranking 10th on both offense and defense. But the Jazz's defense is the elite unit in this matchup, ranked second on the season and first by a country mile in the second half.

Rudy Gobert, Salt Lake City's backline anchor, boasts compelling credentials for Defensive Player of the Year.

Utah Jazz @utahjazz

"I think it's an empirical fact, frankly.” -Quin Snyder We think so too, Coach. #RudyDPOY https://t.co/rEGSPFl7Du

OKC looks less likely to have a player snag an individual award, which sounds absurd given the year Russell Westbrook just had.

Sure, his perceived value was lessened by the arrivals of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And no, the Thunder didn't reach their most ambitious preseason hopes.

But the reigning MVP made history for the second consecutive season, this time while also picking up his first career assists crown.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Westbrook does it again 😱 https://t.co/68ziWIYoQi

While Gobert and Westbrook don't play the same position, their head-to-head encounters could be critical to this series. Westbrook's drives are the backbone of OKC's offense—no one attacks more off the bounce—but the sight of Gobert lurking near the rim can act like a "road closed" sign.

Other series keys are nearly too numerous to count.

Can the Thunder find fast-break opportunities against the NBA's stingiest transition defense? Will Donovan Mitchell—the first rookie to pace a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony—be bothered by the bright lights? Does Utah have enough secondary shot-creators? How large will Andre Roberson's absence loom over this series?

There are enough strengths and weaknesses on both sides to paint this as a coin flip. But OKC gets the slight nod for having superior star power, more scoring threats and home-court advantage.

Prediction: Thunder in seven

                  

Statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.

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