By ELENA DE ALFREDO
The 2017 NBA playoff games began Saturday, April 15 with the reigning NBA Champions No. 2 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers hosting the No. 7 seeded Indiana Pacers at 3 p.m.
The first-game playoff rounds continued Sunday, April 16 with the three-time Western Conference regular season champions Golden State Warriors as a favorite to return to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.
The East playoff match ups were up in the air until the last regular season game as the Pacers and the Bulls won on Wednesday, April 12, eliminating the Heat from the playoff battle. So, here are the standings and matchups for the Eastern Conference:
- No. 1 Boston Celtics (53-29) vs. No. 8 Chicago Bulls (41-41).
The Boston Celtics are led by point guard Isaiah Thomas with 28.9 points per game (ppg) and 5.9 assists per game (apg), who is also third in point per game in the NBA. The Celtics haven’t entered the playoff round as a No. 1 seed since the 2007-2008 season where they finished with a 66-16 record.
The Chicago Bulls are led by Jimmy Butler with 23.9 ppg followed by guard Dwyane Wade with 18.3 ppg. The experience under Wade’s belt, who at the age of 35 holds three NBA championship titles and has played 14 years in the NBA along with a total of 11 NBA playoffs, it is an advantage that the Bulls would try to make the most out of it.
- No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers (42-40).
The reigning NBA Champions Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled the last 26 games of their regular season, having a 13-13 record. However, small forward LeBron James is leading the team with 26.4 ppg and 8.7 apg respectively, along with 8.6 rebounds per game (rpg). Point guard Kyrie Irving is following him with 25.2 ppg and 5.8 apg. Even though the Cavaliers ended up as second-seeded they are still the heavy favorites to return to the NBA Finals.
The Indiana Pacers star small forward Paul George averaged 23.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 3.3 apg, followed by the new-signed point guard Jeff Teague who averaged 15.3 ppg and team-leading 7.8 apg. The Pacers are looking to advance to the second playoff round for the first time in three years.
- No. 3 Toronto Raptors (51-31) vs. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks (42-40).
The Raptors duo guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry are looking to get their team back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row. DeRozan leads the team with 27.3 ppg and he is also on the top-10 NBA scoring list while Lowry follows him with 22.4 ppg. Likewise, Toronto added center Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic to strengthen their lineup and fight for a spot in the next round.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, forward-guard Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the team in all categories with 22.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 5.4 apg. Antetokounmpo is also the first player in the NBA history to finish in the top 20 in total points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks. The Bucks lost a very important piece to their puzzle as forward Jabari Parker torn his ACL in the game played against Phoenix on Dec. 15.
- No. 4 Washington Wizards (49-33) vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (43-39).
The Washington Wizards reach the playoff stage recording their best season winning 49 games total since the 1978-79 season when they won 54 games total. The Wizards are led by all-star guard John Wall with 23.1 ppg and team-leading 10.7 apg, along with Bradley Beal who averaged 23.1 ppg and 3.5 apg.
For the Atlanta Hawks, center Dwight Howard, Atlanta native, was signed in the off season to take his hometown team back to the Eastern Conference Finals as their appearance was in 2015. Four time all-star forward Paul Millsap averages team-best 18.1 ppg, followed by starting point guard Dennis Schroder with 17.9 ppg. Likewise, Dwight Howard is the top-team rebounder with 12.7 rpg.
On the other side, the West playoff head-to-head seeds were set besides the Clippers and Jazz standings who had the same record 51-31. The court advantage and the fourth seed went to the Clippers as they finished 2-1 in regular season against the Utah Jazz. Here are the standings for the Western conference:
- No. 1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers (41-41).
The revamped Golden State Warriors are looking to get back to the finals for a third straight season. Forward Kevin Durant, who was added in the offseason, is looking to bring the second championship title to Oakland in three years. All-star and two-time MVP Point guard Steph Curry leads in points with 25.3, followed closely by Durant with 25.1 ppg and guard Klay Thompson with 22.3 ppg. The Warriors are anchored by forward Draymond Green who is Defensive Player of the Year candidate as he is leading the team in steals with 2.1 and second in rebounds per game with 7.9.
The Blazers tandem of point guard Damian Lillard and guard CJ McCollum are the highest scoring backcourt in the NBA as they combine 50 points per game. Lillard is the team-leader in points and assists per game with 27 and 5.9 respectively. However, Portland lost their center Jusuf Nurkic as he fractured his right leg. Nurkic’s last full regular season game was against Denver Nuggets on March 28 where he set a new career-high with 33 points along with 16 rebounds.
- No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (43-39).
All-star reigning Defensive Player of the Year forward Kawhi Leonard is looking to lead the team to the finals after last year’s loss against the Thunder in the second round. Leonard averaged 25.5 ppg and 1.8 steals per game during the regular season. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is another offensive key for the Spurs as he averaged 17.3 ppg. Likewise, center Pau Gasol was added to the rest at the beginning of the year and he is the third-leading scorer of the team with 12.4 and team-first 7.8 rpg.
Grizzlies starting point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol are leading the team in points per game with 20.5 ppg and 19.5 ppg. This would be the seventh straight year that the Grizzlies make the playoff stage, while this would be the fourth time facing the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA playoffs. Memphis is looking to avenge last year’s swept to advance to the next round.
- No. 3 Houston Rockets (55-27) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma Thunder (47-35).
All-star guard James Harden averaged team-first 29.1 ppg and who also leads the NBA in assists per game with 11.2 is looking to win his first championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Both guards Lou Williams and Eric Gordon are Six Men of the Year award candidates are a good spark for the high-powered offense, making the Rockets the NBA leading team in threes made.
NBA leading scorer with 31.6 ppg, triple double single-season record holder with 42 triple doubles and MVP candidate guard Russell Westbrook has led the Thunder to their seventh appearance in the NBA playoffs since the 2009-10 season. The Thunder is seeking to earn a spot for the third year in a row in the Western Conference Finals.
- No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (51-31) vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz (51-31).
Clippers center Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul are the team leaders in scoring as they average 21.6 and 18.1 each. The Clippers are trying to have a healthy playoff round as Griffin and Paul both sustained injuries during last year’s first round against the Blazers.
No. 5 seeded Utah Jazz has made the playoffs for the first time since the season 2011-
- The Jazz are led by forward Gordon Hayward with 21.9 ppg and starting point guard George Hill with 16.9 ppg. Likewise, center Rudy Gobert is the fourth in the NBA rebounding category with 12.8 rpg and NBA block-leader with 2.6 blocks per game (bpg).
Here are the results from game one on April 15:
Cavaliers 109 – Pacers 108.
Bucks 97 – Raptors 83
Spurs 111- Grizzlies 82
Jazz 97 – Clippers 95
Here are the results from game one on April 16:
Wizards 114- Hawks 107
Golden State 121- Trail Blazers 109
Celtics 102 – Bulls 106
Rockets 87 – Houston 118