NBA Playoff Bracket Round-by-Round Predictions

Cleveland conceded the top spot in the East by resting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving the final two games of the season, which means it's Finals or bust to justify the move. Assuming Durant will return to MVP-like form for the playoffs, he's just the sort of weapon they need to go toe-to-toe with James in the NBA Finals.

No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs.

Matchup-wise, all eyes will be on the sibling rivalry between Marc Gasol, now with the Grizzlies, and Pau Gasol, who once starred in Memphis but has lately taken refuge in San Antonio's second unit.

Atlanta reached the playoffs with one of the NBA's best defenses, while Washington can score with just about any team in the East.

Predicting the Blazers to beat the Warriors in six games, Damian Lillard is probably the only person picking Portland to upset Golden State.

Using Nate Silver's 2016-17 NBA Predictions, a model that rates each team and then projects how the regular season and playoffs will play out, we can get a better sense of which teams are the true championship contenders.

Forget the San Antonio Spurs' first-round sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies from last spring-or any of the three other postseason meetings between these two teams, for that matter.

As the 2017 National Basketball Association playoffs bracket shows (image below), first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics vs.

Specifically, Bing believes that the Golden State Warriors will avenge last year's defeat to win the series 4-1 and regain the title.

Both teams have a good chance to win this series, considering they finished the regular season with identical records.

Instead, the Klaw will be free to feast on Mike Conley defensively and send the Spurs into the second round without much more of a fight than did last year's threadbare bunch. Los Angeles went 3-1 against the Jazz with all three wins coming by 13 points or more, proving they can win at Utah's slower pace.

No. 3 Houston Rockets vs.

Can anyone make waves in the West against Golden State?

Sporting News reported similar odds on Thursday night: the Warriors (5-11 odds, or bet $5 to win $11), Cavs (19-5) and Spurs (9-1) make up the top tier. But Cleveland's three straight losses at the end of the regular season came after the Cavaliers blew out the Celtics in Beantown to prove they are capable when the playoffs begin next week.

Durant also averaged 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game while playing the sort of defense that nearly helped the Thunder upset the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

It's also noteworthy that two MVP frontrunners will collide in the first round: Rockets guard James Harden and Thunder point guard - and triple-double machine - Russell Westbrook. Westbrook led the league in scoring and is the first player to average a triple double in 55 years. The Cavs came from 3-1 down past year largely because Stephen Curry played hurt in the Finals.

  • Joanne Flowers