2022 Stanley Cup Finals

The finals matchup is set. Both Colorado and Tampa Bay are stacked with stars, quality depth, defense and offense. Their power-plays and penalty kills are some of the best since playoffs began. Whoever wins the finals deserves the accolades and label of champion. Without further delay, it’s time to break down which team has the best chance of winning the finals and taking home both the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup.

#5 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #1 Colorado Avalanche

Roster depth, brilliant captains, best defensemen remaining, prolific passing, scoring and shot-blocking. When we think of Colorado and Tampa Bay, this is what comes to mind. Coaches Jon Cooper and Jared Bednar have stayed calm and poised, guiding their teams series after series. Many fans and analysts believe this is the best Cup finals matchup in over a decade. All the action and quality play shown nationally prove it’s hard to disagree.

Two of the league’s fastest scoring and puck-handling stars in Nikita Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon face off in a championship series even casual viewers will remember for a long time.

The two time reigning champion Lightning should get a lineup boost especially on the power-play with the return of Brayden Point sometime this series. Despite his absence since round one’s game seven against Toronto, Tampa’s power-play stayed consistent and alert. Physical, gritty play generated from Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos and Pat Maroon propel the Lightning to take series leads, especially when game fives roll around. On defense and the penalty-kill, whenever elite defender Victor Hedman struggles, Ryan McDonagh, Jan Rutta, Erik Cernak, Zach Bogosian and Mikhail Sergachev step up to shot block and clog passing lanes.

Colorado swept Nashville and Edmonton, two quality teams a good part of the NHL had fits trying to contain. Despite a controversial series against the Blues, the Avalanche doubled down and outworked coach Craig Berube’s team. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar stepped up on both offense and defense. When Darcy Kuemper couldn’t play, Pavel Francouz filled in well and closed out two series in sweeps. Pesky star Nazem Kadri may not be available to play in the series, and that might determine how physical Colorado plays in the first three games.

Series deciding matchup: Nikita Kucherov v. Cale Makar

Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar locked down Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid as best he could. The result was a four game sweep. Kucherov is much more talented, physical and ahead in his career than McDavid, adding new dimensions to his game. The younger Makar (along with Devon Toews) will have his hands full with the speedy superstar who can pass and launch the puck at any spot on the ice. Whoever wins this head-to-head gives their team the best chance of pushing the opposition around to win the series.

Verdict: This series reminds me of Jon Cooper’s Tampa Bay team that went to the finals v. Chicago in 2015: high scoring, lots of speed and quality passing, and solid defense. Injuries in net stalled Tampa’s rhythm, causing coach Cooper to second guess who to start in net for games three, four and six. They were also relieved to get past the second round of the playoffs around that time. There’s a lot of the same structure in Colorado. Unfortunately for them the Lightning played stronger teams in the eastern conference. Tampa Bay’s obsession and want to win another title will establish them as the first dynasty of the 21st century.

Prediction: The Tampa Bay Lightning win the Conn Smythe and Lord Stanley’s Cup 4-2

Conference finals picks: 2-0
Overall Playoffs Picks: 9-5

2022 NBA Finals Championship Prediction

What an exciting finals matchup in the league’s 75th year of existence. Both the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors had phenomenal regular seasons and even better playoff runs. Boston routed Brooklyn, out-dueled Milwaukee and edged out Miami. There was either a sweep or a full seven game series. The Warriors broke down Denver, Memphis and Dallas teams highlighted by stars who finished their seasons with injuries or gasping for air. That’s why whoever loses this series could feel a low unlike any other. It’s time to break down which team has the best chance of winning not just another championship, but raising a banner on a notable and memorable NBA season.

#2 Boston Celtics v. #3 Golden State Warriors

The Warriors’ Stephen Curry won the first ever western conference finals MVP award. He anchors Golden State on their first finals run without Kevin Durant since 2016.

There’s a lot to love about Golden State this year. The trio of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green came back at full health entering the playoffs. Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole played lights-out all three rounds. Additional depth play from Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. solidify a top defensive unit and high scoring juggernaut.

The Celtics took advantage of every mismatch and outplayed every top opponent in the east. They bullied stars in every series. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford are a fabulous four player set who take on and shut down any center or guard. Robert Williams, Daniel Theis and Payton Pritchard helped slow down forwards and offensive threats when playing major minutes. While Boston was pushed to the max their last two series, they stepped up and played their best basketball.

Verdict: This is a toss-up series. Both teams have every box checked and can convince any casual to hardcore basketball fan they can win. Yet the Warriors have some advantages Boston does not. Golden State is more seasoned, more experienced, and have more depth and offensive firepower the Celtics have yet to face in a full series. Ime Udoka hasn’t coached a team to the finals like Steve Kerr has. While the series will be fun, it won’t be surprising if the Warriors smother Boston the longer the series goes.

Prediction: Warriors win series and the NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy 4-1

2022 NBA Playoff Picks Record: 10-4

2022 NHL Eastern Conference Finals Prediction

We’re here at last. The best two teams in the east made it to the conference finals. On one side, the well designed, balanced and surprising New York Rangers. Led by coach Gerard Gallant, Vezina candidate Igor Shesterkin and veteran Chris Kreider, the Rangers rallied from multiple two game deficits to win both full seven game series in thrilling fashion. On the other side, back-to-back and current champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Captain Steven Stamkos and last year’s Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy have played some of their best hockey this playoffs. Both teams will have their hands full, and many believe whoever wins this series is the favorite to win the championship. Time to break down who has the best chance to not just win the eastern conference, but possibly the Stanley Cup.

#4 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #3 New York Rangers

Two of the postseason’s most pivotal players have been New York’s Mika Zibanejad and Tampa Bays Steven Stamkos. Without their scoring prowess and high IQ plays, both teams aren’t in the conference finals.

New York and Tampa Bay have excellent coaches, Vezina and Conn Smythe caliber goaltenders, important scorers and elite playmakers. The Rangers won all three of the regular season matchups against Tampa, two by two goals or more. Center Brayden Point may play the series starting game three thanks to the Lightning’s quick sweep of the Florida Panthers. Tampa’s had at least nine days of rest while New York will again play every other day in a seven game series (minus a two day break if they can force a game seven). The Rangers defense got better the more they played a series, and gradually took over previous rounds against Pittsburgh and Carolina.

Series deciding matchup: The Kid Line of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere has to beat Tampa’s third line of Nick Paul, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare/Corey Perry and Brandon Hagel. Most of the third line contributors are young and haven’t played past four seasons in the NHL. All of them will be tasked with major minutes and contributing not just in scoring but in momentum swings, blocked shots and physical defensive play.

Verdict: New York seems to play better when they have a series deficit versus their opponents. However they’ll be playing against the most qualified opponent who’s proven to win critical games both on the road and at home. The Lightning’s hungry new additions of Perry, Paul, Bellemare and of course Andre Vasilevskiy’s elite play after a loss or in a game seven doesn’t give the Rangers many options to string consecutive wins together. Tampa doesn’t like to dither with teams when they lead two games in a series.

Prediction: Lightning win series 4-2

Eastern conference playoff predictions after two rounds: 5-1

2022 NHL Western Conference Finals Prediction

The final two teams out west accomplished what many analysts and fans doubted: getting past the second round of the playoffs. There’s excitement over a Connor McDavid v. Nathan MacKinnon conference finals. Both are top skill players who score and accumulate points in any possible ways. Yet both teams are inexperienced this far in the postseason. It’s time to break down which team has the best shot of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

#5 Edmonton Oilers v. #1 Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s Nazem Kadri (left) decided last series by taking out Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington early. Besides controversial antics, Kadri’s scoring and pestering play are a big reason the Avalanche finally made it out of round two.

On paper there are many similarities between the Oilers and Avalanche that propelled both teams to the conference finals. Their starting goaltenders at one time played for Arizona, they score a lot of goals, they’re menacing on the power-play, they’re have great first lines, and both added veteran experience at the trade deadline.

On film Colorado’s the superior team. The Avalanche’s depth strengthens on the third line where J.T. Compher, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Andre Burakovsky flip games and score in needed times. Even the third line defensive pairing of Jack Johnson and Josh Manson can outplay and scrap better than Edmonton’s third line of Tyson Barrie and Brett Kulak.

The deciding factor is fluidity. The Avalanche can be a speedy, high-octane offense or play gritty and punishing. The Oilers aren’t at the dual threat stage yet, but Edmonton’s fans and spectators can be happy the team’s finally in the desired direction.

Prediction: Avalanche wins series 4-1

Western conference playoff predictions: 2-4

2022 NHL Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

The NHL’s western conference was a roller coaster. A team from California made it back to the playoffs, Nashville fell to the eighth seed in their season finale against the Arizona Coyotes and the pleasant surprises of Dallas and Calgary should make this a fun playoffs to remember. Only four teams advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance to move on.

#6 Los Angeles Kings v. #5 Edmonton Oilers

Captains Anze Kopitar (11, black) and Connor McDavid (97, white) have more pressure than most teams because of the lack of playoff series wins.

Let’s begin the first round in the west with an easy series matchup. Los Angeles and Edmonton locked into the fifth and sixth spot a week before the regular season ended. The Oilers won all but one regular season game against the Kings. One of the wins was by three goals.

While Edmonton’s duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl faced criticism the past two years for quick first round exits, they were to veteran playoff teams. There are some former champions on this rejuvenated Los Angeles squad, but not the same amount Chicago had, nor is there the veteran depth or better coaching Winnipeg boasted. Goaltending is more stable up north with Mike Smith having a lights-out spring and the Oiler defense playing better. The Kings won’t have Drew Doughty, a critical dual player who defends well and helps the offense find rhythm.

Prediction: Oilers win series 4-1

#8 Nashville Predators v. #1 Colorado Avalanche

Matt Duchene (95) is having a career year which will be tested against the second best team in the NHL.

Another simple matchup. Had the Predators won against Arizona the last game of their regular season, this would be a different opponent. Nashville would be the one in Calgary and the Dallas Stars in Colorado. Avalanche fans can breathe relief knowing the superior Stars team won’t be the opponent in round one.

A decisive factor in this series is the injury to Predators goalie Juuse Saros. The ankle sprain sustained almost two weeks ago means backup David Rittich gets the start. Nashville’s struggled on defense since Saros’ injury, and Colorado will swarm and take advantage of the change all series.

While first in the league in most penalty minutes, once the Predators dropped out of the top ten in both goals for and goals against, the team cratered. It’s disappointing because Nashville is a team that could go further with Roman Josi, Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg having career years.

Prediction: Avalanche win series 4-1

#7 Dallas Stars v. #2 Calgary Flames

Matthew Tkachuk (19) is the team’s leading scorer on the power-play. Dallas must be careful to not commit penalties against the Flames.

Maybe the most underrated series, coaches Daryl Sutter and Rick Bowness will have their hands full against deep offenses and solid defenses. This could be similar to the 2020 bubble series where both teams went on runs and the winner scored half a dozen goals in order to win round one.

A lot’s changed in two years. Calgary’s revamped in net while Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau scored 40+ goals each this season. The Flames power-play is top three in the league and has to score knowing Dallas committed the least penalty minutes.

Dallas has one 40 goal scorer in Jason Robertson while Roope Hintz and the ageless wonder Joe Pavelski aren’t far behind. The trio is why Dallas clinched a playoff berth despite a subpar performance by the first line. A plus for the Stars is the addition of Scott Wedgewood in net, who should start the series because Jake Oettinger plays hot and cold.

These two teams played each other three times in the regular season and all three were close. Dallas has more veterans and went through a rougher stretch than Calgary this season. While both head coaches have decades of experience, the veteran Stars may have one long run left.

Upset prediction in the first round: Dallas wins series 4-2

#4 St. Louis Blues v. #3 Minnesota Wild

I personally believe whoever wins this series represents the western conference in the Stanley Cup championship. They’re complete teams that are difficult to beat four times out of seven. Both Calgary and Colorado don’t have the experience in later rounds nor the talent these two have.

All three games between Minnesota and St. Louis were fiery and close. Expect more of that in their first round matchup.

Get ready for one of the best series we’ll see this postseason. The goalie tandems of Ville Husso/Jordan Binnington and Marc-Andre Fleury/Cam Talbot will display why Minnesota and St. Louis were top four teams in the west. Forwards and centers Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Hartman, Kirill Kaprizov and Nick Bjugstad ensure depth must step up for either to advance. Don’t be surprised if both team’s depth in every position makes this a long series.

St. Louis barely winning the regular season series sweep adds some bias. However they faced Wild goaltender Cam Talbot in all three games. They’ve yet to play against Fleury and a better defense anchored by Jared Spurgeon and Jared Brodin. The Blues could be in trouble if both Husso and Binnington crack under pressure in the first two games.

Prediction: Wild win series 4-2

Regular season playoff picks record: 3-6

2022 NHL Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

That was easier than expected. All eight teams wrapped up clinching spots at the end of March. Columbus and Detroit had good runs until Boston and Washington went on winning streaks. Then the big name teams acquired at least one major player by the trade deadline.

Just because all eight spots closed early, doesn’t mean the playoffs will be easy. Far from it. The east is the deepest of the two conferences. The Sunshine State, Carolina and the New York Rangers have their hands full despite being favorites. It’s time to break down which four teams have the best chance of moving on to the second round.

#8 Washington Capitals v. #1 Florida Panthers

The return of Alex Ovechkin (8, red) gives Washington a chance of advancing to the second round.

Nothing like starting off with the President’s Trophy winners. The Panthers have six scorers of 20+ goals in the regular season, one being a regular season MVP finalist. Florida lost less than five games since Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux was acquired at the trade deadline. Goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight improved after last season’s humiliating first round loss to Tampa Bay. The unit is faster and more physical. They just need to win more series.

Washington and everyone else outside the Sunshine State are relieved Alex Ovechkin will return for the playoffs. If there’s any chance for the Capitals to win the series, the league’s third place all time goal scorer will be a major reason. Goalies Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov aren’t reliable and shouldn’t be trusted against the league’s best offense. The Capitals have to win high-scoring games early in the series, or else face early elimination.

Prediction: Panthers win series 4-1

#7 Boston Bruins v. #2 Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes goalies Frederik Anderson (31, white) and Antti Raanta won the William M. Jennings trophy, awarded to the top two goaltenders in the league. Both are a reason Carolina won the Metropolitan division.

Gone are the days where the Bruins could toy with the fledgling playoff Hurricanes. Carolina’s become a big bad while Boston’s aged. Frederik Anderson’s game seven pains against the Bruins should be exorcised with a more competent defense and reliable, physical playmakers on offense.

The Bruins roster is still top four on goals allowed while eight players scored double digit goals, but Carolina was not only the best team in goals against, they were the best penalty-killing team on the ice. The Hurricanes are loaded with playmakers and their main worry could be how fast they can get Boston out of the first round to rest up and deal with division rivals.

Prediction: Hurricanes win series 4-1

#4 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #3 Toronto Maples Leafs

Good news for Toronto: no original six first round matchup. Bad news for Toronto: they draw the incumbent Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

Somewhere the hockey gods and goddesses are laughing themselves silly. Toronto finally shakes off playing an original six team in the first round of the playoffs and instead draw the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Leafs fans must be sick.

Yes, Toronto beat Tampa Bay in all but one meeting in the regular season. However the Lightning won a decisive regular season finale as if it were a playoff game. Despite some wear on the franchise stars, Tampa’s hungry for a three-peat and a dynasty, something not done since the early 1980s New York Islanders won four straight. This year’s Lightning team is just as talented if not nastier in attitude and physical play. Don’t expect the series to go all seven games.

Prediction: Lightning win series 4-1

#6 Pittsburgh Penguins v. #5 New York Rangers

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin is in the Vezina conversation this year. New York’s advancement will go as far as he can carry them.

If you had told any hockey fan or analyst this would be the most even and entertaining series of the four in the eastern conference at the beginning of the season, you’d be silenced or shoo’d away. This is the lone series out east where the predicted winner is a toss-up. Both Pittsburgh and New York have great coaches who dealt with roster issues mixed with up-and-down play throughout the season.

On paper the Rangers have more talent and depth. They’re number two in goals against and boast a 50+ goal scorer. The Penguins however hit their stride at the right time and played better than New York through major roster tooling and injuries. Both looked even in their nationally televised games against each other and won a good number in third periods. Blowouts will be rarer than in the other three.

The deciding factor is depth. New York adding Frank Vatrano (who’s been red-hot since he was traded for) ensures the series could be even after four games. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers tire Pittsburgh into a game seven.

Prediction: Rangers win series 4-3

Regular season playoff picks record: 6-2

2022 NBA Western Conference Second Round Playoff Predictions

Most of the remaining four teams in the west made their series fun and long. Dallas and Phoenix had more experience than the younger teams in New Orleans and Minnesota. The losers still earned a lot of respect even if they fell short. Golden State regained prominence and could be the team to beat in order to represent the west. Two of the remaining four will advance to the conference finals. Time to break down which of the two have the best chance to escape the second round.

#4 Dallas Mavericks v. #1 Phoenix Suns

Luka Doncic (77, left) and the Mavericks finally won a playoff series for the first time since the franchise won a championship, but they’ll be hands-full with the best team in the NBA led by Devin Booker (1, right)

The easiest matchup to break down and predict in the whole second round. Dallas won a four game series against a Utah Jazz team that bumbled and collapsed. The Mavericks led two games to one without franchise star Luka Doncic. Two states out west, Phoenix parried New Orleans and ultimately proved they were the better team despite some injuries and off-nights.

Unlike New Orleans, Dallas doesn’t have multiple options outside their franchise star. Spencer Dinwiddie, Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith compliment Doncic well, but the Suns are better coached and have the depth to counter the Mavericks.

Prediction: Suns win series 4-1

#3 Golden State Warriors v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies

Two of the best point-guards in the NBA highlight a second series in the western conference. Ja Morant (12, left) and the Grizzlies still lack the full playoff experience compared to Stephen Curry (30, right) and the Warriors

Two of professional basketball’s best teams square off in one of the best series in round two. The guard duos of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson versus Ja Morant and Desmond Bane will be watched in both anticipation and fascination.

Despite Memphis winning the regular season matchup three to one against Golden State, the Warriors didn’t have all their star players on the court in at least three of those games. Golden State eliminated Denver early for added rest and to watch ways they can expose Memphis in certain situations, especially lead changes.

While both guard duos are even in scoring, depth at center and forward determines who advances to the conference finals. Draymond Green, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins have the advantage over Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr. It’s hard to see how Memphis counters the more experienced playoff team with more quality players.

Prediction: Warriors win series 4-2

Western Conference first round playoff picks record: 3-1

2022 NBA Eastern Conference Second Round Playoff Predictions

Despite eight great teams and four fun matchups, the eastern conference first round ended fast. Philadelphia is desperate to reach the championship and feels they have a lot to prove. Boston is the hottest team on both sides of the ball. Miami and Milwaukee prove why they were the last teams to make the championship round the last two years. Two of the remaining four will advance to the conference finals. Time to break down which of the two have the best chance to make the conference finals.

#4 Philadelphia 76ers v. #1 Miami Heat

The matchup of Joel Embiid (21, left) and Jimmy Butler (22, right) will be a fun watch all series. Butler has the credentials to shut down this year’s top MVP candidate.

The 76ers and Heat have a lot in common; both have underperformed despite talented rosters, coaches Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers had tensions with certain players the past few months, and both have a chance to make the championship despite holding themselves back. It’s fitting one team has to advance to the conference finals despite ups and downs.

The most important factors in this matchup are coaching and depth. Rivers is notorious for losing second round playoff series, highlighted by failure to adapt to opponents with multiple superstars while Spoelstra is not. Bench depth is something Philadelphia doesn’t have past Matisse Thybulle. Miami has Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris and Duncan Robinson. All four range from starter if necessary to critical minutes.

The series comes down to Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid playing better than P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler. Tucker’s one of the most valuable players to have in decisive series. We’ll know which duo stands out after game two.

Prediction: Heat win series 4-2

#3 Milwaukee Bucks v. #2 Boston Celtics

For the Celtics to beat the Bucks, players such as Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams (both in white) will have to get physical and deter Giannis Antetokounmpo (green) in the paint early and often.

We knew the winner of the Celtics-Nets series would make a fun and physical matchup against Milwaukee in round two. Brooklyn-Milwaukee went to seven games in round two last year. That could happen with Boston-Milwaukee this year with Khris Middleton diagnosed as out the entire series.

The simplest way to break down this series comes down to who stands out in all five positions. Middleton’s absence gives Jayson Tatum an advantage whereas the older Al Horford cannot contain Giannis Antetokounmpo one-on-one. Brook Lopez and Serge Ibaka give Milwaukee the edge at center over Daniel Theis and Robert Williams. This series will be won by which guard duo steps up in second halves: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown or Jrue Holliday and Wesley Matthews.

There’s no doubt the Celtics are the hotter team and will give the Bucks all they can handle. Boston however hasn’t been tested by a competent playoff team and face defending champions that adjusted deep in their series last year. The Celtics have to prove they can adapt against veteran champions with poise. It’s hard to see that happening with how the Bucks were built.

Prediction: Bucks win series 4-3

Eastern Conference first round playoff picks record: 3-1

2022 NBA Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a deep eastern conference playoff race. Philadelphia star Joel Embiid became the first player born outside North America to win the scoring title in a season. Despite discontent, the Miami Heat are the number one seed in the east. While the Chicago Bulls faltered after the All-Star break, Toronto and Boston are two of the hottest teams in the league. Four talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.

#6 Chicago Bulls v. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Despite the anger against Milwaukee’s guard Grayson Allen injuring Bulls guard Alex Caruso on a nationally televised game, the talk on a renewed rivalry fell flat as the Bucks blew out Chicago the two meetings after.

The easiest matchup to predict. The Bucks won all three regular season matchups against Chicago, two by over 20 points. It’s possible the Bulls get lucky and win one game because the offense makes all the shots. Keep in mind Milwaukee’s the reigning NBA champions. This series won’t get past a game five with the defensive efforts of Jrue Holliday and Khris Middleton combined with a better offense that’s more physical near the rim.

Prediction: Bucks win series 4-0

#8 Atlanta Hawks v. #1 Miami Heat

Despite Trae Young’s (11, black) stellar play-in performances, Heat players such as Kyle Lowry (7, white) play better defense and will give the Hawk’s star problems.

Atlanta’s clinch of the eighth seed officially gives the eastern conference all divisional first round playoff matchups. The top two teams in three point percentage have to adjust on defense and play better in the paint if they expect to advance to the second round.

The injury to Hawks center Clint Capela opens a new set off issues outside of his free throw shooting in close games. Heat center Bam Adebayo should dominate both on defense and offense, something most fans and analysts weren’t thinking much on before Friday’s play-in game. Forwards P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler already outmatch John Collins and De’Andre Hunter.

Miami’s overwhelming advantage at forward and center puts more pressure on Atlanta star Trae Young to create more on offense and to take more shots. That’s not a good strategy against a better coached Heat team.

Prediction: Heat win series 4-1

#5 Toronto Raptors v. #4 Philadelphia 76ers

The Raptors are a thorn in Philadelphia’s side, winning three of the four matchups including a come-from-behind five point win after being down by 15. Playing in Canada won’t help the 76ers in a seven game series.

The first quality series in the east to start play this weekend features the NBA’s only Canadian team against an up-and-down Sixers squad with the league’s scoring leader and MVP candidate, who’s paired with a former MVP. Philadelphia’s predicted to make round two because of their talented roster and veteran coaching staff. Many expect a quick advance for the 76ers, but those analysts and fans overlook Toronto’s advantages.

Nick Nurse again should be a candidate for coach of the year. Many who follow the league didn’t expect Toronto to even get a playoff spot this high, let alone make it past the regular season. Coach Nurse deploys odd lineups at times putting four forwards or three guards on the court against specific opponents. Nurse knows while his roster may not have the star-power Boston or Miami does, they can out-play a lot of teams.

Philadelphia is one of them. The Raptors beat the 76ers in three of their four meetings, the recent one a comeback down by double digits. People also forget that both Toronto and the province of Ontario is still pro-vaccination and social distancing. Defensive stud Matisse Thybulle will not play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated. Newcomer James Harden can’t play defense at an elite level and Joel Embiid will be double-teamed in most situations. The Raptors will shock the world again by making the second round.

Upset Prediction of the first round: Raptors win series 4-2

#7 Brooklyn Nets v. #2 Boston Celtics

The Celtics will go as far as Jayson Tatum (green) can take them.

The best matchup in the eastern conference’s first round. Both teams played their best basketball before the regular season ended. Despite Boston beating Brooklyn in all but one game, the Nets didn’t have consistency until New York lifted the vaccine mandate. After it was lifted, Kyrie’s helped establish a rhythm for the team and Kevin Durant’s playing on an elite level.

Coach Ime Udoka has done a great job improving the playing styles of Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. A year ago, everyone said Boston should move on from the three stars. It’s apparent the franchise needed a new voice and for someone to take the team to the next level in order to get back to the finals.

It’s possible for Brooklyn to win a few games versus Boston, but the Celtics are a complete team. Since point-guard Ben Simmons’ playing status could further complicate matters, team defense could sputter against a hungrier unit who’s proven to beat the Nets in a lot of ways.

Prediction: Celtics win 4-1

Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 8-2

2022 NBA Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a thrilling western conference playoff race. Denver star Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. Dallas and Utah were plagued with drama involving who would step up and lead besides their franchise star. No one can underestimate the growth Memphis has undergone while Phoenix has lost under 45 games since COVID-19 disrupted play. Four deeply talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.

#5 Utah Jazz v. #4 Dallas Mavericks

Injuries have been a problem for both Utah and Dallas, the most recent one determining how much playing time Luka Doncic (blue, 77) will have regarding his calf.

A lot of people will judge this series by who loses. If it’s Dallas, star Luka Doncic will face heat because he can’t lead the Mavericks past the first round. If Utah loses, it’s because there are locker room problems, Quin Snyder is an ok coach, and they choke when it’s a prime moment to move forward. Both teams want to prove critics wrong.

Let’s start with some basics. Dallas’ second leading team scorer and rebounder was traded mid-season. Doncic will be out game one of the series. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell looked great against a Memphis Grizzlies team without Ja Morant to clinch their playoff spot, but Utah barely won the Northwest despite nine losses in March.

The series is up for grabs and anything can happen. While I personally don’t base stats (because it’s playoffs and anything can happen), the Mavericks have a lot more issues to address if Luka gets shut down by Rudy Gobert or Mitchell one-on-one. Doncic missing game one could determine who wins the series early.

Prediction: Jazz win series 4-1

#6 Denver Nuggets v. #3 Golden State Warriors

Nuggets MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (15, white) will be the deciding factor on how well the Nuggets can counter and push for a second round entry v. the Warriors. Kevon Looney (5, blue) is one of four players to play in all 82 games this season.

It’s been a cruel, one year since Jamal Murray was on the court. The last time he was, Steph Curry broke Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors scoring record. Monte Morris is the most reliable guard the Nuggets have versus a rising Klay Thompson. The return of Thompson and Draymond Green are important since Curry should be eased back into the starting lineup, returning for game one.

The added return and expanded role of Jordan Poole could make a difference and be another reason Curry gets needed time off while Green, Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. hold down the Golden State defense. If the Nuggets’ forward trio of Aaron Gordon and Jeff and JaMychal Green sputter on offense, this series could end before the Splash Brothers find rhythm.

Prediction: Warriors win series 4-1

#8 New Orleans Pelicans v. #1 Phoenix Suns

Both Monty Williams (left) and Willie Green (right) have been two of the league’s top coaches this year. It’s a shame one of them has to exit the playoffs after the first round.

New Orleans is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Their reward is playing the league’s best Phoenix Suns, who won a franchise record 64 games. While not fair, we know records don’t mean anything in the playoffs.

Despite the nice story of Willie Green, Monty Williams and Chris Paul all being on the New Orleans Hornets at one point, Williams is the superior coach. Paul still exceeds expectations in his late 30s and both Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are playing their best basketball.

There is good news for the Pelicans. Despite being swept handily by Phoenix, they added C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline and could have Zion Williamson at some point in the first round. The Suns haven’t faced a better prepared and stronger starting roster since the trade deadline. Phoenix will win, but the series won’t be boring.

Prediction: Suns win 4-1

#7 Minnesota Timberwolves v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies

Desmond Bane (22, blue) v. D’Angelo Russell (0, green) will be an underrated and fun series matchup. Whoever wins this one-on-one gives their team an advantage of moving out of the first round.

This will be one of the nastiest first round series in either conference. Memphis establishes a high scoring physical presence many teams struggle against. Minnesota is hot-and-cold with their shot selection and perimeter play. Regardless of disadvantages, both teams play hard and will establish a bully tone early and often.

Shooting guards Desmond Bane and D’Angelo Russell should have career games with the number of points their teams put up (both average 116 a game), while Patrick Beverley and Ja Morant will be physical and competitive at point guard. Steven Adams is the strongest person in the NBA and has to take on the best athletic center in Karl-Anthony Towns. These three matchups should be watched by fans and analysts to see who become the deciding factor/s. Forwards Dillon Brooks and Anthony Edwards should have their share of opportunities to prove how valuable they’ll be in future series.

The Grizzlies have a major advantage over the Timberwolves: playoff experience. Memphis gave Utah everything they could handle last year and almost took the number one seeded Jazz to seven games. The Wolves are inexperienced and need more time to develop with their new head coach. It’s time the young Grizzlies take the next step.

Prediction: Grizzlies win series 4-3

Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 6-4