The first games of the NBA Playoffs are in the books and a few things have surprised viewers. While the top-seeded Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks breezed through their opponents, there were a handful of things that kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Lower seeds stole home court advantage. Series that we expected to be close saw game one blowouts.
Based on what we’ve seen, we’re going to predict the teams with the best chances to pull off first round upsets. We can’t say if they’ll make it to the Conference or NBA Finals, but these are the teams we feel will at least make it to the second round.
5. Orlando Magic
With a paltry 25-57 record last year and no significant acquisitions in the offseason, nobody expected the Orlando Magic to be in the Playoffs this year. Head coach Steve Clifford guided them to a 42-40 record and the seventh seed. They were just happy to be here. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors added Kawhi Leonard and looked more dangerous than ever. Many picked them to win the Eastern Conference. And yet, as the game one buzzer sounded, it was more of the same for Toronto. The franchise has lost game one in 9 of their last 10 opportunities and most came as the home team. DJ Augustin easily outplayed All-Star Kyle Lowry, adding to Lowry’s career playoff woes. While Orlando has 1 -0 lead, we can’t rank them higher on this list because Toronto has succeeded in this situation before. There’s a chance for Orlando, but it isn’t a great one.
4. Utah Jazz
A series between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed doesn’t usually call for an upset. The teams are often too evenly matched. But, the No. 4 Houston Rockets are a favorite to make the Western Conference Finals, while the No. 5 Utah Jazz aren’t a team many view as that kind of threat. Add in that game one saw Houston win by 32 points and this feels lopsided. Still, Utah is a tough group led by a stellar coach in Quinn Snyder. He’s the kind of leader who can adjust and find a way to right the ship. This is a Jazz team that dominated the Thunder last year to advance when people didn’t think they could. If he gets going, Donovan Mitchell can nearly cancel out whatever James Harden does, and his supporting cast of Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, and the rest can help his guys pull off the upset.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The victims of an upset last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the opposite situation this go around. They’re facing the No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers. That means fans are treated to a battle of two top point guards as Russell Westbrook goes head to head with Damian Lillard. Portland took game one after getting swept last year, and look better than ever. However, Westbrook has the help of MVP candidate Paul George, while Portland is without star center Jusuf Nurkic. That’s a key factor as Steven Adams can be a handful and Nurkic not being there to help is tough. The sixth-seeded Thunder are a good bet to rebound from a game one loss and win what we’re expecting to be a long, hard fought series.
2. Brooklyn Nets
Following arguably the worst trade in NBA history a few years ago, the Nets weren’t supposed to be this good already. With the Philadelphia 76ers adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to give them the second best starting five in the league, they were supposed to be a shoo-in to compete for the Eastern Conference. On paper, they should have the three best players in Butler, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. Nobody told D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert. The Brooklyn backcourt combined for 49 points and led the Nets to a surprising game one victory. The most shocking part of it all? For Philly, Harris and Simmons combined for 15 points, while Embiid had an ineffective 22 due to being plagued by an injury. Not having this starting unit consistently together before the playoffs caused problems for Philly. They’re the more talented team, but Brooklyn has a reputation for playing hard. Hard enough to potentially shock the world.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Gone are the glory days of the San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are gone. Kawhi Leonard’s departure was a rare source of controversy for this franchise. He was replaced by DeMar DeRozan, an All-Star more known for being the leader of a team that came up short in past postseasons than for winning anything. And yet, they kind of handily beat the No. 2 Denver Nuggets. It wasn’t a blowout by any means, but the game was played at a pace the Spurs are comfortable with. They held a quick, young Denver team to no fast break points. Not only are the Spurs led by arguably the greatest coach in basketball history, Greg Popovich, but they have a considerable experience edge. This is the first playoff run for most of the Nuggets roster. Experience matters in these games. As good as the 54-28 Nuggets are, this series has all the makings of an upset.