NBA Playoff Preview: Comparisons, X-Factors

2019 NBA Playoff Preview: X-Factors

The 2019 NBA Playoffs tipoff Saturday, April 13th when the Brooklyn Nets head to meet the Philadelphia 76ers at 2:30 ET on ESPN for the first of a best-of-seven series. From there, we’re off to the races. I take a look at each of the first round matchups and how the starting fives compare, give some insight toward the series, highlight the x-factor, then wrap up with my predictions. Hopefully this gives you some good insight and talking points for impressing your buddies while watching the games this week.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Detroit  

Prediction: Bucks in 5

Position Milwaukee  Detroit 
Point Guard E. Bledsoe 15.9 ppg  R. Jackson 15.4 ppg
Shooting Guard M. Brogdon 15.6 ppg  B. Brown 4.3 ppg 
Small Forward K. Middleton 18.3 ppg W. Ellington 10.3 ppg
Power Forward G. Antetokounmpo 27.7 ppg  B. Griffin 24.5 ppg
Center B. Lopez 12.5 ppg A. Drummond 17.3 ppg

In a Lebron-less playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the player to watch in the East and arguably the entire league. He’s literally shooting better than 55 percent! However, the Bucks are far more than just Giannis, with three other starters averaging more than 15 points a game and a quality bench. This could be the team to knock off Golden State. They will face the improved but still mediocre Detroit Pistons, who are led by a talented frontcourt. But Detroit lacks the guard play required to make a serious run in the playoffs or even this series.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: B. Lopez 8.86 points above average per 48 Minutes 

Key Stats 

  1. Giannis’s True Shooting Percentage – We know he’s going to get his points, but if Detroit wants to have any chance (I don’t think they have any), it will need to force Giannis into outside shots and make him play inefficiently.
  2. Detroit’s Three-Point Percentage – Detroit isn’t a great three-point shooting team, so some luck will be required for them to have a chance. For their sake, let’s hope some extra threes fall. 

No. 4 Boston vs. No. 5 Indiana

Prediction: Celtics in 7

Position Boston Indiana
Point Guard K. Irving 23.8 ppg  D. Collision 11.2 ppg
Shooting Guard M. Smart 8.9 ppg T. Evans 10.2 ppg
Small Forward J. Tatum 15.7 ppg  B. Bogdanovic 18.0 ppg
Power Forward M. Morris 13.9 ppg T. Young 12.6 ppg 
Center A. Horford 13.6 ppg M. Turner 13.3 ppg

The balanced attack of the Boston Celtics meets the stellar defense of the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are allowing just 104 points per 100 possessions, ranking third in the entire NBA. These are two very well coached teams on both sides of the ball, both move the ball very well and play elite defense. It is truly amazing what the Pacers have been able to accomplish without Victor Oladipo finishing around where they were projected to with him healthy. Even with the impressive run, the Celtics the favorite in the series. They simply have more offensive firepower.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Al Horford 10.9 points above average  

Key Stats

  1. Number of Possessions – Indiana plays a very slow tempo. Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum in transition is a much scarier sight than what Indiana can produce. A slower tempo bodes much better for the Pacers
  2. Assists (for both teams) – Both these teams are top five in assist ratio and like to move the ball. The team with more assists is way more likely to win than normal.   

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 7 Orlando 

Prediction: Raptors in 5

Position Toronto  Orlando 
Point Guard K. Lowry 14.2 ppg D. Augustin 11.7 ppg 
Shooting Guard D. Green 10.3 ppg E. Fournier 15.1 ppg 
Small Forward K. Leonard 26.6 ppg J. Isaac 9.6 ppg
Power Forward P. Siakam 16.9 ppg A. Gordon 16.0 ppg
Center S. Ibaka 15.0 ppg N. Vucevic 20.8 ppg

Arguably the best Raptors team of all time meets the much-improved Orlando Magic. No one knows how long Kawhi Leonard will want to stay in Toronto, but everyone knows a good playoff run will help. Leonard gives the Raptors what they have been lacking in the past postseason years: a superstar. They have always had depth, and with six players scoring double digits, this year is no exception. This very well could be the year Toronto makes it out of the East, and I don’t think anyone sees Orlando being the ones to stop them.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Danny Green 15.17 points above average 

Key Stats 

  1. Number of Possessions – Orlando prefers a slower tempo, ranking 26th in possessions. They will not be able to compete with Toronto’s athleticism in the open court.
  2. Orlando Offensive Rebounds – Orlando is a very good defensive rebounding team, but in order to have a chance they will need second-chance points as well. 

No. 3 Philadelphia No. 6 Brooklyn 

Prediction 76ers in 5

Position Philadelphia  Brooklyn 
Point Guard B. Simmons 16.9 ppg D. Russell 21.1 ppg
Shooting Guard J. Redick 18.1 ppg J. Harris 13.7 ppg
Small Forward J. Butler 18.7 ppg D. Carroll 11.1 ppg 
Power Forward T. Harris 20.0 ppg R. Kurucs 8.5 ppg 
Center J. Embiid 27.5 ppg J. Allen 5.8 ppg 

The 76ers have done everything they possibly can to upgrade their starting lineup, and it’s paid off. This is one of the most impressive starting lineups in the league today. If your weak link is J.J. Redick, that’s a very good sign. The main obstacle with a team with this much talent is that there is only one ball, but they are spreading the wealth, and nearly one-fifth of their possessions end in assists. They face an improved Nets team that has won three-straight and four out the last six. Brooklyn is playing well, but it doesn’t have the firepower to compete with a 76ers team that is this talented. 

Adjusted +/- X Factor: J.J. Redick 6.7 points above average

Key Stats

  1. Embiid Points – It goes without saying that Joel Embiid is the key to the 76ers offense. If Brooklyn is going to compete, it has to start by slowing him down.
  2. 76ers Assists – With five different players scoring more than 15 points a game, the 76ers are at their best when everyone’s involved and the ball is moving.

Western Conference

No. 1 Golden State vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers

Prediction Warriors in 5 

Position Golden State Los Angeles (C)
Point Guard S. Curry 27.3 ppg S. Gilgeous-Alexander 10.8 ppg 
Shooting Guard K. Thompson 21.5 ppg P. Beverly 7.6 ppg
Small Forward K. Durant 26.0 ppg  L. Shamet 9.1 ppg 
Power Forward D. Green 7.4 ppg  D. Gallinari 19.8 ppg  
Center D. Cousins 16.3 ppg  I. Zubac 8.9 ppg 

It’s interesting that winning more than 55 games is considered a down year for Golden State, but it certainly is. This could very well be the year they go down in the Finals. The Warriors face a Clippers team that is a very good No. 8 seed and much improved from last year. It’s crazy to think that the Clippers are just two games away from being a No. 5 seed in the West. There is a ton of parity this year in the West, and if the Clippers had been able to get a No. 7 or No. 6 seed, winning in the first round would be very likely. However, they drew the short straw, and I don’t see them getting by Golden State.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Lou Williams 9.17 points above average.

Key Stats 

  1. Golden State Three-Point Percentage – It goes without saying that Golden State likes to shoot threes. The Clippers defend the arc well. It’s no secret that they’re going to have to.
  2. Durant + Curry Points – This two-headed monster must be held under 50 if the Clippers are going to have a chance. 

No. 4 Houston vs. No. 5 Utah 

Prediction: Rockets in 6

Position Houston Utah
Point Guard C. Paul 15.6 ppg  R. Rubio 12.7 ppg
Shooting Guard E. Gordon 16.2 ppg D. Mitchell 23.8 ppg
Small Forward J. Harden 36.1 ppg  J. Ingles 12.1 ppg
Power Forward P. Tucker 7.3 ppg D. Favors 11.8 ppg
Center C. Capela 16.6 ppg  R. Gobert 15.9 ppg

This might be the most interesting matchup in the first round. The Rockets started very slow this year but finished very strong. James Harden has had a historic season, averaging the seventh-most points all time, and doing so very efficiently. This offense that ranks second in points per possession meets a Utah defense that ranks second in points allowed per possession, led by Rudy Gobert. Utah defends the interior very well, but can they contain Harden and Chris Paul?

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Joe Ingles 14.45 points above average

Key Stats 

  1. Rockets Three Pointers Made – The Rockets shoot threes and lay-ups. Lay-ups are tough to come by against Utah because of Gobert. If you want to beat the Jazz you have to do so from the outside. 
  2. Points Scored by non-Donovan Mitchells – The Jazz play elite defense but are average across the board on the offensive side of the ball. Mitchell has proved reliable, but outside of him, the Jazz lack the scoring threats required to match Houston. I would say they need to average 80 points of non-Donovan Mitchell scoring to win this series. 

No. 2 Denver vs. No. 7 San Antonio

Prediction Nuggets in 6

Position Denver San Antonio 
Point Guard J. Murray 18.2 ppg D. White 9.9 ppg
Shooting Guard G. Harris 12.9 ppg D. DeRozan 21.2 ppg
Small Forward W. Barton 11.5 ppg B. Forbes 11.8 ppg
Power Forward P. Millsap 12.6 ppg L. Aldridge 21.3 ppg
Center  N. Jokic 20.1 ppg  J. Poeltl 5.5 ppg

The stellar frontcourt of the Denver Nuggets meets the well-coached San Antonio Spurs. The Nuggets were the surprise of the Western Conference, led by Nikola Jokic. Denver ranks top five in rebound rate and assist ratio. San Antonio was supposed to be in a rebuilding year but received compelling seasons from role players Derrick White and Rudy Gay to compliment DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio possesses the tools to compete with Denver, and while Denver is the clear favorite, this series could go either way.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Paul Millsap 11.85 points above average

Key Stats 

  1. Denver Rebounds – Denver is a great rebounding team, ranking in the top five in rebound rate. Both these teams play a very slow pace, making this even more important.
  2. San Antonio’s Three-Point Percentage – Denver is the best team in the NBA at defending three pointers, allowing less than 34 percent. Denver will win the interior battle, so San Antonio will need to knock down some triples.

No. 3 Portland vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City 

Prediction: Thunder in 7 

Position Portland Oklahoma City 
Point Guard D. Lillard 25.8 ppg  R. Westbrook 22.9 ppg 
Shooting Guard  C. McCollum 21.0 ppg  T. Ferguson 6.9 ppg 
Small Forward  M. Harkless 7.7 ppg  P. George 28.0 ppg 
Power Forward A. Aminu 9.4 ppg J. Grant 13.6 ppg
Center E. Kanter 13.1 ppg  S. Adams 13.9 ppg 

The elite backcourt combo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum meets the athletic Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though this is a No. 3 versus No. 6 seed series, only four games separate the teams. Oklahoma City will look to run and go straight to the rim, while Portland will look to play a more balanced game. The most interesting matchup in this series will be Lillard and Russell Westbrook. Portland hasn’t won a playoff series since 2016. Expect the Trail Blazers to be hungry and for this one to go down to the wire.

Adjusted +/- X Factor: Seth Curry 9.09 points above average

Key Stats 

  1. Number of Possessions – Oklahoma City likes to run; this indicates whether or not they are able to control the tempo.
  2. Russell Westbrook Effective Field Goal Percentage – Westbrook loves to take over, sometimes to a fault. Often times his emotions can get the best of him, and he tries to do much, especially come playoff time. This indicates how under control he is.

Semi-Final Predictions 

  • #1 Golden State 4 – #4 Houston 3
  • #2 Denver 4 – #6 Oklahoma City 2
  • #1 Milwaukee 4 – #4 Boston 3
  • #2 Toronto 4 – #3 Philadelphia 3

Conference Final Predictions

  • #1 Golden State 4 – #2 Denver 1
  • #2 Toronto 4 – #1 Milwaukee 2

Finals Prediction

  • #1 Golden State 4 – #2 Toronto 1  
Greg Winston

Greg Winston

Greg, a Bloomington, Indiana native shot 34% from the 3-point line in the 8th grade. If that isn't credibility, what is?

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