Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty

Good afternoon, basketball viewers! It’s time for the second part of our very on-time and definitely not late at all 2017 NBA playoffs preview blog post. Here’s what you need to know about the first-round series that are scheduled to begin today, presented in the order the games will start.

Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

Photo credit: Rob Carr/Getty 

What time does the game start?
1:00 p.m., Eastern, on TNT.

What is the deal with these teams?
After a dismally embarrassing 2015-16 campaign, and a 2-8 start to this one that had some fans (me) wanting to throw the franchise into the toilet, the Wizards just wrapped up their third-best regular season by winning percentage since the franchise left Baltimore in 1973 (the competition is not very fierce; mostly the Wizards/Bullets have been shitty). For a while there—by what turned out to be the end of a run of insanely good play that stretched from the beginning of December to the All-Star break in mid-February—they looked like they might be the East’s second-best team, but they faltered a bit after the break as a heavy minutes load caught up to the starters. They’re fast and fun on offense and pretty lousy on defense, which, in the opinion of this hopelessly biased Wizards fan, makes for pretty good television. Can you tell that I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm, here? Ho hum, the best and most exciting hometown NBA team of my lifetime is kinda okay, I guess.

Then there’s the Hawks. The Hawks shuffled off former boring, low-wattage cornerstone players Al Horford and Jeff Teague after last season, traded away Kyle Korver this season, and reportedly dangled All-Star forward Paul Millsap over the trading block ahead of the deadline, but nothing much has really changed: They’re still a kind of anonymously, unremarkably competent mid-tier team, for like the 20th year in a row. They’re certainly good enough to jump up and snatch this series away if the Wizards continue their post-break wobbling, but they’re almost certainly not good enough to put a scare into either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Boston Celtics without some major help from the injury report. If this is basketball purgatory, it’s a pretty good kind of place, where your fans get to watch meaningful basketball games into late-April or beyond every year. But also ... I’m sick of these assholes! Give somebody else a crack at the fifth seed, willya?


Who are the key players in this series?
For the Wizards, you’re probably familiar with John Wall by now. If you are not, here is John Wall:

[wipes away tear]

I just love him so goddamn much.

Other Wizards of note are: Sharp-shooting guard Bradley Beal, who after a few years of only appearing to be a good and dangerous scorer actually blossomed into one this season; fourth-year forward Otto Porter, who turned himself from a Swiss Army knife Tayshaun Prince-type dude into a Swiss Army knife Tayshaun Prince-type dude who is also one of the deadliest spot-up three-point shooters in basketball between last season and this season; and center and Twitter doofus Marcin Gortat, for my money still the best screener-and-roller in the entire NBA at age 33.


Another Wizard to keep your eye on is swingman Bojan Bogdanović, whom the Wizards acquired from the Brooklyn Nets at the trade deadline. For one thing, he’s a terrific shooter off the bench, and when he’s splashing threes in Washington’s small lineups they can appear all but unbeatable. For another thing, “Bojan Bogdanović” is extremely fun to say.

The Hawks’ main dudes are point guard Dennis Schröder and center Dwight Howard, plus whichever combination of swingmen Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Thabo Sefolosha can make some shots and keep the Wizards’ defense from collapsing on those first two guys. The Hawks dumped Jeff Teague in part to make room for Schröder, who was the more electric of the two guards for at least one of the previous two seasons; he’s been solid in the starting role, if maybe not quite as good as they were hoping, and there have been rumblings that he doesn’t get along quite so well with Dwight Howard (or anybody else). But he’s shown a knack for slicing up the Wizards, or anyway it sure as hell seems like it whenever I watch the two teams play.

Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat were teammates for a few years in Orlando; for whatever reason (probably that they’re both kinda macho shitheads, and Howard in particular is notoriously grating on teammates and opponents alike), this seems to have resulted in them particularly disliking each other. Howard will be eager to go right at Gortat in this series, and he’ll mostly have success doing it so long as he stays out of foul trouble, because Gortat essentially can’t jump and is pretty useless as a rim protector. The Wizards likely will counter with the infinitely more athletic Ian Mahinmi, who has given Howard problems in the past, on other teams.


Oh right, and then there’s Paul Millsap! I forgot about him. Eh, I mean, he’s still Paul Millsap, I guess. His efficiency nose-dived this season, as he struggled with some injuries and with being a 31-year-old undersized power forward. Now that I have treated him dismissively in this blog post, he will average 27 points a game in this series and the Hawks will sweep.

Is this series good or butt?
This will not be the consensus view, but I’m calling it good. The Wizards are terrifically entertaining: They run and shoot threes and play matador defense, and Wall, as ever, is extremely easy to root for. The Hawks aren’t quite the buzzsaw of unselfish ball movement they were two years ago, but they’re feisty and well-coached and Schröder’s usually good for a couple of crazy high-arcing floaters per game. It’s a good series! Shut up!

What do I say, at the bar, when this game is on the television?
“It’s a good series! Shut up!”


Who will advance?

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty


What time does the game start?
3:30 p.m., Eastern, on ABC.

Who are these basketball groups?
You know the Warriors, you coy sonofabitch. They won a championship the season before last, then they were the best regular-season team ever last season, then they crapped a 3-1 Finals lead down their legs, then they signed Kevin goddamn Durant, then they won 67 games despite losing him to a knee sprain for 20, all of which is to say that they are still the NBA’s best team by a lot. They play just as fast and free as ever; they move the ball beautifully and bomb threes and have fun; it’s miraculously good television. Fuck them to hell!


As for the Blazers ... well, shit. Probably they and their fans were not pinning their preseason optimism on narrowly securing the eighth seed and a first-round appointment with the friggin’ Warriors, one season after they finished in fifth and didn’t meet Golden State until after duffing the Clippers in round one. But it only looks disappointing if you insist on an illuminating perspective, like a jerk. If you artificially limit your field of view just to this season, hell, the Blazers are one of the feel-good stories in basketball! After staggering into the All-Star break in 10th place, 10 games below .500, behind such towering basketball kaiju as the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets, they went 18-8 the rest of the way, a 69 percent (nice) success rate that would be the third-best in the whole NBA if it held up over a whole season. Why, they’re juggernauts! They’re ready to shock the world!

Shocking the world, in this case, would mean pushing this series to a sixth game. They’re dead.

Who are the key players?
The important Warriors, of course, are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. If it’s true that none of these four have quite matched their absolute best production this season, that’s kind of like saying the sun isn’t at its absolute brightest today. I mean, okay? It’s still outshining all the other stars in the sky by like a billion trillion lumens, y’know?


Here is a video from a game against the Knicks back in December when literally all 26 of the Warriors’ first-half buckets came via assist. This is astonishing.

The Blazers, for their part, basically are just Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, hoping they get some help from a bunch of other generic create-a-player guys. This is fun in its own way, mainly because Lillard remains a shot-making monster with (metaphorical) testicles the size of all outside (and probably also real testicles that fall within the spectrum of testicle sizes that would not impede basketball excellence).

Jusuf Nurkić, whom the Blazers acquired from Denver about a week before the All-Star Game, also is an important hoops-doer for Portland, if he plays. Basically, after he left the Nuggets, Nurkić decided to try being good instead of being shitty, and it has worked out very well for him. Unfortunately, the worst thing to be against the Warriors is a lead-footed center who can’t defend guards when forced to switch onto them—especially one who suffered a leg fracture only a couple weeks ago and is iffy to play—so he will spend the next week or so impersonating a road sign, assuming he appears at all.


Is this series good or butt?
Each game will definitely be good for like 2.5 quarters. There is a very good chance that all the rest of it will be garbage time, but maybe not?

What do I say, at the bar, when this game is on the television?
“On Nov. 27, 1996, the Utah Jazz overcame a 36-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets by a score of 107-103, in the greatest single-game comeback in NBA history. Therefore do not change the channel yet, I guess.”

Who will advance?
The Warriors will advance.

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty


What time does the game start?
6:30 p.m., Eastern, on TNT.

Are you gonna write like 400 words about each team again?
No. The Celtics snagged the East’s top seed by virtue of their remarkable consistency, but I think everybody—including the Celtics themselves—knows they can’t come close to matching the Cavaliers’ sheer wattage in a game or series, as LeBron James (and company) amply demonstrated the last time the two teams met:

Maybe that doesn’t quite point to the Celtics being frauds—they really did win more games than any other East team, which after all is what the seedings reward—but it nevertheless does make their top seed seem a little bit illusory. What I am saying here is that I do not think the Celtics will make the Finals.


On the other hand, they’re not gonna lose to the fucking Bulls, who are trash.

Okay. Who are the basketball dudes.
The Celtics have a lot of solid, useful players. More than probably any other team in the East. But the only Celtic you absolutely have to keep an eye on is Isaiah Thomas, their 5-foot-9 (in his fucking dreams) point guard.

Boston faltered in last season’s playoffs because, for as genuinely great as Thomas is—and he’s really great—a hobbit PG actually is a fairly manageable obstacle for a competent NBA defense over the course of a seven-game playoff series if he does not have any teammates who can do enough good-ass scoring shit to keep the defense from zeroing in on him. The Celtics responded to this by declining to trade any of their overabundance of merely solid, useful players for star-grade help at the deadline. That was dumb.


I think Isaiah Thomas could get by the Bulls even if all he had for teammates were four burlap sacks full of dry oatmeal—but, then again, I thought the Celtics were going to kick the shit out of the Hawks in last season’s first round, too, and then they got eliminated.

As for the Bulls, the best thing to do is to avert your eyes from them altogether. They’re fucking awful.

Is this series good or butt?
It’s butt. It is the most butt of all the first-round matchups.


What do I say at the bar?
“God, I wish the Bulls had dropped that last game to the Nets. Celtics-Heat would have been a terrific first-round series.”

Who will advance?
The Celtics will advance.

Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

Photo credit: Michael Wyke/AP


What time does the game start?
9:0 p.m., Eastern, on TNT.

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Who will advance?
Probably the Rockets.