As the first round of the NBA playoffs comes to a close, only eight teams remain. Some matchups are easier to predict than others, but I’ll attempt to predict the futures of the remaining teams.

Starting with the Western Conference, the No. 1 Houston Rockets will take on the No. 5 Utah Jazz. The Utah Jazz are a talented team that seemingly came out of nowhere this year. After beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2, they look strong, but they will face the best team in the NBA.

The Houston Rockets have been hot this entire year and if anyone’s going to stop them, it won’t be the Utah Jazz – the Jazz simply do not have the depth of offensive weapons to handle the stacked Rockets roster. My prediction is the Rockets will beat the Jazz 4-1.

For the No. 2 Golden State Warriors and the No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans, the Pelicans are on a hot streak after sweeping the No. 3 seeded Trail Blazers. “Playoff Rondo” is in full assault-mode, and the Pelicans are feeling it with great play from Mirotic, Davis and Holiday.

These stars will do their best to compete with the reigning champions, but it won’t be enough. The Warriors get their best player back in Steph Curry for Game Two and, when he returns, he’ll help the Warriors soar past the Pelicans. I predict the Warriors will beat the Pelicans 4-2.

That means for the Western Conference Finals, the No. 1 Houston Rockets will take on the No. 2 Golden State Warriors – the two best teams in the NBA will play for an easy ride to an NBA championship. These teams are above every other team in the NBA by a longshot, and represent two of the best basketball teams in history.

Houston has been hot and has a 2-1 record over Golden State this year. Whoever wins this game will win the NBA Championship and, either way, it will be a hard fought series. I believe Houston will ultimately win Game Seven because they’ll be playing four of the seven games at home and their fans believe in them as much as I do.

The Houston Rockets will be Western Conference Champions.

As for the second round of the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Toronto Raptors take on the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers after Toronto comes off a convincing 4-2 series victory over the Washington Wizards.

The Cavaliers barely snuck into the second round after an unimpressive performance against the Pacers. However, Lebron has been amazing in the playoffs and that will likely be enough to sneak by the Raptors in seven, even with Drake sitting courtside yelling in Lebron’s ear in Toronto. The Cavs will take the series 4-3 over Toronto.

The No. 2 Boston Celtics take on the No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers in the other contest of second round of the Eastern Conference. Boston beat the Milwaukee Bucks in an intense series that went seven games. They are a strong team with a ton of athleticism, but without their best player, Kyrie Irving, they won’t stand a chance against the hottest team in the NBA.

The 76ers have won 20 of their last 21 games – half of them being played without their best player, Joel Embiid. They blew past the Miami Heat, and this will be an easy 4-2 series win, considering Boston won’t have their best player in Irving to rely on.

This means there will be a Cavaliers-76ers showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Cavs don’t have enough weapons to handle the strength and depth of the Philadelphia 76ers. Head Coach Brett Brown trusts every player he has on his roster at any time, and Lebron will likely have a good series – putting up over 30 points in five of the seven games – but it won’t be enough to beat the 76ers.

Lebron is the only weapon the Cavaliers have, compared to a team that has a strong and deep roster. All Star Joel Embiid has been phenomenal this year, averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds a game. Soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons has been unstoppable at the point – averaging 16 points, eight assists and eight rebounds a game. The bench for this year’s 76ers has played remarkably, with the addition of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli in late February making the 76ers the deepest team in the NBA.

The 76ers will best the Cavaliers 4-3 and Philadelphia will be Eastern Conference Champions.

The NBA Championship will be a fun one with Philadelphia and Houston. The 76ers will pull out all the stops, and get the entire nation behind them as the underdogs. They will have the help of multiple social media greats – center Joel Embiid, comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Meek Mill.

Regardless, the Rockets are still the better team and any amount of support the 76ers receive won’t be enough to beat a strong Rockets team which won’t lose at home.

The Rockets front court is the best in the NBA with James Harden and Chris Paul. MVP frontrunner James Harden has been unstoppable this year, averaging 30 points, five rebounds and nine rebounds a game. He’s impossible to stop in a one-on-one scenario and if a player tries to double team him, then he’s leaving other offensive weapons open.

Chris Paul has been extraordinary alongside Harden, averaging 19 points and eight assists a game. If the 76ers somehow manage to slow these two down, they still have to deal with Capela, Gordon, Ariza and Tucker. I can’t imagine the 76ers would be able to handle this amount of talent.

After the first round of the NBA playoffs, I’ve made my prediction for the NBA Championship, as the Rockets will beat the 76ers 4-2 in the six game series. Have you made yours? Let me know at hartwejm@miamioh.edu.

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