Keys In The NBA First Round Series

HANDICAPPERS SHOULD FOCUS ON THESE KEYS WHEN ANALYZING EACH NBA FIRST ROUND SERIES

With the 2017 NBA Playoffs now imminent, we're going to quickly run through all eight matchups for you with an eye on the key stats that should shape each series. In some cases we have good offenses running into bad defenses. In others we have elite rebounding sides as series underdogs to poor rebounders. It's very tough to make intelligent picks if you don't know the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

We'll start in the East...

#1 BOSTON vs. #8 CHICAGO
The most extreme stat category discrepancy in the whole first round involves this matchup. And, it actually favors the UNDERDOG. Chicago is #4 in the NBA in "rebound rate," which is the percentage of available rebounds that a team grabs. Boston is horrible on the glass, ranking #27. We all know that rebounding looms very large in postseason basketball, whether you're talking pro or college. Chicago does take the worst of it on offense, ranking only #20 in efficiency. But, they have the better defense (#6 in the NBA) and could own the boards. Might make this a very interesting #1 vs. #8 showdown.

#4 WASHINGTON vs. #5 ATLANTA
Washington knows how to score, but Atlanta was #4 this season in defensive efficiency. So, handicapping this series will come down to evaluating whether or not the Hawks can slow down the scoring attack of the favorite. They will have to, because Atlanta's own offense has been pretty abysmal this season. That means the Hawks will have to win ugly. Some teams have made that work in the postseason, when pace slows down anyway and refs are less likely to call game-deciding fouls.

#2 CLEVELAND vs. #7 INDIANA
It's all about defense here. Cleveland's been awful on that side of the floor in recent weeks, and ranks only #22 in the NBA for the whole season in defensive efficiency. If they can find "playoff mode" right away, then this won't be much of a series. But, if the Cavs are too old, too content, or otherwise too complacent, then this could turn into a great matchup right away. Indiana is going to play with fire if they smell blood.

#3 TORONTO vs. #6 MILWAUKEE
The key indicator categories that JIM HURLEY likes to use in this sport are pointing to Toronto as the most dangerous team in the East. They rank in the top eight in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and rebound rate. Nobody else in the East even comes close. Only Golden State does that in the West. So, young Milwaukee will have its work cut out for them. We'll look at this dynamic more closely in advance of the second round if both Cleveland and Toronto advance to face each other. 

#1 GOLDEN STATE vs. #8 PORTLAND
A true mismatch, as Golden State is well clear of the playoff field at the moment in terms of Power Ratings and stat rankings. Portland barely got into the playoffs, and doesn't have any way defensively to slow down the Warriors juggernaut. For those of you thinking that Golden State is an "offense only" team, the Warriors rank #2 in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and #9 in rebound rate. They have great scorers AND they've mastered the fundamentals of playoff basketball.

#4 LA CLIPPERS vs. #5 UTAH
If you like the "defense and rebounding wins championships" mantra, then Utah is the team for you. They ranked #3 in both of those this past season. Maybe the offense isn't quite ready yet to beat the true powers on this side of the draw. They can spring an upset on the Clippers if they can contain Chris Paul.

#2 SAN ANTONIO vs. #7 MEMPHIS
On paper, these teams are fairly similar in terms of pace (very slow), defense (very good), and rebounding (better than average). The main difference is that San Antonio is much more efficient on offense with its scoring. The Spurs rank #7, while Memphis is down at #18. That should be enough to push San Antonio into the next round. It's tough to like their chances to actually win the west given how badly they flunked a recent home test against the Warriors.

#3 HOUSTON vs. #6 OKLAHOMA CITY
Everyone's talking about James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook. And, that will be a great show. But, the key to a potential upset here might well be the fact that OKC has the better defense (ranking #10 in efficiency) and was the best rebounding team in the league all season when you adjust for opportunity. Houston has more offensive weaponry by a good bit. Can OKC force enough misses that turn into all-out stops?

Needless to say, this first weekend, and the first two weeks of the NBA Playoffs could be very interesting. JIM HURLEY has his eye on a couple of great situations in play right off the bat. And, he's mapped out strategy for potential game two bounce backs and game three site changes that could create GAME OF THE YEAR quality possibilities. 

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The long, grueling regular season is finally over. The playoffs begin in hours. It's time to crown an NBA Champion. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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