2018 NBA playoff first-round series predictions: Experts can't pick against LeBron; torn on Thunder-Jazz
Our NBA experts predict the first round of the playoffs
We're through at least two games in every series, and some teams have looked dominant (shockingly so, in some cases), whereas other series look tight. These playoffs have been fun so far, and there's a lot of star power to watch. As you can see, there's no shortage of interesting matchups. Our CBS Sports' NBA experts take a stab at who advances -- and who doesn't -- along with an explanation as to why they think so.
Here are your CBS Sports expert picks for every first-round series:
No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
Reid Forgrave: Perhaps this is giving too much credit to the team with the best bench in the NBA, and how that bench will affect a playoff series. I don't think so. The Raptors, despite ending the regular season a mediocre 7-6, are the best team in the East, and by a wide margin. Prediction: Raptors in 5
Brad Botkin: It's tempting to take the Wizards here. Toronto is not playing well and John Wall is back. From a talent standpoint, this feels like a conference finals series. I'll give the Raptors the benefit of the doubt as they've been a consistent, top-five offensive and defensive team all season and they have a super bench. But I'll tell you what: If Wall and the Bradley Beal outplay Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, which isn't a stretch at all, this could have the makings of a major upset. I'm just too big a wimp to pick it. Prediction: Raptors in 7
James Herbert: I'd be surprised if this was as one-sided as a typical 1-8 matchup, but the Raptors are the more well-rounded team, with a deeper roster and a stronger identity. The Wizards are certainly talented enough to get out of the first round, but they have limped into the playoffs and have not been nearly as cohesive as their first-round opponents. Prediction: Raptors in 6
Colin-Ward Henninger: This might have been the worst possible matchup for the Raptors in the first round. The Wizards have struggled this season, but their playoff pedigree is there and John Wall and Bradley Beal could be the best two players on the court on any given night. The edge goes to the Raptors, but it'll take a gutty effort in a home Game 7 to get there. Prediction: Raptors in 7
Jack Maloney: The Raptors have a history of under-performing in the playoffs, and the Wizards are talented enough to make this series interesting. Still, the Raptors are the better team, and should be able to take care of business here without too much trouble from John Wall and Co. Prediction: Raptors in 6
Chris Barnewall: The Raptors are just a better team than the Wizards. This should finally be the year where Toronto looks good in the first round. That is, unless the Raptors somehow manage to lose Game 1 again, because if that happens then all bets are off. Prediction: Raptors in 5
No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks
Forgrave: Brad Stevens is a genius; Brad Stevens is not a magician. Even if the shorthanded Celtics get past the Bucks, this team is not making the Eastern Conference finals. This will take MVP-level Giannis, but I'm expecting MVP-level Giannis. Prediction: Celtics in 7
Botkin: The Celtics are hobbled and without Kyrie Irving, yes, but the Bucks don't have anything that scares anyone beyond Giannis Antetouknmpo, and with Brad Stevens designing something as we speak for him, the Celtics are just too disciplined to get beat by one guy -- unless that guy is LeBron James. Prediction: Celtics in 6
Herbert: Now that Malcolm Brogdon is back, the Bucks have more than enough weapons to do some damage here. I just don't trust them to execute like the Celtics do. If Boston can stop these guys from running, I like its chances of winning a tough series. The Celtics have been making the best of difficult situations all season. Prediction: Celtics in 7
Ward-Henninger: On paper, an injured Celtics team should have problems with a young, athletic Bucks team, but it's pretty clear that something's just not right in Milwaukee. Brad Stevens will devise a plan to at least slow Giannis Antetokoumpo, and Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier are enough to carry the offense through the first round. Prediction: Celtics in 6
Maloney: The excitement about this series was drained by the news that Kyrie Irving won't be participating. With the Celtics' injuries, the Bucks have a real chance to win their first playoff series since 2001, but they're just too untrustworthy. The Celtics have just enough talent left, and will take this matchup. Prediction: Celtics in 7
Barnewall: Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be the best player on the floor at all times, but the scheme around him is going to fail him. The Bucks just can't defend a team that executes as well as Boston does. Prediction: Celtics in 6
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
Forgrave: A gentleman's sweep for the hottest team in the NBA. The Sixers have won 16 in a row, the final seven without Joel Embiid. With or without Embiid, the Heat won't be able to keep up. Prediction: 76ers in 5
Botkin: The Heat scrap like hell, but the Sixers are just flat-out better. Nobody on Miami can contend with Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid, who could be back by Game 2, and Philly is a terrific defensive team that should have its way against a Miami offense that is the worst of all the playoff teams. Prediction: 76ers in 6
Herbert: It's hard to make a prediction without knowing when Joel Embiid is coming back, but I'm going to be optimistic about it. Philadelphia's best is better than Miami's best, and I'd like to imagine that the Sixers will play to their potential, even with Erik Spoelstra throwing all kinds of different looks at them. Prediction: 76ers in 6
Ward-Henninger: The Heat probably shouldn't hang with this Sixers team for seven games, but experience, coaching and grit will keep them around. Ultimately, the Sixers are just too talented, particularly if Joel Embiid comes back healthy, to lose to a Miami team that lacks a true No. 1 option. Prediction: 76ers in 7
Maloney: Philly will be without Joel Embiid for at least Game 1, but with how the 76ers have been playing lately, that shouldn't matter much. They are the more talented team here, but they're still young and the Heat have Erik Spoelstra guiding the way. Miami will take a few games, but the Sixers will advance. Prediction: 76ers in 6
Barnewall: This series will go longer than expected because the 76ers will need to learn how to play in the playoffs. Once they've figured it out though, then it should be smooth sailing as long as Joel Embiid is healthy. Prediction: 76ers in 6
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
Forgrave: I mean, LeBron in the playoffs. Let's not overthink this. Prediction: Cavs in 6
Botkin: LeBron James. That is all. The Pacers are a nice story and all, but can you really see a team whose best player is Victor Oladipo taking out LeBron James, who hasn't lost a first round game since 2012? Yeah, me neither. Prediction: Cavs in 6
Herbert: LeBron James rarely loses first-round games, but this is not a normal Cavaliers team and the Pacers are better than James' normal first-round opponents. That Cleveland-Indiana series last year was closer than you remember -- yeah, it was a sweep, but every game was close -- and the gap between these two teams is smaller now. Prediction: Cavs in 6
Ward-Henninger: This is probably the best matchup the Cavs could have asked for. The Pacers are up and coming, and Victor Oladipo could have a field day against the porous Cavs defense, but they're not ready to beat a LeBron team in the first round quite yet. They'll get a game at home, which is enough for a team that's already playing with house money just by making it to the posteason. Prediction: Cavs in 5
Maloney: The Pacers were one of the best stories in the league this season as Victor Oladipo led them to the No. 5 seed in the East. Unfortunately for them, that earned them a matchup with the Cavs. The math here is pretty simple: The Cavs have LeBron James, and the Pacers don't. Prediction: Cavs in 5
Barnewall: Do not doubt LeBron James in the first round. Ever. He's never lost there before and he isn't going to start now, which is a bummer for the Pacers, because they're a fun team that just ran into a buzzsaw. Prediction: Cavs in 5
No. 1 Houston Rockets vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves
Forgrave: Kudos to the Timberwolves for ending the NBA's longest playoff drought in dramatic fashion. Now they get to play the best regular-season team in the NBA, the one who smoked the Wolves by an average of 16 points in four games this season, and whose style of play plays right into the Wolves' worst tendencies. I'm giving the Wolves one win because of Luc Mbah a Moute's injury. Prediction: Rockets in 5
Botkin: With two top-15 players in the league, Minnesota is not your typical No. 8 seed. But the Rockets are just too much. Minnesota doesn't play much defense at all, and it was particularly terrible guarding Houston's pick and rolls in losing all four games to the Rockets this season. James Harden is going to torch the Wolves. This will go five at the most. Prediction: Rockets in 5
Herbert: I am terrified for the Timberwolves. The Rockets are a juggernaut, and Minnesota is going to have to make impossible choices on every single defensive possession. Prediction: Rockets in 4
Ward-Henninger: Houston has been waiting for this all season -- a chance to prove that it's not just a regular-season wonder. The Rockets will come out firing on all cylinders and Minnesota won't be able to stop them. Jimmy Butler needs to be spectacular -- bothering James Harden on defense and dominating on offense -- for the Wolves to have a chance. Prediction: Rockets in 5
Maloney: Unfortunately for the good people of Minnesota, the return of playoff basketball to their state is going to be short-lived. The Rockets are just way too talented, and are going to score far too easily. This series will be over quickly. Prediction: Rockets in 4
Barnewall: The Rockets are just a more talented and better-coached team. It's great that the Timberwolves made the playoffs, but their defense can't handle an offense led by James Harden and Chris Paul. This is going to be a short one. Prediction: Rockets in 4
No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs
Forgrave: Maybe Kawhi Leonard makes some miraculous, unexpected return, plays like an all-world player and this becomes the most intriguing first-round matchup. Maybe the Warriors continue to look downright beatable without Stephen Curry. I'm betting on the team that Vegas still considers the favorite to win it all. Prediction: Warriors in 6
Botkin: This was the best draw the Warriors could've asked for. Had OKC stayed at No. 7, that would've been scary with no Steph Curry. But the Spurs just don't have the firepower to keep up with Durant and Co. This one ends in five at the most, as well. Prediction: Warriors in 4
Herbert: I'm not in love with this Warriors team without Stephen Curry, but they still have enough to make relatively short work of this Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard -- if they listen to Steve Kerr and start valuing possessions the way San Antonio does, that is. Prediction: Warriors in 5
Ward-Henninger: Unless Kawhi Leonard somehow plays for the majority of this series, the Spurs are going to have some trouble keeping up with the Warriors. Golden State has slogged through the final months of the season, but it will have a renewed sense of focus and precision once the postseason begins, even without Steph Curry in tow. Prediction: Warriors in 6
Maloney: Both teams have key injuries, with Steph Curry out for the Warriors and Kawhi Leonard out for the Spurs, which takes away much of the intrigue. Still, the Warriors have three other All-Stars, including Kevin Durant, so they shouldn't have too much trouble with this matchup. Prediction: Warriors in 5
Barnewall: If the Spurs had Kawhi Leonard then maybe this could be a series where they catch an injured Warriors team off guard. They don't have Leonard as far as we know, while the Warriors still have Kevin Durant. It's going to be a tough, yet short series. Prediction: Warriors in 5
No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans
Forgrave: Yes, the Blazers faltered somewhat down the stretch; a 13-game winning streak in February and March turned into a 5-7 end to the regular season. If Anthony Davis can play at an MVP level every single game, this becomes an intriguing series. But that's asking a lot when Damian Lillard has been playing at an MVP level, and when the Blazers have morphed a defense that was miserable last season into one of the league's most consistent. Prediction: Blazers in 6
Botkin: This one could easily go seven, but I'm taking the Blazers by a nose and it has everything to do with Damian Lillard. For my money, he's the most underrated superstar and maybe the most clutch player in the league. Jrue Holiday is an All-NBA level defender and will make Lillard work, and Anthony Davis is a monster, but the Blazers play both ends and run deeper. I wouldn't put a ton of money on this one either way. Prediction: Blazers in 7
Herbert: This feels like a coin flip, but I think the Blazers are built on a slightly sturdier foundation. If it's close, I feel good about Terry Stotts calling the plays and Damian Lillard running the show. (Feel free to call me an idiot if Anthony Davis averages 40 points and renders everything else moot.) Prediction: Blazers in 7
Ward-Henninger: Anthony Davis has been a one-man wrecking crew for months, but the Blazers have enough bodies to throw at him to at least give him some trouble. The other problem for Portland will be containing Jrue Holiday, but ultimately you have to trust the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt to lead them to the next round. Prediction: Blazers in 6
Maloney: Anthony Davis played like an MVP over the last few months of the season, dragging the Pels to the No. 6 seed in the West, but his heroic effort is probably coming to an end in the first round. It should be a fun series, but the Trail Blazers, with Damian Lillard leading the way, are just too deep. Prediction: Blazers in 6
Barnewall: This series is a toss-up that could go either way. Anthony Davis is going to be the best player on the floor at all times, but you can't count out what Damian Lillard has done this season. The Blazers are deeper, though, and that will be the difference. Those minutes where Davis is on the bench will decide a long series. Prediction: Blazers in 7
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
Forgrave: The most fascinating first-round matchup. The Jazz have been absolutely unreal since Jan. 22 when they lost to the lowly Atlanta Hawks, ending their regular season on a 29-6 run. There's not a better defense in the NBA than the Jazz with a healthy Rudy Gobert. And yet the Thunder have Russell Westbrook, and Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams. This is the most unpredictable series. Prediction: Jazz in 7
Botkin: It pains me to eliminate the Jazz here, and this feels like a really irresponsible pick based entirely on surface-level star power, but I have to do it. I just don't trust the Jazz to put up enough points if Russell Westbrook and Paul George really get going, which I expect them to do. Another one that could go seven. Prediction: Thunder in 7
Herbert: I'm nervous about what happens if Paul George just takes Joe Ingles out of Utah's offense, but I'm going to go with the Jazz -- by a hair. They have the best defense in the NBA, and while conventional wisdom would favor Russell Westbrook's team in crunch time, I can picture Utah repeatedly forcing him into low-percentage shots. Not an easy call, though. Prediction: Jazz in 7
Ward-Henninger: This one is a toss-up. The Jazz are red hot and have the best defense in the league with Gobert on the floor, but they rely heavily on a rookie -- Donovan Mitchell -- to be their primary scorer. The Thunder's star power should carry them in theory, but we've seen their difficulties executing in crunch time this season. Against the Jazz every game will be close, but ultimately the Thunder will pull out a home Game 7. Prediction: Thunder in 7
Maloney: Honestly, this is more of a guess than a prediction, because who knows what's going to happen in this series. Going with the best player in the series (Russell Westbrook) is usually a safe bet, but this one is going to be an absolute battle every single game. Prediction: Thunder in 7
Barnewall: The Jazz have been phenomenal on defense this season and that's only going to continue against the Thunder. Star power is going to give Oklahoma City a few wins, but this series is going to be a grind-it-out mess, and that favors Utah. Prediction: Jazz in 7
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