Key players in first round NBA Playoffs | Bonehead Picks

The key player in each 2018 NBA Playoff first round series

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There are plenty of intriguing 2018 NBA playoff matchups this year. Prior to the start of the 2017-18 NBA season there was a sense that NBA fans would get a replay of the Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers rivalry in the NBA Finals once again. Thanks to an unpredictable and exciting 2017-18 NBA regular season, the paths for Cleveland and Golden State to play for the NBA championship do not seem as certain. The 2018 NBA playoffs has numerous first round playoff matchups that can potentially go six or seven games before being decided. Here are the key, not necessarily best, players from each NBA playoff first round series who will play a key role in the outcome in each series.

Western Conference Playoffs

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves- The key player in this series is Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins. This series features plenty of recognizable names to even casual sports fans like James Harden, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Wiggins. Ironically, Wiggins was the highest drafted player from that group from his respective NBA Draft but is also the least productive of that group. The former first overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft is the clear third offensive option for the Timberwolves after Butler and Towns but he has to be efficient including making threes for the Timberwolves to push this series past five games.

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs- Arguably the two best coaches in the NBA in Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr match up again while missing true superstars as injured Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard are not expected to play in this series. However, San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay comprises the key player between the Warriors and Spurs. Due to the absence of Leonard, it will be a big responsibility for Rudy Gay to attempt to slow down Kevin Durant, who will carry Golden State’s offense without Steph Curry. Gay also have to disrupt sharpshooting Klay Thompson as well.

(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans- The production of NBA All-Stars Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis in this series seems to be a given so the key player is Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum is regularly underrated by NBA fans by virtue of being backcourt mates with Lillard and playing in Portland. However, the Pelicans know that McCollum, who can score at all three levels, must be held below an average of 20 points per game this series or this will be a quick exit for an undermanned Pelicans team.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz- The Thunder are one of the NBA’s most polarizing teams due to the combination of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony and the explosive nature and personality of Westbrook. The Jazz have survived losing former All-Star Gordon Hayward to free agency because many believe rookie Donovan Mitchell is the Rookie of the Year. This series’ key player is Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who is the anchor of the underrated Jazz defense. Gobert’s ability to deter Westbrook’s drives and the inside scoring of Anthony and Thunder center Steven Adams are a vital point to this series.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards- This series is intriguing because of the fun matchup between the backcourts. The Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal against the Raptors’ DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry could be thrilling. That leaves Wizards forward Otto Porter as the key player. Porter isn’t the type of player to explode for a 35 or 40 point performance but he is an efficient player who can be relied upon to hit three pointers. Porter is also a bit banged up entering the playoffs and nursing a calf strain.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks- Although the Boston Celtics are entering the playoffs as the number two seed, injuries to Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart make them more vulnerable. Milwaukee has had a crazy season while firing former head coach Jason Kidd and integrating point guard Eric Bledsoe after trading for him. Bledsoe is the key player in this series especially with Irving gone.  Bledsoe should be excited by both Irving’s absence and the fact that he hasn’t been in the NBA playoffs since 2013.

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat- It is the NBA’s hottest team facing the Heat. The 76ers have won 16 straight games going into the playoffs while the Heat enter the playoffs in relative obscurity. The most recognizable players of this series are the 76ers’ Ben Simmons and Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who isn’t a superstar anymore. However, it is 76ers forward Robert Covington is the key player as a player who can make threes and guard all over the floor.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers- The key player is some guy named LeBron James. That needs no explanation.


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