By David R. Lee, Jr., Commentary

The 2017-2018 NBA season has been one of the most unpredictable yet. From Gordon Hayward snapping his ankle on national TV in the season opener, and Isaiah Thomas falling off in Cleveland, NBA fans have been through a tough season. For me personally, being a die-hard Hawks fan hurts. The drop off from just 3 years ago when we won the Eastern Conference hurts to think about. With the Hawks looking into the playoffs, I am watching this year’s playoffs as an analyst.

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, below, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

With the inconsistent Raptors leading the conference, the discombobulated Cavs not far behind, and the surging, young Sixers, this year the Eastern Conference is purely guesswork. I am picking the Sixers to come out of the East because they match up well against the Bucks. The Sixers bench is deeper and more talented than Milwaukee’s, and if Embiid can get back in the groove in time, it will be tough to guard a Ben Simmons/Embiid pick and roll. The Bucks’ bigs can’t extend to the 3-point line easily, and Milwaukee is generally weak defensively. They will beat the Bucks 4-2. They also will easily handle the injured Celtics or Heat. This will also be a 6-game series regardless of the opponent. Whether their matchup is Cleveland or Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Sixers have performed exceptionally well against both teams. The Raptors have a bad tendency to play terribly in the playoffs and I do not expect that to change. With all the fluctuations in Cleveland’s roster.

I don’t believe they have the chemistry necessary to prevail. Nevertheless, this will be a 7-game series. In the West, Golden State is faltering without Steph Curry, dropping their last 3 of 4, against low-tier teams. I believe this is Houston’s and James Harden’s year. They are an older, more experienced, and better version of the Sixers, same run and gun concept just much, much better. Although playoff standings may change tonight (The Twolves will win to secure a spot), at the time of this writing the Timberwolves are the 8 seed. They are much, much better than an 8 seed, but a Jimmy Butler injury affected their play tremendously. This will be Houston’s hardest series. The Timberwolves are physical and Coach Thibodeau plays his starters playoff minutes in the regular season. This means that the Timberwolves starters have to be ready to play extensive minutes. Will this fatigue lead to breakdowns in crunch time? I believe it will, as Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns all average over 35 MINUTES per game. This will allow the Rockets to win in 6. The Trail Blazers will dispatch the Pelicans handily, as the Pelicans will not go far without Anthony Davis, winning in 5. Houston will have a tough time with Damian Lillard and Rip City, as they are almost a poor man’s version of the Rockets, but will win in 6 or 7. The Warriors will play a wildly entertaining series without Steph Curry against the Thunder. The Warriors are undefeated when Steph plays without Durant, and through March 28th, they are 13-8. This is not good news.

Additionally, the Thunder play well against top-tier teams, which is not evident from their record against .500 and above teams, at 26-23. Nevertheless, the Warriors will win a tough one. Playing the winner of the 3 and 6 seed will be their easiest series, as the Jazz are over performing and the Spurs are without the Warriors killer, Kawhi Leonard. I predict a win in 5, especially if Steph is healthy and ready to go. The Warriors-Rockets Conference finals will be one of the greatest ever. 2 of the greatest offensive teams ever, with 4 future Hall of Famers, and both teams with a great supporting cast. Curry will need to be 100% back for the warriors to have a chance as the Rockets have home court advantage. With Harden’s amazing year and Chris Paul’s greatness, the Rockets will top the Warriors in a very close Game 7. The Finals will be no contest for the Rockets because they are so complete offensively. Whether it is the Cavs, Sixers, or Raptors, the only team that I feel could compete would be a fully healthy Celtics. Rockets in 5.

Let me know how you guys think the playoffs will turn out. Just know the Rockets getting that trophy brotha.

David R. Lee, Jr. is a sophomore at Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School in Atlanta, Georgia.  His many hobbies include basketball, Fortnite, reading, and listening to music. His new column is seeking submissions from teens across America on all sorts of topics ranging from sports to politics to music. Opinions, questions, and creative writing is all welcomed to subs@afro.com