NBA Playoffs: Second Round – A Little Preview
I know that the second round has already started, and you may think that my picks are skewed based on the games that were already played. I’d simply retort with: didn’t the first round teach us to not overreact to the beginning of a series?
I mean, the San Antonio Spurs beat down the Memphis Grizzlies in their first game 111-82, which caused many to think that it would be a cakewalk for the Spurs, but it wasn’t. Then, you had the Chicago Bulls leap at the throats of the Boston Celtics to steal their home court advantage and take a commanding 2-0 lead, once again, causing fans to think (including me for a little bit) that the Bulls would win the series, but they didn’t.
Now, we pretty much have the eight best teams in the league facing off against each other to keep the championship hopes alive. Let’s take a look to see how things will shake out. But, before we do that, here are some parting words to the eight teams who were eliminated in the first round.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George criticized teammates for taking the last shot, he also failed to be clutch in the close contests, and now Larry Bird stepped down as their President of Basketball Operations. With George being an L.A. native and growing up as a Lakers fan, coupled with the Pacers’ failure to be part of the elite, his departure from the Hoosier State seems imminent.
Portland Trail Blazers: If Jusuf Nurkic, who came in at the trade deadline and helped lead the Blazers to the playoffs, had never gotten injured, Portland would’ve proven to be more competitive with their 7-footer. Alas, Nurkic was unavailable, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum couldn’t even get a game against Golden State, and the Warriors took care of business. At least Portland has some draft picks in this year’s draft, so they could hopefully use that to improve.
Atlanta Hawks: Gotta give to the Hawks, as they won one more game than I expected them to. They battled well against the Washington Wizards, Dennis Schroder had some good games, but he’s no John Wall and the Hawks don’t have a player of John Wall’s caliber. Paul Millsap may be gone, so we’re not sure what to make of Atlanta right now.
Memphis Grizzlies: Nailed my prediction for this series as I anticipated Memphis to give San Antonio a good fight, but Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance was too much for the Grizz, as was Tony Parker’s stellar Game 6 performance. The question here is: can Grit N’ Grind still be a formidable force in today’s NBA? Probably not, but we’ll see what the Grizzlies do going forward. Shout to Vince Carter as it may have been his last game in the league.
Chicago Bulls: Rajon Rondo was hands-down the best player on the court in the first two games of their first-round matchup against the Celtics. Unfortunately, he injured his thumb and was sidelined. His getting hurt was Boston’s saving grace. I wonder if their two convincing wins was enough to make the organization stand as is and make the team give it another go next year, despite their flaws.
Los Angeles Clippers: Clips be Clipping. We joke, but it’s sad. The Clips either blow it themselves (losing Game 1 even though Rudy Gobert was out for the Utah Jazz) and get struck with bad injury luck (Blake Griffin injuring his right big toe). They are going to be a fascinating team to look at this summer as they have major personnel decisions to make.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis, Giannis, and Giannis! Khris Middleton is nice, Malcolm Brogdon is solid, Thon Maker is raw, and Jabari Parker wasn’t even playing. But it’s all about Giannis Antetokounmpo and his inevitable dominance coming in the next decade. Please, God, just give us one series of The Greek Freak facing off against LeBron James in the playoffs before his prime comes to an end.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Yeah, I didn’t nail this prediction. I thought Russell Westbrook’s greatness would make this series go full tilt, but the Houston Rockets proved to be too much for the Thunder. OKC needs more shooting, but they also need to involve the rest of the team more. Because, as we saw, The Russ Show is fun to watch, but it doesn’t yield playoff success.
All right, enough with the losers.
Onto the second round.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs Toronto Raptors (3)
What Kyrie Irving’s off-the-backboard alley-oop to LeBron James in the opening quarter of Game 1 told me is that the Cavs simply don’t respect the Raps. I even tweeted about it. It feels like Cleveland are slowly turning it up round by round, which must be comforting for their fans as their often lackadaisical play was highly worrisome even for the defending champs.
Even though Toronto was outplayed from front to back, I expect to see a similar outcome from last year: Cleveland looks dominant, they then get bored and let a couple of games slip away, Toronto and their fans start to believe again, but Cleveland smacks them back to reality and advance to the conference finals.
Cavaliers in 6.
Boston Celtics (1) vs Washington Wizards (4)
We have to show some love and respect to Isaiah Thomas real quick. His younger sister, Chyna Thomas, died in a car crash the day before the Celtics played the Chicago Bulls. Between then and now, he’s had to fly to Tacoma, Washington to be with his family, and attend his sister’s funeral without missing a single game as he lead the Celtics past the first round and recorded an iconic 53-point performance in Game 2 on May 2nd, which would’ve been Chyna’s 23rd birthday.
I don’t know how he’s doing this.
He’s amazing and has a warrior's heart.
It doesn’t get any easier for Thomas and the Celts as they face one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Thing is, Wall and Beal won’t be enough for them if they want to move on. Their frontcourt and bench need to step up big and do so consistently in order for them to pull out wins. Wall is a superstar and a gamer; he’s proven that in Game 6 against the Hawks and Game 2 against the Celts.
I just don’t see that being enough against Isaiah Thomas playing out of his mind and a Celtics bunch riding a six-game win streak in the playoffs. Beal and Wall will have their hands full with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s deep, and when they’re disciplined defensively and they knock down threes, they’re really hard to beat. This series will be a long one in my opinion, but Boston is just a bit better overall.
Celtics in 7.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS
Golden State Warriors (1) vs Utah Jazz (5)
After the Warriors throttled the Trail Blazers in their closeout game in round one, it seemed to remind everyone that they were a force to be reckoned with. So much so that people are talking themselves into the Dubs sweeping their way into the NBA Finals. I don’t know if that’s showering them with too much praise or if that’s spitting in the faces of their opponents.
I personally really like this Jazz team. They defend, share the ball, have shooters, and have Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson – guys who they can go to at the end of close games if need be. Their slow pace and scrappy style could benefit them against Golden State to stop the Warriors from getting transition buckets. That didn’t work out in Game 1, though.
The Jazz needs to really muck it up and get physical with this Warriors team to have a chance. Not a lot of people are giving a Utah a chance, as they’re expected to be swept, in straight-up or gentlemanly fashion. But I think Utah has the shooting, ball handling and versatility required to make it somewhat of a contest.
Warriors in 6.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs Houston Rockets (3)
This is by far the most fascinating series of the second round, not just because it’s expected to be a long one, but also because we have two MVP candidates facing off against each other. This is James Harden’s second straight series playing opposite an MVP favorite in Kawhi Leonard, and Leonard couldn’t be more different from Russell Westbrook.
Sure, both guys are heavily relied upon to carry the burden offensively for their respective teams, but Leonard uses his teammates much more and is a stalwart defensively. There will come a time where Leonard will be going off in the fourth quarter on offense and then guarding Harden on defense at some point in this series.
Gregg Popovich has usually had Mike D’Antoni’s number in past postseasons, but it could be different this time. Since Popovich is coaching one of his most flawed Spurs teams, D’Antoni is helming one of his best team with the Rockets. This isn’t necessarily due to one dipping and the other rising as far as coaching is concerned, it’s mainly due to Popovich not able to manufacture much offence outside of Kawhi, and D’Antoni having the ultimate playmaker in Harden who can generate threes and layups for himself nearly at will, and also creating open looks for the bevy of shooters and scorers surrounding him.
Tony Parker had his moments in round one, and they’ll have to keep coming in this series as well. Also, did the Monstars suck the game out of LaMarcus Aldridge or what? Dude’s been a ghost!
I feared that Harden wouldn’t be able to upend the Spurs by himself with their terrific defense, but Houston does a fabulous job of taking what the defense gives them and getting the shots they want, with Eric Gordon and Lou Williams providing a good scoring punch off the bench. I initially had the Spurs because of their defense, but I don’t think they have enough scoring to help them get past this round since the Rockets will get their buckets while doing just enough on the defensive end to hold San Antonio back.
Rockets in 6.
See y’all in the Conference Finals!
written by The W