We are down to the “Elite 8” of the NBA Playoffs. Round 1 did not produce any upsets, as the top teams showed why they are, well…. the top teams.
Round 2 will expose some of the “mid-to-above average” teams that need to improve before truly making a run for the ring.
First, a look at the East, that kicked off Sunday.
#1 Boston Celtics vs #4 Washington Wizards
Kudos to the Boston Celtics for shaking off an 0-2 start and coming back to sweep the rest of the series against the Chicago Bulls. In reality, Chicago barely deserved to even be in that series, as Miami was clearly a better team at that end of the season, but the Heat simply could not overcome a terrible start. Now, Boston moves on to play a red-hot Washington squad, who were able to dispatch the Atlanta Hawks in six games.
Isaiah Thomas is forced to be a one-man show in Boston. With no other teammate producing at a high level on the floor, Thomas has to rack up the points and shots as he leads the team into this round. The tragic death of his sister continues to loom over his head, as he flies back and forth from Seattle dealing with family matters during the situation.
Al Horford has helped out this postseason by being active on the boards and distributing the ball, but the Celtics need more points from the veteran to take some of the burden off Thomas.
Players like Avery Bradley, Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk will contribute in small doses, but Boston will struggle to generate enough offence to compete with Washington’s production.
Washington’s back-court of John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing lights out right now, with Wall playing at a level never before. He has clearly found his offensive rhythm, and has become a two-way terror, with several chase-down blocks to his credit. He is playing like the number one overall pick that many projected him to be. Beal shoots with a confidence much like Steph Curry, with about 80% of the production. He was below-average from 3-point land in the first round, but it’s still a threat that has to be respected when he is on the floor.
Washington has a variety of role players that they will use throughout the series. Marcin Gortat will be a viable offensive threat when he has the ball, as Boston doesn’t have anyone who matches up well with him. Otto Porter is a solid starter and contributes in a variety of ways, and other players like Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. will continue to chip in when needed.
This series will ride on the back of John Wall. If he plays on the level that he did in Round 1, the Washington Wizards will be in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: Washington in 7
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #3 Toronto Raptors
Let’s be clear on this prediction. In no way are the Toronto Raptors defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in this series, but the recent pick ups do change the dynamic of this Round 2 match-up.
Toronto’s acquisitions at the trade deadline of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have added an interesting element. These two players have improved the area the Raptors were struggling the most; defence. Ibaka also provides valuable playoff experience for this scenario, having played with the OKC Thunder for several years, and going to the NBA Finals. He showed in the first round that he is confident and willing to help lead the team on both ends of the floor.
P.J. Tucker Is a tough-as-nails one-on-one defender, something Toronto has lacked for years. Tucker will be asked to guard several Cavs throughout the series, and it’s intriguing to think about how he’ll attempt to guard King James.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to play at least as good as they did over their last 3 games vs the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lowry will either have to show better shot selection throughout this series, or convert a higher percentage of the tough shots he tends to force (unlikely). DeRozan may need to average 35+ pts to give the Raptors a chance.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were able to dispatch the Indiana Pacers in four straight games, although each game was a battle, as Cleveland only won the series by a combined 16 points. Have they “flipped the switch” as Coach Tyronn Lue has teased? Not yet, but they look to be close. Once again LeBron continues to be LeBron, and will rack up 40-plus minutes early in the series if the score is close. Between Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, only one of the two needs to be effective for Cleveland to be productive.
Some have suggested this version of the Raptors is the best yet. Perhaps… if THIS roster had been together all year, and not just 20+ games.
Cleveland takes care of business and meets the Wizards in the East Final.
Prediction: Cleveland in 5
#1 Golden State Warriors vs #5 Utah Jazz
The Warriors advanced in a sweep over the Portland Trailblazers. The Jazz needed 7 tough games to get past the L.A. Clippers. Could the Warriors be TOO rested? Nah.
Steph Curry showed that he can go right back to putting the ball in the bucket, while Kevin Durant was injured on the sideline. Some would suggest the Warriors lineup is even more effective WITHOUT Durant, as there is only so much offence to go around.
Draymond Green will force Rudy Gobert to come out of the paint to guard him, leaving several backdoor cuts open in the Jazz defence.
Klay Thompson has shown he can heat up at any minute, putting up 20pt quarters with ease and JaVale McGee has been a spark from the bench, doing his best to not show up on Shaqtin’ A Fool.
It’s been a nice season for Utah. Finishing first in the Northwest and getting into the second round is impressive for an up-and-coming young roster. But the fun stops here.
Thanks for coming out Jazz. Now you have to figure out how to keep Gordon Hayward, who is set for free agency.
Prediction: Warriors in 4
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs #3 Houston Rockets
Kawhi Leonard is showing throughout the playoffs that he is truly a top three candidate in the MVP race. And now, he’ll go up against another MVP candidate in James Harden.
This series simply breaks down to: which MVP candidate is going to be more effective? And here’s the answer; Kawhi Leonard, a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, will give James Harden enough problems to mitigate some of his offence. And, the Rockets do not have anybody who will be able to slow down Kawhi enough on the offensive end. Patrick Beverley is a solid defender, having some success against (most likely 2017 NBA MVP) Russell Westbrook, but Leonard offers a different skill set.
Look for the Rockets to continue to swing the ball around the edge as they put up as many 3-pointers as possible. Meanwhile, the Spurs will look to space, cut and shred the Rockets defence. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is not known for being a defensive genius, so the Rockets will get it exposed on several occasions and there will be a few highlights where all 5 Rocket players look at each other as a Spurs player is left unguarded for a dunk.
A little help from the somewhat disappointing LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Spurs will advance to the Western Conference Finals to face the Warriors.
Prediction: Spurs in 6