• This past week has given us playoff basketball all day, from morning til night out on the West coast. Sunday capped off a great week as Luka Dončić helped lead the Mavs from a 21-point deficit in the first half to tie the series at two games apiece. Luka became the youngest player in postseason history to hit a game winning shot and his 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists in a NBA Playoff game has never been done before. There have only ever been two players to get 40-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and 10-plus assists in a playoff game – Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson. Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James may soon relinquish control of being known as the best player in the NBA if Luka can continue to perform like he did on Sunday!

    Let’s take a look at each series so far and make some predictions for what is to come based on what we have gotten to watch.

    Eastern Conference

          First Round

    (1) Bucks vs. (8) Magic (MIL leads 2-1) – In a surprise twist, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks dropped the series opener but have been able to find their footing and will look to make quick work of the injury-ravaged Magic. The Magic are already without Jonathan Isaac (ACL) for the remainder of the season but still hope to get Aaron Gordon back at some point as he has missed the first three games with a hamstring strain.

    Prediction: Bucks win in 5

    (2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets (TOR wins 4-0) – The Raptors have looked like one of the most consistent and united teams so far in these playoffs. The Nets never really did stand a chance against the defending Champs and with Joe Harris (personal) out for the last two games, they were relying on Tyler Johnson and Justin Anderson to score.

    Actual: TOR wins in 4

    (3) Celtics vs. (6) 76ers (BOS wins 4-0) – The Celtics will face the Raptors in what is setting up to be a very exciting Eastern Conference Semifinals while the Sixers are heading home much earlier than they would have hoped. Ben Simmons’s absence was evident as the Sixers struggled to defend and create for others on offense. Brett Brown’s days in Philly may be numbered with this result and the Sixers will be one of the more intriguing teams to watch in the offseason.

    Actual: BOS wins in 4

    (4) Heat vs. (5) Pacers (MIA leads 3-0) – Jimmy Butler isn’t your typical superstar and the Heat weren’t thought of as title contenders when the league was suspended in March. With what we have seen from the Heat’s defense, passing and 3-point shooting through three games vs. an undermanned Pacers squad, the Bucks will have their work cut out for them in Round 2.

    Prediction: MIA wins in 4

          Second Round

    (1) Bucks vs. (4) Heat – The East will likely have the better second round matchups than the West and the Heat are a big reason why. Both of these squads are doing the following: playing excellent defense, moving the ball beautifully on offense and shooting the ball well because of the movement on offense. I am still going with the Bucks but believe that Miami can push them to seven games.

    Prediction: MIL wins in 7

    (2) Raptors vs. (3) Celtics – Jaylen Brown is now in his fourth postseason while this marks Jayson Tatum’s third. They will continue to get better as they earn their stripes but this Raptors team is playing some of the best basketball out of any team currently in the playoffs. Tatum might one day earn himself a league MVP, but his days of winning a championship will have to come at a later date.

    Prediction: TOR wins in 6

          Eastern Conference Finals

    (1) Bucks vs. (2) Raptors – The Eastern Conference Finals will be a rematch and the Bucks will look to get revenge after losing to the Raptors in this round last year. Giannis Antetokounmpo will finally get to the NBA Finals but it will not be easy against this deep Raptors squad.

    Prediction: MIL wins in 7

    Western Conference

           First Round

    (1) Lakers vs. (8) Blazers (LAL leads 2-1) – The Lakers dropped their first game in a disappointing fashion but have successfully placed the emphasis on the defensive end over the last two games. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Blazers have had an excellent run in the postseason but can’t get past the length and size that the Lakers have on their roster.

    Prediction: LAL wins in 6

    (2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavs (LAC leads 2-1) – Paul George needs to shoot the ball better than he has over the last three games (10-47 FG in Games 2 & 3). The Clippers got a break with the Kristaps Porziņģis ejection in Game 1 but were unable to stop Luka Dončić on Sunday as he had one of the best playoff games we have seen in recent memory. Dallas will have postseason success in years to come but this Clippers squad is just too much for the inexperienced Mavs to overcome. All that being said, the Clippers will need to find an answer for Luka after what we saw in Game 4.

    Prediction: LAC wins in 6

    (3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz (UTA leads 2-1) – The Nuggets have been the most disappointing top-seeded team in these playoffs and it would be surprising if they were able to turn things around. Gary Harris (hip) has a chance at getting on the court while Will Barton (knee) will likely remain sidelined for this series. This series was a bracket-buster for many out there (myself included).

    Prediction: UTA wins in 5

    (4) Rockets vs. (5) Thunder (HOU leads 2-1) – Even without Russell Westbrook (quad), the Rockets looked really good over the first two games. The Thunder were able to rebound in Game 3 and if their three-headed guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder continue to perform well, we might have our only seven-game series of the first-round.

    Prediction: OKC wins in 7

           Second Round

    (1) Lakers vs. (5) Thunder – The Lakers may struggle to contain the three-headed guards on the Thunder but will have the two best players in the series. The Thunder far exceeded expectations this season but will have to focus on the 2020-21 campaign after this series.

    Prediction: LAL wins in 5

    (2) Clippers vs. (6) Jazz – After playing one of the worst defenses in the postseason, the Jazz will have water splashed in their face with this elite Clippers squad. The Western Conference Semifinals will have much shorter series than the East as we get ready for the battle of LA.

    Prediction: LAC wins in 5

           Western Conference Finals

    (1) Lakers vs. (2) Clippers – LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This is going to be must-watch television.

    Prediction: LAC wins in 7

    NBA Finals

    (1) Bucks vs. (2) Clippers – The Greek Freak makes his first NBA Finals but ultimately falls short as Kawhi Leonard once gain shuts him down.

    Prediction: LAC wins in 6

    As the first round comes to a close, the NBA will look accelerate the schedule so we could have some second round matchups occur this week similar to what you see below with the start of the Celtics-Raptors series. Now here is an overview of the week ahead with that in mind:

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    Monday

    Bucks at Magic (Game 4)
    Rockets at Thunder (Game 4)
    Pacers at Heat (Game 4)
    Lakers at Blazers (Game 4)

    Tuesday

    Jazz at Nuggets (Game 5)
    Mavs at Clippers (Game 5)

    Wednesday

    Heat at Pacers (Game 5 if necessary)
    Magic at Bucks (Game 5)
    Thunder at Rockets (Game 5)
    Blazers at Lakers (Game 5)

    Thursday

    Clippers at Mavs (Game 6)
    Nuggets at Jazz (Game 6 if necessary)
    Celtics at Raptors (Game 1)

    Friday

    Bucks at Magic (Game 6 if necessary)
    Pacers at Heat (Game 6 if necessary)
    Lakers at Blazers (Game 6 if necessary)
    Rockets at Thunder (Game 6 if necessary)

    Saturday

    Mavs at Clippers (Game 7 if necessary)
    Jazz at Nuggets (Game 7 if necessary)
    Celtics at Raptors (Game 2)

    Sunday

    Magic at Bucks (Game 7 if necessary)
    Heat at Pacers (Game 7 if necessary)
    Blazers at Lakers (Game 7 if necessary)
    Thunder at Rockets (Game 7 if necessary)

    Injury Report

    Gordon Hayward (right ankle sprain) has left the bubble to rehab from his injury. His wife is also expecting a child in September so it is possible that there is overlap with the injury and the paternity leave. Marcus Smart will continue to start with Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye getting additional minutes off the bench.

    Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) has yet to suit up for the Magic so far this postseason and Orlando has struggled without him. If he can’t return in the next two games, it seems unlikely that they extend the series. Even with Gordon, the Bucks are a huge favorite.

    Patrick Beverley (left calf strain) has missed the last three games with this injury and it appears as if he will be questionable at best for Game 5 on Tuesday. The Clippers are searching for their first ever NBA Championship and will need their defensive-minded guard in series to come if they want to make it happen.

    Rajon Rondo (thumb) has arrived at the bubble and cleared the four-day quarantine period.  He is obviously not going to start playing with the Lakers right away, but we could see Rondo hit the court sometime during the playoffs if his thumb is 100% and his conditioning is back to normal.

    Damian Lillard (dislocated finger) played with a splint on his left hand and struggled to make shots in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Expect Lillard to suit up for the remainder of the series with a splint and he will need to be better in the fourth in order for the Blazers to win another game.

    Luka Dončić (left ankle sprain) suffered an ankle sprain in a Game 3 blowout on Friday but was able to make history on Sunday night as he became the youngest NBA player to ever hit a game-winning shot in a playoff game in history. His teammate, Kristaps Porziņģis was a late-scratch with knee soreness. This came as a surprise as he entered the day with just a probable tag. Continue to monitor this moving forward as the unicorn has been hampered by knee injuries for the duration of his career.

    Russell Westbrook (right quad strain) continues to miss games for the Rockets as he is listed as out for Monday’s Game 5 vs. the Thunder. Hopefully, he is able to return to the court soon as the Rockets look to advance to the second round. At this point, there is no guarantee that Westbrook plays in their first round series.

    Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture) has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing season-ending surgery. Hassan Whiteside and Wenyen Gabriel will continue to see additional minutes as the Blazers look to even the series against the Lakers.

    Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!

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