April 30, 2018, 4:07 pm
The first round is finally done after a pair of Game 7s and the second round has already kicked off out west.
In the West, we’ve got two heavy favorites against two surprise teams being lifted by superstar efforts. In the East, there are two highly anticipated matchups featuring what could be the greatest player of all-time playing at the peak of his powers having just eked out a series victory taking on a familiar foe and a couple of young guns looking to make a splash in their first playoff experience against an undermanned but tough-as-nails squad with a winning pedigree.
This could be four very entertaining series all transpiring at once. Let’s have some fun:
Eastern Conference – Celtics vs. Sixers
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Game 1 in Boston
Thursday: Game 2 in Boston
Saturday: Game 3 in Philadelphia
The Celtics survived one of the NBA’s many unicorns, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks with an easy Game 7 win in Boston on Saturday. Their reward? A matchup with a pair of unicorns. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid dispatched the Heat in five games and are now 20-1 since March 13. Boston has homecourt advantage for the series, which certainly came in handy in the first round, winning each of their four games. But Philly is a different animal, having won every road game they’ve played since March 8. The Sixers have a clear talent edge with two of the best youngins the league has seen in quite some time. The key to this series is how much of a chess match Brad Stevens can turn it into. Can he come up with a scheme that forces Ben Simmons into jumpshots, almost eliminating him offensively? That could be the only way that the Celtics take four of these seven games.
Eastern Conference – Raptors vs. Cavs
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 1 in Toronto
Thursday: Game 2 in Toronto
Saturday: Game 3 in Cleveland
This is the moment all of Canada has been waiting for. The Raptors earned the 1-seed in the East with what could be their best team in franchise history. Awaiting them in round two is the team that sent them packing the last two seasons. But this isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers of previous seasons. This, much like a decade ago, feels like a one-man team. How hard could it be to beat one guy? Toronto should ask the Pacers who saw LeBron James drop 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks with 55/35/82 shooting splits over seven games. You have to wonder if the existence and threat of LeBron is enough to get in the heads of the Raptors after he averaged 36 points per game in last year’s second round sweep of Toronto. That said, it honestly could be the Raptors best strategy to let James have whatever he wants and make absolutely sure that nobody else contributes. If Toronto can limit the Cavs’ shooters, especially when they have their LeBron plus four shooters lineups, the Raptors can position themselves well. At that point, with Toronto’s efficient offense, stingy defense and strong depth, LeBron may need to average 50 per game to get the job done. The scary part is – if anybody can do it, it’s him.
Western Conference – Warriors vs. Pelicans (GS leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Tuesday: Game 2 in Oakland
Friday: Game 3 in New Orleans
Sunday: Game 4 in New Orleans
This became a hot matchup to talk about after the Pelicans’ impressive first round showing where they demolished the Blazers in a sweep. Helped by the fact that the Warriors didn’t exactly look like the Warriors in their five-game first round win over the Spurs, people began to whisper about what Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could do to the defending champs. We’re only one game in but those whispers already feel like an overreaction. The Warriors used their offensive avalanche to dismantle New Orleans in Game 1 and that was without Stephen Curry who could be back as soon as Tuesday night for Game 2. If Curry isn’t quite healthy, the Pels shouldn’t be counted out just yet. It was the typical perfect Golden State storm as Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 53 points while Draymond Green tossed up a triple-double. The biggest key though – Green’s defense on Davis and Durant taking defensive duties on Holiday. The Pelicans need to get Durant switched off of Jrue as often as possible in these next few games and Holiday showed a versatile offensive attack in the Portland series that can be a major help in this one. If Curry’s side-to-side quickness isn’t quite up to snuff yet, that’s who the Pelicans need to get Jrue in front of. While there are strategies that exist that favor New Orleans, if Steph is 100 percent and good to go, none of it really matters. We saw the Warriors flip the switch on Saturday. If the Pels can’t find a way to turn the switch off, this series could be over before week’s end.
Western Conference – Rockets vs. Jazz (HOU leads 1-0)
This week’s schedule:
Wednesday: Game 2 in Houston
Friday: Game 3 in Salt Lake City
Sunday: Game 4 in Salt Lake City
It may not be fair to judge the Jazz for their 110-96 loss in Sunday’s Game 1 against Houston. They were less than 48 hours removed from a highly-emotional series clincher at home against the Thunder and the Rockets are one of the two most difficult teams to prepare for in the NBA. Luckily for Utah, they have some time to get ready for Wednesday’s Game 2 but that still may not be enough time to come up with a way to stop James Harden who poured in an easy 41 points in Game 1. Utah’s defense is strong but one of their strong suits is forcing guys to take deep 3-pointers. The Rockets are the worst possible team to take that approach against. If the Jazz force Houston to drive to the rim where the best defensive player in the league, Rudy Gobert, awaits, Harden and his crew are salivating at the thought of getting the Stifle Tower in foul trouble. This Jazz team is feisty and among the toughest in the league and that comes from head coach Quin Snyder. But Snyder is looking at his toughest task yet. This series has the makings of a long story but Houston’s versatility and all-around math problem could make life miserable for Snyder’s Jazz.
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) is doubtful for tonight’s Game 1 tilt with the Sixers. Brown did tell Brad Stevens that he felt better this morning and Stevens said, “He’ll go through whatever he can in shootaround and then, if he can play, he’ll play,” so Brown shouldn’t be fully ruled out for this one.
Stephen Curry (knee) is expected to play in tomorrow night’s Game 2 against the Pelicans.
Ricky Rubio (hamstring) missed Game 1 of the series with the Rockets and is likely to miss Game 2. The original report suggested that Rubio could miss10 days or more with this injury.