• Welcome to the Week Ahead where throughout the season, we gave you schedule analysis, hot wire pickups and the injury report for the week that followed.

    With the end of the regular season (congrats on that fantasy championship to all of you out there), we’re switching it up a bit. Let’s shift our focus away from our endless fantasy apps and number crunching and take a look at what’s going down on the hardwood. We’re two days in to the 2018 NBA Playoffs and we’ve already had some wild moments and results. Let’s take a peek at what lies ahead this week with some series-by-series analysis. We’ll start with the hottest team in the NBA.

    Eastern Conference – Sixers vs. Heat (PHI leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Monday: Game 2 in Philadelphia
    Thursday: Game 3 in Miami
    Saturday: Game 4 in Miami

    No series was as hyped as this one entering this weekend’s start of the playoffs. After all, the Sixers are the hottest topic in the league after finishing the regular season with 16 straight W’s. But people wondered allowed if they’d struggle in their first playoff appearance as a unit with so many young stars and Joel Embiid out for the time being. Especially with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra having so much playoff experience, including two titles to his name, this seemed like the toughest matchup for Philly coming out of the gate. Philly put some of those concerns to rest with Saturday’s resounding 130-103 win. Now people have to wonder if Miami is talented enough to keep it interesting. Ben Simmons ran roughshod over the Heat’s defense and found Philly shooters at will, adding up to a team playoff record 18 3-pointers made on Saturday. The Heat have some of the finest depth in the league and need everyone to contribute. Kelly Olynyk can lead the Miami bench to keep the Heat alive. He proved that with his 26-point effort in Game 1. But if the Sixers continue to make anywhere close to 64 percent from deep, which is what they did on Saturday, what the Heat do to counter simply won’t matter.

    Western Conference – Warriors vs. Spurs (GS leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Monday: Game 2 in Oakland
    Thursday: Game 3 in San Antonio
    Sunday: Game 4 in San Antonio

    While it may sound like a fun matchup, as has been highly publicized, most of the fun has been sucked out of this one. Stephen Curry is healing up for round 2 and the Spurs are still without their best player. Instead of a Warriors-Spurs epic for the ages, we’ve got Kevin Durant crushing defenders, Klay Thompson catching fire and the Spurs desperately trying to keep up. It’s hard to imagine any game in the series going differently than Saturday’s Game 1 which saw the defending champs cruise to a 113-92 win. All the Spurs’ hope falls directly on LaMarcus Aldridge who didn’t do much in Game 1, scoring 14 and only grabbing two boards. Aldridge had a six-game stretch from mid-to-late March where he averaged 33.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 57 percent. That’s the LMA the Spurs need for the rest of this series in order to survive.

    Eastern Conference – Raptors vs. Wizards (TOR leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 2 in Toronto
    Friday: Game 3 in Washington, D.C.
    Sunday: Game 4 in Washington, D.C.

    Rejoice, Toronto. Your Raptors finally won a Game 1. Not only should Raptors fans be pleased about the victory but they should be very happy about the way it happened. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry didn’t exactly bring their best in Saturday’s 114-106 win. They combined for only 28 points, 11 below their season average and DeMar only hit 6-of-17 from the floor. Their playmaking was on point though as they combined for 15 assists and the role players feasted thanks in part to that passing. Serge Ibaka led all scorers with 23 and Delon Wright chipped in 18 off the bench. There’s little doubt that the Wizards have the talent to keep up with the Raptors. It’s more so putting it all together that remains in question, especially after such a dysfunctional season in DC. The Wizards’ plan is simple – put the ball in the hands of John Wall or Bradley Beal and let them create. But to make noise in this series, those two have to shoot better than 14-of-37 like they did in Saturday’s loss.

    Eastern Conference – Celtics vs. Bucks (BOS leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 2 in Boston
    Friday: Game 3 in Milwaukee
    Sunday: Game 4 in Milwaukee

    Game 1 was crazy and sets the stage for what could be a fun series. The Celtics won 113-107 in overtime, an overtime forced by a Khris Middleton 35-foot heave at the buzzer. That shot came after what was thought to be a Terry Rozier game-winner with 0.5 seconds left, a shot that literally froze Eric Bledsoe on defense. This series is so fun, frankly, because of both teams’ imperfections. The Bucks have the best player on the floor and Giannis Antetokounmpo drove that point home on Sunday, dropping 35 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. As everyone knows, the Celtics are missing some key ingredients to what they hoped would be an NBA Championship run when the season started. But, despite having a superstar and going up against a team heavily handicapped, the Bucks couldn’t get the job done on Sunday. They have to take care of the ball better – the Bucks turned it over 20 times on Sunday. And their defense as a whole has to step up and that includes Milwaukee’s superstar, Antetokounmpo, who got tuned up by Al Horford for 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 1. The Bucks have a rare talent advantage for a lower-seeded team. But if Boston can continue to expose the Bucks’ glaring weaknesses, the Celtics can put this thing away and advance.

    Western Conference – Blazers vs. Pelicans (NO leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Tuesday: Game 2 in Portland
    Thursday: Game 3 in New Orleans
    Saturday: Game 4 in New Orleans

    This series’ Game 1 was perhaps the finest of the bunch as the Pelicans ran out to a huge lead only for Portland to come back and make it interesting in the final minutes. Still, New Orleans took a 1-0 lead with Saturday night’s 97-95 win. If you’re the Blazers though, it’s not time to hit the panic button as Game 1 went about as poorly as it could have. Anthony Davis annihilated the Blazers with 35 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks while Rajon Rondo flipped the playoff switch and went for six points, eight rebounds and a ridiculous 17 assists. Meanwhile, Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum shot just 13-of-41 in the loss. Dame and C.J. should get themselves right for Tuesday’s Game 2 and they’ll need to as this one might as well be a must-win. The Pels have already stolen home-court advantage for the series and have one of the most unstoppable players on Earth. If the Blazers fall behind again on Tuesday, AD, coming off of his first-career playoff win, will do everything in his power to end this series quickly.

    Eastern Conference – Cavs vs. Pacers (IND leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Wednesday: Game 2 in Cleveland
    Friday: Game 3 in Indianapolis
    Sunday: Game 4 in Indianapolis

    The Cavs’ rollercoaster season continued on Sunday as they got absolutely pummeled by Indiana in Game 1. The final was 98-80 and it wasn’t really even that close. You could argue that no matter how well the Pacers play, this series is dependent on whether or not Cleveland bothers to show up. No disrespect to the Pacers. Victor Oladipo was dominant in Game 1, dropping 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. But Cleveland, already one of the worst defensive teams in the league, looked positively lost on both sides of the ball. The team shot 8-of-34 from deep while they averaged 12-for-32 for the season. Players not named LeBron James took only six free throw attempts and made just two. James came away with 24-10-12 but it wasn’t even close to enough. If Cleveland’s offense wakes up, they should be fine enough to win four of the next six games. But if they don’t, this could end up being James’ shortest playoff stint in more than a decade.

    Western Conference – Thunder vs. Jazz (OKC leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Wednesday: Game 2 in Oklahoma City
    Saturday: Game 3 in Salt Lake City

    Mr. Triple-Double, Russell Westbrook and the depends-on-your-school-of-thought Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell were all anyone wanted to talk about coming into this series. But it was Paul George who took over Game 1, lighting the Jazz up for 36 points including eight 3-pointers. Though it may be a horrendous nickname, Playoff P had his way on Sunday. The Thunder need everything they can get. It took a career performance from George to come away with a 116-108 win but this series is a long story. Can George catch fire three more times? Can the Thunder’s offense continue to force the Jazz to change their gameplan? Sunday felt like a perfect storm for OKC and they took advantage. If the Thunder can continue to get guys not named Westbrook stepping up and carrying a heavy load, they’re tough to beat. But the Jazz were beaten by a team that simply made the shots that Utah gave them early, allowing George and the Thunder to get into a rhythm. It’ll be interesting to see where this chess match goes on Wednesday night.

    Western Conference – Rockets vs. Wolves (HOU leads 1-0)

    This week’s schedule:
    Wednesday: Game 2 in Houston
    Saturday: Game 3 in Minneapolis

    While Twitter argues over what a travel is, James Harden is basking in his 44-point outing from Sunday that carried the Rockets to a 1-0 lead over the Wolves. Harden was dynamite and carried his top-seeded Rockets to a 104-101 win but it was far from easy. “Perfect storm” was mentioned earlier and Minnesota nearly had themselves just that. Harden was the only Rocket doing damage from deep as Houston shot 3-of-25 on non-Beard triples. They hit 10 total, only two more than the Wolves and that number was expected to be much higher coming into the series. Derrick Rose played well, Taj Gibson made nothing easy and Andrew Wiggins looked reliable for the Wolves. It may have been the perfect opportunity for the Wolves to steal one. But a lack of aggression from Karl-Anthony Towns (eight points on nine shots) and a rather forgettable performance from Jimmy Butler (13 points on 4-of-11 shooting) have put Minnesota behind. It’s not easy to imagine a scenario where the Wolves get four more chances like this. Either way, they need KAT to be hungrier and Butler to be more efficient to have any chance at winning this series. And even if they do, the expected MVP appears to be ready for his playoff spotlight this time around and from what we’ve seen this season, Harden’s supporting cast will soon follow his lead.

    Injury Report

    Joel Embiid (face) has not been cleared for full participation in practices so he will not play in tonight’s Game 2 against the Heat. Embiid is still targeting a Game 3 return on Thursday night.

    Donovan Mitchell (foot) had an MRI that revealed a bruise and his status is currently listed as questionable for Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Thunder. But while Mitchell only acknowledged the injury as a “stubbed toe,” it would come as a surprise to see him miss any time.

    Ryan Anderson (ankle) has missed the last five games including Sunday’s Game 1 against the Wolves but he has not yet been ruled out for Wednesday’s Game 2.

    George Hill (back) and Kyle Korver (illness) had a rough time at practice on Monday. Hill’s back is still tightening up after Game 1 and Korver was unable to practice altogether. Both are listed as questionable for Wednesday’s Game 2 against the Pacers.

    Moe Harkless (knee) has not been ruled out for the Blazers’ Game 2 against the Pelicans. He ran with resistance bands after Sunday’s practice but has yet to participate in full practices so his status should be anywhere from questionable to doubtful for Tuesday night.

    Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is questionable for the Raptors’ Game 2 tilt against the Wizards on Tuesday night.

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