The first round of the NBA Playoffs have concluded and the second round begins Sunday. The first round had plenty of excitement, and as a fan of the game, I hope the 2nd round continues the trend.
Fresh off their sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, the Boston Celtics’ reward is Giannis Antetokounmpo. James Harden and Jimmy Butler will face off against each other in the other 2nd round series in the East. Luka Doncic has finally gotten out of the first round and takes on a Suns team that had to grind to beat a tough Pelicans squad. Lastly, the Golden State Warriors look championship ready and will take on the Memphis Grizzlies who showed youth, but prevailed against the Wolves. Let’s preview each series.
Bucks vs Celtics:
After using defense and physicality to sweep the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led Brooklyn Nets, the Boston Celtics will have a different type of challenge versus the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo embraces physicality, often seeking to bully his way to the basket. What type of scheme will Ime Udoka cook up for the two-time MVP? The Bucks will be without Kris Middleton this series, so the combination of Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton will have to pick up the slack. For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been outstanding the second half of the season and in the first round of the playoffs. Brown is averaging 22.5 points per game on 49% shooting, while Tatum averaged 29.5 points and seven assists in the first round. Those two players will need to continue their strong play on both ends of the floor. I think Giannis will have the Bucks in position, but without Middleton I think it will be too much to overcome. Celtics in 7
Sixers vs Heat:
The Sixers are in trouble and it may be too much to overcome. Joel Embiid suffered a fractured orbital bone and a mild concussion during Thursday’s game six win versus the Raptors. In a contest where the Sixers were up by 29 points with under four minutes to go, he was elbowed in the face by Pascal Siakam. Embiid averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds in round one and there’s no timetable for his return. What version of James Harden will Philadelphia get? Until Embiid returns, if he returns at all, Miami will shift all of their defensive focus to Harden. Expect Harden to be checked primarily by Jimmy Butler with Bam Adebayo switching on to him on pick-n-rolls. Philly will need Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris to be on top of their games to help Harden while the big fella is out. Miami will look to use its depth to wear Philly down, especially if Embiid is out for an extended period. Before the news of the Embiid injury I had Miami winning in six games and maybe going seven. Now with this news, I think Miami will win in five games unless Embiid can return quickly and somehow play like his dominant self – which I think will be unlikely.
Mavs vs Suns:
Both the Suns and Mavs were able to overcome injuries to their best players to advance. Jalen Brunson will be earning a huge payday this off season after leading Dallas to two wins without Luka Doncic. Dallas will try to slow the game down, as they play with the slowest pace of any team in the league. In clutch time the Suns were the best team in the NBA in the regular season and were 2-1 in clutch time in the playoffs (clutch time is when the game is within five points with 5 minutes or less to go in the game). This series could come down to who executes and performs under pressure. With the Suns able to rest Devin Booker a few games before this series begins, I expect Phoenix will be better than Dallas in those clutch situations. Suns in 6.
Warriors vs Grizzlies:
These two teams met in the play-in-tournament last season with Memphis pulling off an upset against Steph Curry and the Warriors. The young Grizzlies will have another chance to defeat the Warriors, as this will be a classic battle of youth vs experience. Ja Morant vs Steph Curry will get the headlines, but the other players will determine this series. Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke will need to play well and Jaren Jackson Jr. needs to stay out of foul trouble. For the Warriors, Jordan Poole will need to play like he did in games one through three versus the Nuggets instead of games four through five. In those first three games Poole shot 28-42 from the field, while only shooting 6-20 in games four through five. Veterans Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will bring championship experience, making plays on both ends of the floor. Two names to watch in this series are Gary Payton II and Tyus Jones. These two guards will try to come off the bench and hound the other team’s star players – Ja Morant and Steph Curry. The Memphis Grizzlies defended the Golden Warriors better than any team in the regular season with a defensive rating of 101. The Golden State Warriors had the best offensive rating of any team in the first round, finishing 2nd in two-point field goal percentage (58.6%) and first in three-point field goal percentage (42.2%). One thing that concerns me about Memphis is that they had to comeback from double digit deficits three times against a young Wolves team. The Warriors won’t make the same mistakes as Minnesota. When it’s all said and done, I like the Warriors in 6.