The first round was what any NBA fan expects from playoff basketball; thrilling, exciting, quality basketball played by the best teams in the league. While the playoffs mark the end of fans having to watch teams such as the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and other teams that… Flat out didn’t try (yeah, we said it, but so did Mark Cuban, so how wrong are we)? See our ‘Preventing Tanking in the NBA‘ for more on this persistent issue.
The second round clarifies the NBA’s elite, and makes every game more intense, every foul more meaningful, every bucket that much more vital to a potential championship run. Without further ado, let’s go round 2…
1 Toronto Raptors: 4
4 Cleveland Cavaliers: 2
‘Toronto vs LeBron’
If Toronto wants the core of this roster to be considered a true title contender, they need to find a way to beat the Cavaliers this series. Cleveland was lead single handedly by the stellar play of LeBron James through a tough first round series against the Indiana Pacers. The game plan when taking on the Cave is very simple, stop (and when we say ‘stop,’ we really mean contain) LeBron, and you win. This isn’t a secret, and Toronto needs to make it a point of emphasis to not LeBron single handedly take over this series, as he just did in round one. Without question the Raptors are the deeper team, and have a roster that can produce in a variety of ways. If the Cavs want to win this series, someone other than James needs to step up. Yes, he was able to essentially do it by himself in the first round, but with top seeded Toronto on their plate, it might take more than LeBron for Cleveland to prevail. The Raptors will utilize their backcourt with DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry to run the offense, but an overlooked aspect of this series will be the play in the frontcourt. Cleveland does not have a big physical presence down low, and role players such as Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas could be the difference in this series. Countering, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson need to crash the boards early, and often, while being able to contribute on the offensive side of the court. When it comes down to it, the Raptors are the better team, but the Cavs have the best player on the court. Cleveland was able to escape round one, but this time the better overall team will prevail.
2 Boston Celtics: 2
3 Philadelphia 76ers: 4
‘A Fraudulent Preview’
Boston escaped the clutches of a potential upset from the Milwaukee Bucks in round one, but Philadelphia is an entirely different animal. One could argue that the Sixers are officially the best team in the East when it comes to talent alone. If a plague of injuries hadn’t hit Boston throughout the season, the Celtics would likely be the frontrunner to represent the East in the NBA finals. However, both offseason acquisitions (Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward) won’t be available, and one has to wonder how much longer this team can survive. The Celtics depth was able to sneak past the Bucks in 7, but the Sixers can not only match their depth, they surpass them in talent. The Sixers will win the battle down low, with a healthy Joel Embid, Ben Simmons should supply plenty of support as from the perimeter, and if experience doesn’t factor (and it very well could), the Sixers should take control of this series without an issue. We’d love to see this series again next year with the Irving, and Hayward in the lineup for Boston, and a potential healthy Markelle Fultz in the lineup for Philadelphia. We don’t want to dub this series as ‘fraudulent,’ but that’s pretty much what we’re getting here. So while this matchup is an NBA fan’s dream in a year or two, for now, consider it an irrelevant preview.
1 Houston Rockets: 4
5 Utah Jazz: 2
‘Houston, We Have No Problems.’
Utah was able to prevail in an entertaining six game series with the Oklahoma City Thunder that we figured we’d be a lengthy ‘toss-up’ of a series to begin with. Donavon Mitchell lead a well-rounded Utah team to victory, and a date with top seeded Houston in round two. This may seem like a simple prediction, but Utah brings unacknowledged depth, and not just in one area. The reason the Jazz are the five seed is they have no glaring weakness. They are productive, and sound within all aspects of the game. They are lead by Donavon Mitchell, and Ricky Rubio in the backcourt, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors manage the frontcourt, and Joe Ingles has been a nice compliment to round out the starting five all season. Is there a ‘James Harden’ or ‘Steph Curry’ like star on this team? No, but is there a spot on the court an opponent can easily dub the matchup to take advantage of? No, and this is why they are tough to beat. An opponent can’t necessarily have an effective game plan against Utah. On any given night, they have numerous scoring options, and provide consistent productivity from all angles. Many teams do have that one weakness that can be easily seen, and prepared for, Utah doesn’t have that, which makes them a nightmare to defend (as Oklahoma City just found out). Now to be fair, there’s a reason the Rockets are the top seed in the west; they don’t have a glaring weakness either, and to go along with it, they do have a ‘James Harden’ type of star in Harden himself. Houston can also matchup with anyone in the 4/5 spots, as Clint Capella has emerged as a true force to be reckon with. Not to mention the addition of Chris Paul, and solid role players in Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, and Eric Gordon. While Utah may be a tough a team to beat, Houston is on a different level, and barring any surprises, they should move on (but not as easily as one would think).
2 Golden State Warriors
6 New Orleans Pelicans
‘The Warriors Exist’
‘The Warriors exist.’ That’s been our slogan since the season began, ultimately dubbing them the premature championship that could be inevitable in just little over a month. Is this perhaps an exaggeration while it entails dismissing the remaining 29 NBA teams? Perhaps, but here we are in late April, and there has not been any sign that tells us this statement won’t hold up. Fans now argue the Rockets are the team that can indeed knock them off their high horse, and while Houston is probably the only team capable of keeping a series interesting with the defending champs, we’re sticking with our statement, ‘the Warriors exist.’ On the opposite end, the Pelicans won a series in which they had a favorable matchup as a six seed, as other than a star backcourt, Portland didn’t have the size, or overall athleticism to keep up with New Orleans in a best of seven series. New Orleans’ only chance in this series is to get the ball down low, keep it away from the perimeter from the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant to some extent. The Pelicans want to play down low, and feed Anthony Davis the ball as much as possible, as this accomplishes not only getting the ball to your best player, but it keeps the ball away from your opponents best players. While this strategy sounds simple, premiere defender, Draymond Green won’t make this task easy, and while you can easily write up, prepare, and understand this concept, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to execute. The Warriors aren’t the Blazers, and the Pelicans will find out within a game or two. As for the Warriors, if they just play their game, and don’t play into New Orleans’ strategy, they’re the more talented team from top to bottom. Maybe Davis, and company steal a game or two, but that statement, ‘the Warriors exist’ goes off the basis of a team needs to beat this Warriors team 4 out of 7 times; it won’t be the Pelicans.