Now it gets interesting.
The first round of the NBA playoffs came and went. Some teams and players shined under the spotlight and are moving on, while others perished and will now watch the rest of the playoffs from the couch. The conference semifinals got underway today, and it’s time to predict which teams will advance to the conference finals.
1. Celtics V. 4. Wizards, Celtics lead series 1-0.
The Celtics fumbled around with the Bulls in the first round but managed to finish them off in six games due to Bulls PG Rajon Rondo suffering a thumb injury that sidelined him games three through six. The Wizards also showed signs of being unfocused in their series against the Hawks, but still managed to win the series in six games. These two teams were evenly matched in the regular season, as each team won two out of the four games they played against each other. While the Wizards’ two guard tandem of PG John Wall and SG Bradley Beal will cause headaches for the Celtics, PG Isaiah Thomas and company should be favored to advance. The Wizards are flashy, fun to watch, and have a more experienced coach in Scott Brooks. However, they are also a collection of stooges led by PF Markieff Morris, and are prone to mental lapses. The Celtics are the better, more focused team, and they will squeak by the Wizards to advance to the eastern conference finals.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
2. Cavaliers V. 3. Raptors
The Raptors are the biggest conundrum of a team we’ve ever seen in the NBA. They have all the pieces in place: a strong backcourt led by PG Kyle Lowery and SG DeMar DeRozen, a physically imposing frontcourt led by trade deadline acquisition PF Serge Ibaka and C Jonas Valanciunas, and a solid head coach in Dwane Casey. Yet when they arrive to the NBA playoffs, they can’t seem to get out of their own way. PG Kyle Lowery laid a monster of an egg in a game 1 loss against the Bucks, and the team gave us a blast from the past by scoring only 77 points in a game 3 loss. They managed to rebound and win the series in six games, but it was against a relatively inexperienced Bucks team. Sure, the Cavaliers beat the lowly Pacers by an average margin of only four points per game, but the Cavs did what the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do and swept the Pacers. And once again, this series can be summarized like so: the Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Raptors do not.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
1. Warriors V. 5. Jazz
The seemingly unstoppable Warriors are going through a period of adversity in the playoffs. Sure, they swept the Trailblazers (*again, as the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do*), but head coach Steve Kerr may not coach the rest of the NBA playoffs due to chronic back pain. Assistant head coach Mike Brown will now coach the team. Mike Brown may have coached the Cavaliers to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and spent time as coach of the Lakers, it would be foolish to think he’s as good of a coach as Kerr and that the Warriors won’t be affected by his absence eventually. F Kevin Durant missed games 2 and 3 of the first round due to a left calf injury, the same leg he hurt earlier this season that caused him to miss twenty games. None of that really matters in the semifinals, as they will advance to their third straight western conference finals despite these hardships. The Jazz are a youthful team that’ll challenge the Warriors every game, but there’s no reason to believe they can win four out of seven against them even with all of the adversity facing the Warriors.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
2. Spurs V. 3. Rockets
Rockets F James Harden may not walk away with MVP honors this year, but his team clowned soon to be MVP Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in five games. The Rockets showcased that they are a more complete team and are still loaded offensively. The Spurs, on the other hand, took six games to dispatch an offensively challenged Grizzlies team. While everyone will praise SF Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player remaining in the playoffs (*What about that guy LeBron James? Isn’t he pretty good?*), the Spurs are missing a key component to their formula that has led to their successful twenty year run: a dominant big man. While it would have been naive to believe PF LaMarcus Aldrige could fill the big shoes left by legendary PF Tim Duncan or even resemble hall of fame C David Robinson, he hasn’t come close to matching the production he had during his time as a Trailblazer. While the Spurs have the edge in this series due to coach Gregg Popovich’s success against Mike D’Antoni in the playoffs (*he’s 4-0 in playoff series against Mike D’Antoni coached teams*), the Spurs will need more from their max-deal big man if they want to win an NBA championship.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.