Round 2 NBA Playoffs
The field has been sliced in half, with all but one of the favorites advancing to the 2nd round. That one team would be the Los Angeles Clippers, owners of the “point the finger and laugh at the dysfunctionality” of the NBA world. The SportsCenter graphic that was posted on Sunday after the Clippers 104–91 loss to the Jazz depicted the Clippers as having given up leads in their last five playoff series. As easy as it is to point this out and see the road leading to nowhere in particular, I happen to see the context. Each series has a painful reminder of heartbreak but also logical reasoning for the shortcomings filled with injuries, exhausting scandals and better teams.
As has been pointed out by some excellent writers, the Clippers situation and future is filled with complexities that need more than a 300 word introduction. But the early elimination signals the time for the vultures to start circling the prized players along with the Clippers determining how much they want to run this all back.
But the NBA moves on, eight teams have earned another crack at a best of seven games series to determine the right to move closer to the championship.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards: The one game sample gives opportunity to overanalyze smaller details that may not play as large a factor as the series progresses. What the first game did show was that the Wizards are going to need Markieff Morris to play if they are going to have any shot of winning this series. The Wizards are not a team of depth, relying on the starting five to get them through the majority of the playoffs with shrinking rotations being less important. The Wall/Beal/Porter/Morris/Gortat lineup netted them 8.1 points per 100 possessions during the regular season on a significant minute sample and will now be forced to extend Kelly Oubre a little longer than he may be capable of handling. It just may force Scott Brooks into playing Jason Smith more or Bojan Bogdanovic down a position, where he got roasted much of the afternoon against the speed of the Celtics wings.
The concerning number with the Celtics shooting was not the 48.7 percent from 3-point range. It was the 39 attempts that the Wizards allowed, a number that continues to shine a spotlight on the ghastly defense of the Wizards. If that side of the court doesn’t perk up a bit for Washington I’m afraid this might be a quicker series than initially thought. Luckily, the Wizards should have more of a puncher’s chance in the games that Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder don’t shoot a combined 8-for-10 from 3.
Boston in 6
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors: The sequel, unlike how many lying movie promoters might depict a second film, may actually be better in this scenario. The Raptors upped the artillery at the deadline in areas that left them vulnerable against the Cavs last year, most notably in guarding the world’s greatest player. P.J. Tucker is beefy enough to handle James when he gets a head of steam toward the basket and is strong enough to contest closely enough to bother his shot. This is all in the relative sense, of course. There really isn’t a player that bothers James enough to be labeled anything close to a stopper, but Tucker is one that will at least make James work harder for it, and that can be the difference in lowering the Cavs defensive ceiling just a tiny bit to make this interesting.
Factors besides this ride on both sides, first and foremost with the previously mentioned Cavs defense. The defensive questions surrounding the team were not exactly answered in the first round, but moreso put on full display for the world to see. Not much was going to be figured out from a matchup with the Pacers so the issue remains in Cleveland of whether that defensive jump can be made when seriously challenged or the defensive personnel permanently handicaps their ceiling.
The Raptors can’t shake the perception from the outside of their playoff struggles. Sure, they beat the Pacers last year, but it took a coaching malfunction to get them to go the distance. The Heat took them to seven games and the Cavs seemed to take their foot off the pedal for a couple of those Raptor wins. They nearly collapsed in Game 6 against the Bucks and struggled mightily in others, barely escaping with victories. But the Cavs have not been consistent, leaving the door open for this series to be extended.
Cavs in 7
Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz: The Warriors will win this series, there is no doubt about this. Wondering how long the Jazz can hold on and whether they can cause some disruption like the 2015 Grizzlies is the more rational thought. The fate of this series may rely on Rudy Gobert’s shoulders, and whether he can have the type of impact that he did during the regular season when he was the 2nd best player on the team.
The Jazz can be pushed into uncomfortable situations with the Warriors when they are able to amp up the tempo, which they regularly do. A lot of analysts think the defense, slowed down pace and rebounding will be able to keep the Jazz afloat in this series. I buy that logic, to a degree. The plusses they’ll get in that category will also be a negative when trying to put enough points on the scoreboard and defend the Warriors across the board. Defensive strategies in containing one offensive superstar is a bit easier than trying to defend four.
Warriors in 5
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets: This will probably go down as the best series of the second round, with our trailer of the main event having come on March 6th when Leonard hit the dagger 3-pointer, and then got the game-saving block on James Harden. This is an amped up version of conflicting styles that will meet over and over again. The Spurs showed trouble in putting away the Grizzlies, but they had developments that make you think they are on better footing that they were a week ago. Tony Parker’s play has perked up in the playoffs and even though his scintillating takes to the basket may be a hair slower, they were enough against the vaunted Grizzlies defense to get the job done. His effectiveness, along with LaMarcus Aldridge turning it around, are two key pieces to the series. Dewayne Dedmon may end up playing a vital role for the team if the Spurs end up choosing to switch the pick and roll when he’s in the game.
The Rockets have the high variability offense with two of its main gunners coming off a series in which they shot a combined 6-for-40 from 3-point range during the Thunder series. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are going to need those numbers to jump if they are going to have a shot in this series, and the law of averages would indicate that they are what you would call “due”. This series has all the makings of going seven, but Leonard will be able to don the cape one more time to get the Spurs past Houston.
Spurs in 7