BY LOGAN DUBBS | Ball State Sports Link
The NBA playoffs are in full swing. Let’s dive into the second round match-ups and what we should expect.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards
The match-up between two of the best backcourts in basketball.
What more can you say about Isaiah Thomas? Down 2-0 to the Chicago Bulls; overcoming the tragic death of his sister, Chyna; losing a tooth in Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals and helping his team go up 1-0 over the Wizards by dropping 33 points.
The Celtics are playing some of their best basketball right now, winning five straight. How can the Wizards stop them?
That’s an easy question. John Wall and Bradley Beal need to play over the top like they did in Game Six against the Atlanta Hawks. John Wall had 42 points and Bradley Beal had 31. If the Wizards’ stars can play like that again, the Wizards will be tough to beat
The Celtics have also been going with their small lineup of Crowder, Green, Horford, Thomas and Bradley, which gives the Wizards match-up problems, especially after Markieff Morris suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter of Game 1.
The Wizards backcourt will have to have a big game, not just by scoring, but by slowing down Thomas. If they control the boards like the Bulls did in the first two games, they have a good chance at winning.
For the Celtics, Thomas can’t do it all by himself. The role players will have to get involved liked they did in Game One. And they will have to keep the Wizards off the boards. If Brad Stevens decides to keep going with the small lineup, rebounding will be the decider for the series.
Prediction: Celtics in 7.
Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
The rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final.
Coming off a sweep of the Indiana Pacers, the Cavs are looking to repeat. With plenty of rest, LeBron and team should be ready to go for Game 1, but there are still some concerns with this Cavs team.
Defense was a big problem for the Cavs in round one. They had a hard time stopping Paul George. And the Cavs never blew out the Pacers. The largest win was only six points.
If the Raptors have any shot at winning this series, Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowery need to shine. Not just on the offensive end, but especially on defense. LeBron averaged 28 points against them in the regular season and is averaging 31 in the playoffs.
The good news for the Raptors: Serge Ibaka is starting to show why he was considered one of the best bigs in the league a few years ago. He is protecting the rim and stretching the floor a lot more than last year.
With all this in mind, I still think the Cavs are too deep of a team, and when they are down, the King takes control. I still think the Cavs are the favorite and will be the hardest team to beat this postseason.
Prediction: Cavs in 5.
Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz
Two words: ISO Joe.
Joe Johnson has been playing his best basketball all season at the right time.
Coming off a thrilling seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz has some momentum coming into Game One against arguably the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors.
Like the Cavs, the Warriors are coming into the second round well rested. Which is good for Kevin Durant, who missed two games last series with a left calf strain.
With Durant being out, the Warriors still showed how good they can be even when one of their best players can’t play. This should scare the Jazz.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, this happened:
R.I.P. Andrei Kirilenko.
Keys for the Jazz: Slow down the game. The Warriors are at their best when they control the pace of the game. They love to run and get easy fastbreak buckets. The Jazz also need to lock down the Warriors big three. As soon as Curry, Durant or Thompson get going, it is hard to stop them. If they Jazz can make them shoot contested shots, they have a better chance at stretching this series.
Keys for the Warriors: Maintain the pace of the game. The Jazz struggle defending the fast break. Also, contain Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson. ISO Joe is playing his best basketball in a long while, so if the Warriors can limit his touches, it will put more pressure on the Jazz bench and role players to play well.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
This is the series I am looking forward to most.
Two of the best players in the NBA will go to head to head; Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. And not to mention that during the regular season, three of the four times these teams faced each other the game decided by two points.
The Spurs are coming off a six-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies. In those games, the Spurs showed just how good they can be on the defensive end. But how will they stop James Harden?
Harden didn’t shoot the ball well in the first round against the Thunder, shooting 12/50 from behind the arc, but late in the game, he started attacking the rim and played superb defense. Harden will have an even tougher time shooting the ball this series because he will have two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, guarding him.
Keys for the Spurs: Force Harden to shoot tough shots. A majority of the shots taken by the Rockets will be by him. If they can limit his touches and make him take tough jump shots, he will have a hard time of getting going. Also, the Spurs need to play their game. Control possession and get open shots.
Keys for the Rockets: Utilize your bench. Harden is going to have a tough time scoring with Leonard guarding him. The Rockets have the two best 6th man’s in basketball: Eric Gordon and Lou Williams. Let them get hot and stay hot. That’s when the Rockets are at their best is when they get the ball moving instead of having Harden dribble the ball down and take a contested shot.
Prediction: Spurs in 7.