Round 2 Matchups
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raports - read predictions
Philadelphia vs. Boston - read predictions
Utah vs. Houston - read predictions
New Orleans vs. Golden State - read predictions
Round 2 of the NBA playoffs finally gets underway with Golden State hosting New Orleans in the Western Conference. Both teams were the benefactors of an easy opening round series, the Warriors taking out San Antonio in five games and the Pelicans pulling the surprise sweep of Portland. The games get even more intense in the conference semifinals as the remaining eight teams look to get another step closer to the coveted NBA title.
Cleveland vs. Toronto
It was why the No. 3 seed was so important. The Cleveland Cavaliers, fresh off a Game 7 victory over Indiana in the opening round, must now face the East’s No. 1 seed – Toronto. The Raptors record with the Cavs over the past two postseasons is not all that great – 2-8 to be exact – but there was no team better in the East this season than Toronto. The Raptors set a franchise record with 59 wins, but then struggled a little with Washington in the first round of the playoffs.
Part of that struggle was due to the absence of reserve point guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto’s bench was a nightmare without him, but he will return against Cleveland. While Toronto can score with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in the backcourt, it’s the defense that can propel them to victory over the Cavs. The Raptors are even better than Indiana, which took Cleveland to Game 7 before bowing out. Toronto will have to find a way to slow down LeBron James. The King averaged nearly 42 points per game in the four wins over Indiana and, don’t forget, James has not lost an Eastern Conference playoff series since 2010.
Still, it’s hard to see James leading Cleveland to victory all by himself over the best team in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, the Cavs just don’t have the defense of year’s past. Is this the year Cleveland bows out of the postseason early?
PREDICTION: Toronto in 7
Philadelphia vs. Boston
The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward in the first regular season game of the season. Then, Boston lost Kyrie Irving for the postseason. They limped through their opening round series, defeating the Bucks but needing seven games to do so. Now, the streaking Philadelphia 76ers stand in the way of Boston and the Eastern Conference finals. The Sixers have won 20 of their past 21 games and they have won those games by an average of 13.3 points per game.
Joel Embiid is back in the lineup and gives the Sixers one of the toughest lineups to defend in the NBA. Rookie point guard Ben Simmons has been outstanding averaging 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 9.0 assists a game in the postseason. J.J. Redick has led the team in scoring averaging an even 20 per game and both Dario Saric and Marco Bellinelli are scoring 16.6 per game. Embiid played the final three games in the series with the Heat and averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game.
Redick could be the key for Philadelphia. In games when Redick scored at least 20 points this season, the 76ers are 19-6. On the other end, it will likely be Al Horford who determines the Celtics’ fate. Horford has defended both Embiid and Simmons and has played admirably against both. How head coach Brad Stevens plays Horford defensively could have an impact on Boston in this series. In the end, will the Celtics have enough firepower to stick with Philadelphia?
PREDICTION: Philadelphia in 6
Utah vs. Houston
It’s offense versus defense in the Western Conference semifinals as top seed Houston takes on Utah. What many may not realize is that the Rockets and Jazz are, since Jan. 24, the two best teams in the West. Combined, the two teams are 69-14 during that span and included in that record are a couple Houston wins over the Jazz. In fact, the Rockets beat Utah in all four meetings during the regular season by a total of 70 points, an average of over 17 points per game. This is a different Utah team though, one that held first-round opponent Oklahoma City to an average of just 96 points in its four victories.
The problem for Utah will be defending likely MVP James Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer. Joe Ingles at 6-8 will have the length to make things difficult for Harden, but he lacks the athleticism. Houston will likely force 7-1 Utah center Rudy Gobert to switch on the Rockets guards which will be trouble. The Rockets averaged over 110 points a game in eliminating Minnesota from the postseason. Harden and Chris Paul combined to average 48 of those points per game. A big key for Houston will be its 3-point production. The Rockets are 51-6 when they shoot at least 33 percent from behind the arc. They are 18-12 when they don’t.
PREDICTION: Houston in 5
New Orleans vs. Golden State
While some might think the Pelicans-Warriors series comes down to the health of Steph Curry, it may very well come down to how well Golden State defends Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. It’s well known that Davis is one of the NBA’s true stars after averaging 33.0 points and 11.8 rebounds in the first-round series sweep of Portland. Holiday, on the other hand, was simply fantastic. The nine-year NBA veteran averaged 19 points a game during the regular season but exploded in the series with the Trail Blazers scoring 27.8 points a game and handing out 6.5 assists. If that wasn’t enough, Holiday’s defense on both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum forced the pair into some cold shooting nights.
Still, the Warriors have a superstar lineup even without Curry. Klay Thompson is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and averaged 22.6 points per game in Golden State’s first-round destruction of San Antonio. He shot 51.6 percent from behind the arc in the series. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and role players like Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee give the Warriors a lineup that can return to the NBA Finals. The Warriors did beat the Pelicans in three of four games during the regular season. Golden State rallied to win all three games after trailing by double-digits.
PREDICTION: Golden State in 6
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