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NBA playoff overview

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This year’s NBA playoffs are underway, with the finals around the corner in less than a month. The first round has just finished with the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics advancing to the semifinals.

Only two of the Round 1 matchups ended up going all the way to Game 7. After a close set of six games, one of which the Cavaliers lost to the Indiana Pacers by 34 points, the Cavs defeated the Pacers 105-101 in Game 7 to advance. Also in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics took Game 7 over the Milwaukee Bucks with a score of 112-96.

Now, the semifinals have begun, with a powerful lineup of teams set to play.

On Tuesday at 8:00 PM, the Cavs will face off with the Raptors in Game 1 of their semifinal. Two and a half hours later, the Warriors will attempt to follow up their Game 1 win with another win against the Pelicans. Then, on Wednesday, the Rockets will also have the opportunity to take a second win from the Utah Jazz. And finally, Thursday will bring Game 2 of the semifinal matchup between the Celtics and the 76ers.

Although the semifinals of the NBA playoffs have only just started, several predictions and questions about the teams can still be brought up.

Is LeBron James good enough to carry the Cavs?

It is widespread knowledge that LeBron James is the star player on the Cavaliers. Across all seven games of this year’s NBA Playoff Round 1, the Cavs played only 27 minutes without LeBron on the court, and during those 27 minutes, Cleveland’s defense wasn’t doing too well, to say the least.

The Cavs rely heavily on LeBron, but there’s only so much that he can do for the team himself. LeBron is, after all, just a single player, and in Round 1 of the playoffs, we saw the Cavs struggle against Indiana. Their matchup went all the way to Game 7, and most of the games were close.

In fact, the only game that was a wide-margin win was Game 6, in which the Cavaliers lost to the Pacers by 34 points. Furthermore, in the entire first-round matchup of seven games, the Pacers outscored the Cavs by 40 points, even though the latter ended up moving on to the semifinals.

It is worrying that the Cavaliers are now facing off against a much better team, the Toronto Raptors, the Eastern Conference number one seed. It is safe to say that LeBron will have to play well in this week’s games for the Cavs to have a chance of moving on to the conference finals.

Will the Celtics manage to make the conference finals without Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving, one of the best scoring options on the Celtics, will not be playing for the rest of the season. On April 5, the Celtics announced that Irving, a new player for Boston, would be having another knee surgery and, as a result, would also be missing the rest of the season.

On March 25, Irving underwent a minimally invasive knee surgery to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire had been implanted along with two screws, following a knee fracture in 2015. Unfortunately now, doctors found the presence of an infection at the site of the screws and wire. To ensure that no infection remains in Irving’s knee, he will have to undergo another surgery.

The Celtics will also be playing without Gordon Hayward and possibly Jaylen Brown, both of whom are also very good scoring options for Boston.

At the same time, the Celtics did manage to win three out of four games against Philadelphia in the regular season. Their only loss against the Sixers was when Joel Embiid swept the court with 26 points, 18 boards, and six assists. However, going against a strong Sixers’ offense and forward Ben Simmons, the Celtics, lacking Irving, Hayward, and potentially Brown, will have to play their best to win four games.

How long can the Pelicans hold off the Warriors?

The Warriors are seeded number two in the Western Conference and are currently facing the Pelicans in the semifinals. On Saturday, the Warriors defeated the Pelicans in Game 1 of the semifinals, with a score of 123-101. While the score itself was impressive for the Warriors, the more impressive feat was that the team won the game without star point guard Stephen Curry. Curry was out for an MCL injury but will almost certainly return for Game 2 on Tuesday.

It will be interesting to watch how Curry fares in his first game in over a month. He last played on March 25 and has been out since then due to his knee injury. Still, whether or not Curry plays to his best, his return in Game 2 is great news for the Warriors. They are finally close to full strength again, something that has not been a reality for most of this season. It’s safe to say that Curry’s return will certainly give the Warriors a better shot at defending their title.

The Pelicans still do have the ability to match up with Golden State. Jrue Holiday has continued to play at a high level and has the chance to take on Klay Thompson and Curry. Additionally, Anthony Davis, another of the Pelican’s top players, will be doing his best to stay on Kevin Durant. Still, with the return of Curry and the fact that the Warriors won Game 1 by 22 points without him, the future semifinal matchups will be tough for the Pelicans, and the Warriors will likely win in Game 6 or 7.

All in all, the teams in the semifinals right now will put on some interesting matchups for the next two weeks of games. Predictions for the conference finals: Rockets vs. Warriors and Raptors vs. Sixers.

A beginner’s guide to the NBA Playoffs

in Columns/Sports by

Did you miss most of the first round playoff games because you were scrambling to finish all of your projects/papers before classes end? Were you not paying attention to the regular season but now that classes are ending, you want to watch the playoffs? Are you not really that into the NBA but for whatever reason, want to be able to hold conversation about professional basketball with someone? If any of these describe you, then this guide is exactly what you need to get yourself up to date with everything going on in the NBA.

 

Background (skip this if you already know how the playoffs work)

The NBA playoffs is a 16-team, 4-round tournament, although it really functions as a combination of two separate 8-team, 3-round Conference playoffs. For each Conference (Eastern and Western) the teams are seeded according to their Conference standings. Each matchup, in every round, is best of seven, so the first team to win four games advances. The winners of the third rounds are the champions of their respective Conferences and compete in the Finals.

 

What’s going on in the Eastern Conference?

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the NBA playoffs last year, were leading the Eastern Conference for most of regular season play, but slipped behind the Boston Celtics following a drop in defensive caliber after the All-Star break. That being said, after losing their last four regular season games, the Cavs turned around to win their first four postseason games, sweeping the Indiana Pacers. Their opponent in the Conference semifinals will likely be the Toronto Raptors. Although, so far, the Raptors have stumbled in this year’s playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks, especially Giannis Antetokounmpo, have put on a strong showing, the odds of the Bucks doing well enough to take the series are slim. The Raptors’ regular season performance was too strong and the Bucks are too young for the Bucks to have a good chance of winning both of the next two games.

The other two Conference semifinal spots will likely be occupied by the Celtics and the Washington Wizards. Led by point guard John Wall, the Wizards seemed a sure pick to advance prior to the beginning of the playoffs, but the Atlanta Hawks, especially Dennis Schröder and Paul Millsap, have put up a solid fight. If the Hawks can maintain an offensive power throughout the playoffs, which was notably inconsistent in the regular season, they have a chance at eliminating the Wizards. The Celtics actually lost their first two games to the Chicago Bulls, which hinted at an upset until Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb and tore a ligament in his wrist in Game 2. Although the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler has fought hard against the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, the Bulls dropped two games and will probably drop two more.

The Eastern Conference Finals are pretty up in the air. The Celtics would probably come out on top against the Hawks or the Wizards, although if the Wizards pull through, they certainly have a solid shot at knocking out the Celtics. The two teams developed over the last couple seasons and are 2-2 in regular play this year. Cavs-Raptors also has a chance at going the other way. If both teams play like they were playing at the end of the regular season, the Raptors will take the W, but if Lebron James performs like he has been during the playoffs, they don’t have a chance.

The Eastern Conference Champion will pretty definitely be either the Raptors or the Cavs, whichever makes it to the finals. Although Wall and Bradley Beal for the Wizards and Thomas for the Celtics have proven themselves to be powerful players that can lead a team into the playoffs, none of these individuals are Lebron James and none of these teams have the full-roster strength of the Raptors.

 

What’s going on in the Western Conference?

Compared to the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference is significantly easier to forecast. The Golden State Warriors already swept the Portland Trailblazers and will most probably be Conference champions. The Warriors will likely face the Utah Jazz in the Conference semifinals. The LA Clippers looked like a sure bet to beat the Jazz, but with their top scorer Blake Griffin being injured in Game 3 and out for the rest of the playoffs, it seems very unlikely they’ll be able to pull through.

The Houston Rockets have also qualified for Conference semifinals, beating out the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1. Rockets point guard James Harden and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook were the two most buzzed about MVP candidates, so the clear playoffs win has settled some debates about the relative merits of the two teams, although the Rockets’ win was largely due to the caliber of their non-Harden players. The Rockets will be playing against the San Antonio Spurs, unless Kawhi Leonard is struck by lightning. Although the Memphis Grizzlies were able to notch 2 wins thanks to Mike Conley and some lackluster performance from the non-Leonard Spurs, the Spurs are not only the second best team in the West, but the second best team in the league and, barring divine intervention, should progress to the semifinals.

In the Conference semifinals, the Warriors will beat the Jazz. The Warriors are still the best team in the NBA and could probably beat the Jazz even if Stephen Curry slept through the first four games. The Spurs-Rockets game probably goes to the Spurs, although there is some uncertainty here. The Spurs are normally team that plays well as a team, with the added bonus of having the most dominant full-court player in the NBA as a small forward (Leonard) while the Rockets have been carried throughout the season by a superstar performance from Harden. However, so far in the playoffs, the non-Leonard Spurs have stumbled and non-Harden Rockets have leapt to the challenge. If this role-reversal continues through their matchup, the Rockets have a chance at making it to the Conference finals.

As with most games they play, the Warriors are a pretty safe bet to win the finals. There is a single scenario where the Warriors don’t make it to the finals: the Spurs get their shit together and go on a rampage. The Warriors would be able to handle the Rockets, but if there’s one team that can take the Warriors it’s the Spurs. If the Warriors slip up, which they may, with Head Coach Steve Kerr out of commision due to health issues, a peak Spurs team would be the perfect team to punish them for their slip ups. Still, the Warrior are probably going to take this one.

 

Who’s going to win it all?

Almost definitely the Warriors. Although the Warriors somehow lost the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cavaliers after a regular season in which they won the most games in the NBA in a single season, this year it looks like they’ll actually take the W. The Cavs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals was a first for the NBA, and really only possible due to a combination of factors, including the Game 5 suspension of defensive force Draymond Green and the heroic efforts of LeBron James. Although Curry isn’t shooting as well as he did last year, and James was playing better in the regular season than he did last year, there’s very little chance of a replication of last year’s Finals. Even if we assume James will play at the Herculean levels he’s shown he can play during the playoffs, the Warriors’ absurd acquisition of additional superstar Kevin Durant and the rest of the Cavs various struggles make the odds of a repeat minute. The Warriors also beat the Raptors, easily. The team with the second best shot at the title is actually the Spurs. If they’re playing at a level where they beat the Warriors and are able to sustain that, they’d have a lock on a Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

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