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.