The Cavaliers were 0-3 when James scored less than 30 in the first roundNow that Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs is in the books, its time to look ahead to the second round. There were plenty of great moments in the opening part of the postseason and there will be lots more with some of these stacked matchups. That being said, here are the cases for each team to advance along with my predictions for each second round matchup.
Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz
Houston: The Rockets may have suffered some turbulence in the first round, but they ultimately came out ahead of the Timberwolves in five games. Their two stars in Chris Paul and James Harden never were quite in sync during that series but played well enough to get the job done. They will need to sure up any of these problems to defeat a raucous Jazz team. The Rockets’ supporting cast will be key in this series. Guys like Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green will be vital in spreading Utah out and giving Houston an edge when Harden and/or Paul are out of the game. The Rockets have a hefty bench advantage and should look to use it to their advantage. You also can’t count out their aforementioned stars who, unlike in Oklahoma City, will be used properly and will a problem for Utah’s guards. Look for the Rockets to establish their dominance early and often in this series and make the first Western Conference Finals of Paul’s career.
Utah: In a storyline that has followed the Jazz seemingly all season, they will be out-starred in this matchup. They don’t have anyone on their roster that compares in sheer talent and star power to Harden and Paul. But what the Jazz do have is a superb system. The way that they play on defense and offense accentuates all of their players’ strengths and is better than the sum of their parts. It shut down a great “star studded” team in the Thunder last round and could give the Rockets all they can handle. Rudy Gobert will be a key factor in this series. If he can continue his elite defensive play (top five in blocks, block percentage, defensive rating, defensive win shares) he will be a problem for Clint Capela and the rest of the Rockets. Utah may not be a headlining city or organization, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have what it takes to be Western Conference champion.
Prediction: Houston in 5
Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Golden State: Even without their star in Stephen Curry, the Warriors were able to make easy work of the Spurs in Round 1. They will have a much, much harder matchup in the Pelicans this round, but Golden State reestablished something that NBA fans and analysts may have forgotten over the season. We may have taken for granted the amount of greatness this Warriors dynasty possesses over the course of 2018, but Kevin Durant and company showed what they are capable in their last series. Expect them to carry this into the NOLA series and be a force with or without Curry.
New Orleans: The darling of this year’s NBA postseason has to be the New Orleans Pelicans. As the sixth seed, almost no one (except this blogboy) expected this team to win but they did so emphatically. They will have a tough matchup against the Warriors this round but that does not mean they cannot hang with them. Anthony Davis has been playing like an MVP and is just the type of big that would give Golden State trouble. No one on their team would be able to fully matchup with Davis and he would a problem for them. If he and Jrue Holiday can keep up their fantastic play, the Pelicans will be a big test for the Warriors.
Prediction: Golden State in 6
Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Toronto: This is what they have been waiting for all season. The Raptors shifted and elevated their style of play so that can compete with the team they have faced the past two postseasons. After being bounced by the Cavs in 2016 and 2017, this looks like the year that Toronto gets past Cleveland in hopes of making their first NBA Finals. The Raptors are catching the Cleveland LeBrons at the right time. James talked about the amount of fatigue he was feeling after their opening series and there is no evidence to show his load is getting any smaller in this round. The Cavaliers’ supporting cast is atrocious and their whole team relies on James to score, rebound, pass, play defense, call the plays and so on (The Cavaliers were 0-3 when James scored less than 30 in the first round). I do not want to doubt James as he is the best player in the league and is an all-time great, but at some point his lack of support is going to cost their team more than three games. Plus, even if Cleveland had a solid starting lineup, their bench is far worse than that of the Raptors. The “Bench Mob” should be able to feast in this series along with their starting five. 2018 will be the year that Toronto defeats their “bogeyman” and make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Cleveland: While the Raptors may have had the best record in the Eastern Conference, they do not have the best player. That goes to James, a guy who showed last series that he has what it takes to literally carry a team into the second round. The Raptors don’t have a wing that can match up with James and will have to mix things up to keep him contained. He will be the big factor that gets Cleveland past Toronto in this second round matchup. And if there was ever a player in NBA history to bet on doing that, it would be safe to bet on James.
Prediction: Toronto in 6
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics
Philadelphia: One of the strongest teams in the NBA postseason will soon take the court again as they face Boston in the second round. The Sixers showed what they could do against Miami while still leaving some room for their true ceiling. The combination of Simmons and Embiid was fantastic in Round 1 and will be one of the best pairings left in the playoffs. This is not to discourage their bench and supporting cast, who have also been great. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova have been two great additions for this team and will be difference makers in this series. The Celtics as they are currently constructed (without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) just do not have the talent and depth to match with what Philadelphia has right now. Embiid and Simmons will look to make quick work of Boston and make their first Conference Finals as a part of The Process.
Boston: Of all the teams remaining in Eastern Conference playoffs, there is no team that could be a perfect storm to defeat the Sixers in this round. Boston has a lot of versatile wing players that can be used to defend (or more or less slow down) Simmons. A guy like Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris or even Marcus Smart would be someone to help limit Simmons’ play in this series. The same goes for the big men in regards to Embiid. Al Horford, Greg Monroe and Aron Baynes could all be used against Embiid. Plus, of all the coaches left, Brad Stevens is one who I would imagine has what it takes to morph his lineups into something that combats the Sixers’ strengths. While the Celtics won’t have Irving or Hayward, there is still a chance that they could advance past this series.