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Predictions for the second round of the NBA playoffs

Photo+of+the+2017+NBA+playoffs+bracket+from+the+very+beginning.+All+image+credits+to+Sports+Illustrated.
Photo of the 2017 NBA playoffs bracket from the very beginning. All image credits to Sports Illustrated.

Photo of the 2017 NBA playoffs bracket from the very beginning. All image credits to Sports Illustrated.

Photo of the 2017 NBA playoffs bracket from the very beginning. All image credits to Sports Illustrated.

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The 2017 NBA playoffs are already well underway with the second round almost setup. After the Cleveland Cavaliers swept their opponents, the Indiana Pacers, in a deceivingly close series, they are now poised to play against the Toronto Raptors while the number one eastern conference seed, the Boston Celtics, will face off against the number four Washington Wizards. In the western conference, the Golden State Warriors handedly took care of the Portland Trailblazers, blowing them out in three of their four wins where their opponent will be the Utah Jazz who defeated the Los Angeles Clippers at home in Game 7. The second matchup in the western conference will be between the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets in a second MVP candidate race between Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. Each remaining team are all viable competitors for the championship, with any hot streak possibly leading to them holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy this June. Here are the Oakton Outlook’s predictions for the second round of the NBA playoffs and why said teams will be able to pull it out.

 

Washington Wizards vs Boston Celtics: Boston Celtics in 7

 

It’s already been clear from Game 1 of the series which was played on April 30th that this series will be shaky and swing from side to side. In the beginning of the game, the Wizards proceeded to start with a 16-0 run, before collapsing in the second and third quarter. They fell behind as much as 15 points but even then, the Boston Celtics began to lose control and only held a three point lead at one point in the fourth quarter. If this game was indicative of anything, it’s that this series can go either way and is most likely the most competitive series of the four. Both backcourts of these teams could be argued for second best in the NBA (behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). During the regular season, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley combined for 45.2 points per game and 8.1 assists while the backcourt of the Washington Wizards led for a total of 46.2 points and 13.8 assists, barely edging out the Celtics. Between the two backcourts, there doesn’t appear to be any blatant weaknesses. While John Wall did tally up eight turnovers, this is a rare occurrence and Isaiah Thomas has continually shown that his small stature means very little. If you take a look at the rest of the team, the Celtics have been renowned for being quite weak in the paint (close to the basket), with the team having a lack of rim protection and height. It’s something that the Chicago Bulls abused early on in their series with the Celtics when they constantly drove towards the basket to punish the weakness. Their offense began to fall apart when they stopped doing this and Rajon Rondo fell to injury. Back to the current series, while the Celtics do have this weakness, they themselves are also not particularly strong in their frontcourt and likely won’t be able to take advantage of this aside from John Wall. One thing is clear though, despite the teams being closely matched, if the Washington Wizards continue to shoot poorly from the free throw line as they did (13/22) and not punish the weak rim protection, the Celtics will make quick work of them.

(All video rights go to the NBA)

Cleveland Cavaliers vs Toronto Raptors: Cleveland Cavaliers in 6

The Cleveland Cavaliers matched up with the Toronto Raptors four times this season, beating them in all meetings; however, that was before Serge Ibaka was traded to the Raptors. Even Kevin Love, star forward for the Cavaliers recognized this saying, “he brings a ton of energy. [He] played really in Round 1, so he just gives them a whole different look and a guy who has a ton of playoff experience”. While the newly boosted Raptors could pull of a second round upset, it’s unlikely due to the whole new beast that LeBron James becomes during the playoffs. It’s a trend that has come to be common with James now, where he tends to played more reserved in the regular season before being unleashed in the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, LeBron averaged a near triple double with 32.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and nine assists per game on 54% shooting to go along with stellar defensive stats of two blocks and three steals. Unfortunately for the Raptors, there is no one even close enough to match James like western conference players such as Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Neither Demarre Carroll nor PJ Tucker is averaging double digit points and even then they are not renowned for the defense, only averaging a little over a steal a game for each. Another particular poor trend for the Raptors is Kyle Lowry’s less than stellar play in the playoffs. While DeMar Derozan has picked up his play this postseason, Lowry like previous years has tended to shoot very poorly and turn the ball over frequently. In the first round, Lowry averaged 14.3 points per game on an inefficient 42.6%. If Lowry continues to perform poorly on the offensive end, the Raptors’ offensive will be no match for the firepower from the Cavaliers and the series could take an ugly turn.

 

Golden State Warriors vs Utah Jazz: Utah Jazz in 7

Controversial prediction of the week. The Golden State Warriors played fantastic in the first round, making quick work of the Portland Trailblazers in four games. The Utah Jazz also played well in the first round, but did not make quick work of the Los Angeles Clippers pulling out to a seven game series. Such variation of domination, why would the Jazz win? First of all, the Trailblazers are a much weaker team than the Clippers especially at their height, so the competition is not even. Secondly, the Jazz are a big team while the Warriors are a fairly small one often turning towards their “death lineup” where Draymond Green plays “center”. The Jazz have a lot of options to match this lineup with Hayward who is a lengthy defender, Joe Ingles who is regarded as a pesky defender and Rudy Gobert who is contention for defensive player of the year. Lastly, the Utah Jazz have seen several big performances from their bench and stars. “Iso Joe” has been the name of the game this playoffs, taking over in the fourth quarter of games against the Clippers and scoring at will. In the fourth quarter of the first round, the offense for the Jazz was give the ball to Joe Johnson and move out the way because Johnson wasn’t afraid of prime time, an ability he will need against the Warriors. He is a reliable veteran who has shown he can score at will with an arsenal of moves from post game to perimeter shooting. The second Joe of the team, Joe Ingles has also stepped up his play. Against the Clippers, Ingles was often tasked with guarding much smaller and all-star point guard Chris Paul in order to abuse his length. It worked to some extent, giving Paul much less freedom to do what he wants with the ball which is something he may be able to do against Warriors’ sharpshooter Stephen Curry. In general, the Utah Jazz’s bench performed phenomenally, sometimes outplaying the first unit of the Clippers. For example, Derrick Favors played a huge part in taking Rudy Gobert’s role in Game 7 against the Clippers when he fell to foul trouble. Favors was able to score efficiently and limit Deandre Jordan on the defensive end. If the Jazz can keep up their momentum from Game 7 whereas the Warriors have been resting and play gritty basketball against the Warriors, they surely have a solid chance.

(All video rights go to the NBA)

 

San Antonio Spurs vs Houston Rockets: San Antonio Spurs in 6

 

The Klaw vs the Beard. Defense vs offense. This is the expected tale of the second round in the western conference between the two teams and their superstar players. To some people’s surprise, each time the two teams met in the regular season, the final result was a six point difference in one game with the other three games being a mere two point difference although the Spurs did win three of the games. Personally, I had expected the games to be quite one-sided in favor of the Spurs but it appears this series may also be a very tight one. The Houston Rockets are an all out offensive team, with their head coach Mike D’Antoni especially being known for being offensively oriented. On the other end, the Spurs are a much more defensive and fundamental team. Both teams superstars, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard perfectly reflect these values with Harden being made a mockery of his defense (or lack thereof) and Leonard praised for his. Even then, Harden’s offensive production has fallen off a bit in comparison to his regular season performance. In terms of field goal percentage, he has dropped off by 3% while collecting 4.2 less assists. On the other hand, Kawhi Leonard has amped up his play scoring 31.2 points on 54.8% shooting in the first round complimented with his high level of defense (two steals per game). James Harden’s supporting cast are also primarily perimeter shooters in Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. Such a team can easily go on a cold streak that can put them out of the game, something that was seen in Game 3 in their loss to Oklahoma City Thunder when they shot a mere 45.5%. The defense of the San Antonio Spurs, which was ranked second in the regular season will make it particularly difficult for the Rockets to get in a rhythm with their shot. They will have even more difficulty guarding Kawhi Leonard with Trevor Ariza being their only option to put him up against. Because the Spurs are so well-rounded in their offense and defense while being able to effectively shut down the Rockets’ offense, it’s likely they will win this series fairly comfortable unless Harden will be able to be more efficient with the ball and get all his teammates involved.

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Predictions for the second round of the NBA playoffs