Sports columnist Michael Wexler analyzes the second round of NBA playoffs
The first round of the NBA playoffs has officially wrapped up and round two is ready to take off. The results were mostly as expected; however, I completely botched Houston vs. Oklahoma City, thinking that the latter would win in seven games, but Houston handled the Thunder, who were not successfully carried by Russell Westbrook. Additionally, a plantar plate toe injury to Blake Griffin turned the tides in favor of the Utah Jazz, and the team was able to send the Los Angeles Clippers home early. Many questions about the future of the Clippers linger now, as they have proven time and time again that they can not get over the hump with their current core of players. Now let’s take a gander at the next round.
Boston Celtics (1) vs. Washington Wizards (4): Boston in 7
This series is easily the toughest one to call, and these two teams absolutely detest each other. Their rivalry became very notable once Wizards players wore “funeral” black clothes to their third regular season game, a 123-108 win for Washington, so there is a little added tension in this series. In the regular season, Boston and Washington split four games, and this series should be a similar dog fight. I strongly believe that this series will not be decided in anything less than seven games and, with that being said, I will take the team with the home court advantage. Washington does not play well on the road (19-22 in the regular season) and their defense against Atlanta in the first round was nothing to write home about. The Celtics will switch off between Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to guard the transcendent John Wall from taking over the series, and with the pedigree those two players have on defense, it’s definitely possible to slow him down. Boston is the better shooting team and they have a deeper roster. It would not shock anyone if Washington pulled off an upset, but the Celtics are in a good position to take this series. At press time, the Celtics won the first game of the series by a score of 123-111 led by a 33-point, nine-assist effort from Isaiah Thomas. Markieff Morris of the Wizards also suffered a pretty ugly ankle injury, which will be of help to Boston as well.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Toronto Raptors (3): Cleveland in 6
With how inconsistent and frustrating the Cleveland Cavaliers have been to watch this season, I believed for the first time since Lebron James’ return that they would not be the team coming out of the East. I really thought that Toronto had a very strong case to emerge out of the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors’ play against Milwaukee now has me second-guessing. Milwaukee gave Toronto a run for its money despite the Raptors taking the series in six games. After Game 3, a whopping 27-point victory for the young Bucks, it looked like the sixth seed had a chance at a big upset. DeMar DeRozan failed to make a single field goal in 31 minutes of play, but they ended up righting the ship and taking the next three games to win the series.
Though the Cavaliers swept Indiana, the team could have easily dropped a couple of those games and none of those wins were won by anything more than six points. The Cavaliers have not been particularly convincing, but they have a battle-tested roster, playoff experience, and they beat Toronto in three of four regular-season games. The only loss came on a day in which LeBron James did not play, so absolutely no stock can be put into that victory. Toronto has a more balanced roster, but I do not see a scenario in which a team who just had a shaky first round uproots the King. For all the inconsistencies Cleveland struggles with, Toronto is just as bad, if not worse. You never know what you are going to get. When you’re facing Lebron James, inconsistent play in the playoffs is fatal. Cleveland will take this series in 6.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Utah Jazz (5): Golden State in 5
This analysis is going to be short. It is not to be dismissive of a very strong and young Utah team, as they would surely compete with any other team in the playoffs in a seven game series, but they are facing the Warriors. This Golden State team has the most star power of any team in NBA history. Golden State swept Portland in the first round with ease, and it’s safe to say they can do it again. I will give Utah the benefit of the doubt and give them a close win in Game 3, but outside of that, they do not stand a chance. No one does. *sigh*
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Houston Rockets (3): Houston in 6
I was wrong about you, Houston. I thought the hype was fake, and I put too much faith into Russell Westbrook’s one-man show. I am inclined to make the safe pick and choose San Antonio to win this series, but instead I am going to overcorrect and choose Houston to pull off the upset. Kawhi Leonard is the second-best player in the NBA. He should be right up there with Westbrook and Harden in the MVP conversation, but he will not win it because his numbers don’t match theirs. Regardless, he is the most efficient superstar I have seen and his game has no holes. When is the last time a wing averaged 25 points per game in the Spurs system? It’s nearly impossible. The problem with this discussion is that it is really starting to look like San Antonio is overly-reliant on him, but more importantly, Houston has the personnel to exploit San Antonio defensively. The Spurs struggle against athletic, mobile big men in pick and roll sets, meaning that Clint Capela is poised for a big series. Even though he struggled in the first round, neither Gasol nor Aldridge have the athletic profile to hang with Capela as their athleticism does not fit the bill. I am thinking that the offensive juggernaut that Mike D’Antoni has created in Houston will be too much for the Spurs to handle, and they will steal the series in the Battle of Texas.
Written by: Michael Wexler — firstname.lastname@example.org