With the first round wrapped up, here are my takes on each of the four second round battles in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Playoffs. Across the playoff bracket, every higher seed advanced to the second round. Chalk it up. Let’s take a look at the second round matchups and make some picks.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat
If 76ers center Joel Embiid were fully healthy for this series, my analysis would be much different. However, Philly will be without their star player and MVP candidate for at least the first two games of the series – if not more – as the big man is dealing with a torn ligament in his right thumb, an orbital fracture in his face and a concussion. Yes, all three. He sustained the ligament tear in the Sixers Game 3 victory over the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Then, Embiid suffered the other two injuries as he was elbowed in the face in the Sixers closeout win in Game 6 of the same series. Following the latter pair of injuries, questions surfaced as to why Embiid was still in the game, as the Sixers were up by 29 points with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
At any rate, the Sixers face an extremely tall task against a Miami Heat team who had the Eastern Conference’s best record coming into the playoffs at 53-29. The squad from South Beach boasts superstar guards Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, in addition to rising star forward Bam Adebayo. The Heat also have the fourth most bench points per game, with an average of 35.4 points coming from the second unit every night. The Heat score in waves, and also play smothering defense with the likes of veteran three-and-D wing P.J. Tucker, as well as a back-to-back Second Team All-Defense selection in Adebayo.
With a banged-up Sixers squad playing against an elite Miami team, I’ll have to pick the Heat to win the series in 6 games. I think Joel Embiid will return at some point in the series and make it interesting, but in the end, the Heat will be too much.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics
This series should be absolutely fascinating.
The Celtics are coming off of a dominant first round series that saw them sweep the Brooklyn Nets to shock the basketball world, and turn the nation’s attention to TD Garden. In that first round series between the Celtics and Nets, the C’s beat Brooklyn by locking down their star player in Kevin Durant. KD averaged just 22 points per game (PPG) in the first three games of the series, before having 39 in the deciding Game 4 loss. However, even in his more KD-like scoring performance in Game 4, Durant shot just 13-31 from the field, and an abysmal 3-11 from three. The Celtics will need another heroic defensive performance to shut down Bucks superstar forward Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Look for the Celtics to throw any variety of Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart at Giannis as the series goes on. They will have to switch up the looks Giannis gets, and minimize his comfort in the low post.
Meanwhile, Giannis and the Bucks are the reigning NBA Champions and are bringing back basically the same squad, plus a much-improved forward in Bobby Portis from a season ago. However, the Bucks will be missing All-Star guard Khris Middleton for the entire series, which will be a massive blow. Despite that loss, though, the Bucks will be a formidable force for the Celtics. Giannis averaged about 30 PPG and 12 rebounds per game this regular season before scoring 30 in three of the Bucks five games against the Chicago Bulls in the first round. No matter what the Celtics throw at Giannis, he will get his. Also, Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday is one of the most underrated man-to-man defenders in the league and can get buckets in his own right (18.3 PPG in the regular season). Jrue is one of the engines that makes this team go, and if he balls out against the Celtics backcourt, it could spell trouble for Boston.
I like this series and think it will go the distance. In the end, I think Giannis and Jrue will be too much for the C’s, even without Middleton. Give me the Bucks in seven.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
Let’s take it out West for another scintillating matchup for the second round, as the Dallas Mavericks and star guard Luka Doncic will face up against “point god” Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns.
The Mavericks are growing up before our eyes. After an opening round exit last year in the NBA Playoffs against a talented Los Angeles Clippers team, the Mavericks were in a weird transition spot. In the offseason, they lost key contributors in guards JJ Redick and Josh Richardson, and also parted ways with their head coach Rick Carlisle. Then, at the trade deadline this season, the Mavs sent star center Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards in a deal that brought guard Spencer Dinwiddie and center Davis Bertans to Dallas. The moves turned out to be beneficial, the Mavericks finishing as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and taking care of the Utah Jazz in six games in the first round.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns had a really difficult time getting past the last-seeded New Orleans Pelicans in their first round matchup. The Suns were without star guard Devin Booker for Games 3, 4 and 5 after he injured his hamstring in Phoenix’s Game 2 loss. Booker’s injury made the series interesting, but in the end, Chris Paul and the rest of the Suns’ supporting cast was enough to get the Suns ahead 3-2 before Booker returned for Game 6 for their closeout win.
The Suns will have to play a lot better against Dallas to win this series, and I think they will. As long as Booker stays healthy, I think the Suns win this series in six.
Golden State Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Golden State Warriors return to the NBA Playoffs after a two-year hiatus following a couple of down years and injuries to their star players in guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The two subpar years were coming off of the back of a dynasty run from Golden State, in which they reached the NBA Finals in five straight seasons, winning three titles along the way. The Memphis Grizzlies, led by the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Ja Morant, are headed into the second round for the first time since the 2014-15 “Grit & Grind” team that lost to… you guessed it — the Golden State Warriors.
For the Warriors, this series comes down to the supporting cast. We know that Steph and Klay will give the Dubs buckets on buckets. But how will young guard Jordan Poole and the rest of Golden State’s team fare against a strong Memphis Grizzlies team who finished second in the West? Poole scored just under 29 PPG in the first three games against the Denver Nuggets in the first round, before cooling off for 11 and eight in Games 4 and 5 respectively. If the Warriors are going to beat the Grizzlies convincingly in this series, Poole will have to show up in a massive way.
On the other side of the matchup, the Grizzlies will be playing with some fire. After Morant and Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks danced on the Minnesota Timberwolves logo following their closeout win in Game 6 of the first round, the media went into a frenzy about the immaturity of the group. The Grizzlies will look to quiet the haters and continue their strong run of play against the Dubs.
It’s going to take a heroic series from Ja for the Grizzlies to upend the title-hungry Warriors. Something he is completely capable of, but I just don’t think this is the year for the young Grizzlies. The Warriors have been there before and gotten the job done at the highest level. In the Playoffs, experience is a must. Give me Warriors in six.