There is nothing like the NBA playoffs! Whether the game is close or if it’s a blowout… the crowd is loud, trash talk is in full effect, and everyone is bringing their A game. The first round has had some incredible plays and finishes, but as we move forward onto the 2nd round, things will only be getting better from here. Here are the match-ups: in the West, we have the 1-seed Golden State Warriors vs. the 5-seed Utah Jazz and the 2-seed San Antonio Spurs vs. the 3-seed Houston Rockets. In the East, it starts with the 1-seed Boston Celtics vs. the 4-seed Washington Wizards and the 2-seed Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the 3-seed Toronto Raptors. Let’s go through each match-up and see what we can expect from each series.
We’ll start with the East, leading off with the Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards, all eyes will be on these exciting point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall have easily been two of top most exciting players to watch this season, and they are both on a mission. The Celtics have been playing with some emotion and purpose after the news of Thomas’ sister passing away in a car accident the day before their postseason began. After a rough first two games against the Chicago Bulls, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics rally back and win four straight games to advance. Then there’s John Wall and the Wizards, who has shown NBA fans and the rest of the teams that they mean business. This Kentucky Wildcat put up big numbers the whole first round, resulting in a 4-2 series win over the Atlanta Hawks. The X-factor for the Wizards will be two simple things. First, Bradley Beal needs to play to the potential that he can. Beal and Wall combined for 73 points in Game 6 to close out the series and advance, but will Beal be able to produce that kind of offense against Boston? The second X-factor for the Wizards will be their bigs. Can Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat guard the Celtics bigs who are not only are efficient in the paint, but who can step out and sink some outside shots as well? Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk are nightmares for bigs to guard because of the spacing that the C’s give on the court. Between the speed and athleticism of John Wall and the impressive scoring and play making by Isaiah Thomas, which team will have the edge in this series?
Next is the defending champs Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors. We saw these two teams face each other last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the Cavaliers took the series in 6 games to move onto their second consecutive Finals. This best-of-7 series will be a fight for both teams. After being defeated last year the Raptors are looking for some payback. Their stand out star in these playoffs, DeMar DeRozan, has brought his game into this postseason and he showed it against the Milwaukee Bucks. Taking over game 6, DeRozan drops 32 points and a couple of late game, clutch shots. As they look at what’s coming there is a few things they need to prepare for. The point guard match-up between Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving will be a large deciding factor of this series. Who will start off fast and aggressive and who will defer their game to let their co-star take over first? These All-Star point guards are shadowed by their main stars, DeRozan and LeBron James, but each will be a huge factor in the outcome of this series. Obviously we are all waiting patiently to see what LeBron James does in this series since his fingerprints are on every game and playoff series he has ever been a part of, but the power forward match-up between these two East teams will play a huge factor in a lot of these games. The Toronto Raptors want to crack the code to beat this Cleveland team and send them home before they even reach the ECF, and by bringing Serge Ibaka on the roster they just might do it. Kevin Love has proved that he can score in all different ways, whether it’s in the post grabbing offensive boards and playing big man or he is stepping out and drilling 3-point shots. The Raptors will try to slow him down with Ibaka, a shot blocking machine and a skilled offensive player. This series is anticipated by many, but not as much as the Raptors as they try to redeem themselves. Can they pull it off against the beast of the East?
Now onto the best of the West. For the past three seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been the 1-seed. As they match-up with 5-seed Utah Jazz, the Warriors are also looking to get some revenge and redemption from last year’s Finals versus the Cavaliers. With the addition of superstar Kevin Durant to the already incredible Golden State team, they will be scary to face. No one wants to go head-to-head with this powerhouse team, except the Jazz. After beating the Clippers on their own court in Game 7 of the first round, Utah is feeling pretty good about themselves right now. The Jazz are probably the considered the underdog in these playoffs, but they don’t think that. With Gordon Hayward playing at the level he is, and the supporting cast of George Hill, Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson and more, there’s a lot of potential with this team and they are ready for the series they are about to get into as they try to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Lastly, but probably the most anticipated Conference Semifinals is the 2-seed San Antonio Spurs battling the 3-seed Houston Rockets. This is possibly the most anticipated series because of the match-up between the two stars on each team. Yes, in every series there are exciting match-ups between the best players, but this is different. Kawhi Leonard has easily been one of the best two-way player in the league, he can guard the player who scores 30 and simultaneously score the same amount if not more in the same game. His quiet, class attitude for the game is just the cherry on top of who Kawhi is as a player. And on the other hand, there’s James Harden, one of the most exciting players this season. His offensive skills are almost unguardable, his passing has improved tremendously (led the league in APG) and he’s shown that he wants to be the best. His Rockets team easily handled the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games, but their next challenge is the Popovich coached, disciplined Spurs team. As these two team’s MVP candidates go head-to-head in this series, I have a feeling it will be one of the more exciting playoff series we will see this year. The Beard vs. The Klaw… what more do you want?
After seeing the match-ups and comparing the each team to the other, who do you think will advance to the Conference Finals?