NBA Playoffs – 2nd Round

NBAplayoffs

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?

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Who is the MVP?

mvp

Every year, the NBA selects a player that stands out in a sea of talent to name them the MVP. For the past two seasons, the MVP has been earned by Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry. If you are familiar with basketball then you know the name of the baby faced assassin. Curry has changed the game by setting the tone each year and torching the league with his three pointers. His first MVP season in 2014-15, he set the record for most 3’s in a season making 286. The following year, he received the MVP award and being the first unanimous choice in league history, shattering his own record with most 3’s in a season making 402. It’s no doubt that he is an incredible player and has the potential to be the best in the league for the next several years, but he is not in this seasons MVP race. Who is you’re wondering? I’m glad you asked.

The top 4 candidates this season to win the MVP award is Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James.

To start off, I’m going to begin the player who has stood out the most statistically, and that is Russell Westbrook. Russell has done something this season that we haven’t seen in over 50 years. He is currently averaging, and has been for most of the season, a triple double. Westbrook hasn’t only been averaging 31.9 PPG, 10.5 RBG, and 10.1 APG, but he is leading the league in scoring and has somehow managed to climb into the top 5 all time in career triple doubles joining names such as Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain. Not to mention that of his 32 triples doubles this season (second most in regular season history), he is leading his team in 4 out of the 5 major statistics. This one man fast break cannot be stopped. His intensity, leadership, and explosiveness has lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 37-29 record as they sit in the 6th place in the Western Conference playoff picture. There’s no denying that Russell Westbrook is the heart of this team, but will he keep it going through the playoffs?

Next we have James Harden. This unique, lefty player is something special. The Beard has made a definite impact in this league and makes his Houston Rockets team a real contender on making it to the West Finals. James Harden has emerged himself from a lazy defender who was a careless shooting guard, to now filling in the role as a point guard and leading the league in assists. Averaging 11.2 assists per game, James Harden has been a triple double machine as well as Westbrook. Harden doesn’t nearly have as many triple doubles that Westbrook has, but he has the most 40 point triple doubles and has had a couple 50 point triple doubles this season also. Yes, the Beard is fierce and crafty and his game cannot be mimicked, but can he limit his turnovers and lead his three point shooting Rockets team to the Finals? With shooters like Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon (3pt contest champion), Ryan Anderson, and recently acquired Lou Williams, Harden has lots of options to pass to and not to mention the option of himself. But you know what they say, live by the three… die by the three.

On deck we have the best defensive player out of all 4 players and possibly the best defensive player in the league. Kawhi Leonard not only has to guard the best player on every team that he plays against, but he himself is the best player on the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi is a defensive junk yard dog. He will aggressively body up a bigger man and cleverly defend any perimeter player with his quick, sly hands. But as quiet as he is, Kawhi is proving on a nightly basis that his defense isn’t his only game. He is shooting a career high in FT%, aggressively and fearlessly getting to the line more and more every season. A summer working out with Kobe Bryant has definitely made a difference as his scoring is also at a career high at 26.2 PPG. He is showing night in and night out that he is now the face of the dominant, Tim Duncan-less San Antonio Spurs franchise. Just to give an insight on how serious he is about his defensive job, while in the All Star game this season, his only points came off a steal and slam. I imagine Coach Pop cringing at the whole entire game, except that one play. Leonard has a chance to add a regular season MVP award to his stellar trophy shelf of two DPOY awards and a Finals MVP.

Last but definitely not least, LeBron James. The MVP award is no stranger to LBJ as he is 4x award winner, two with the Cleveland Cavaliers and two with the Miami Heat. LeBron is the definition of dominance. If you were to ask yourself who has played the most basketball in the last 7 years, your answer should be LeBron. Leading his teams to six straight NBA Finals hasn’t been done since Bill Russell did it in the late 50s and most of the 60s. It is scary to think that LeBron seems to be more energized as he gets older. The MVP award has always given the edge to the player that’s on the team most likely to win the championship, and out of these four players, LeBron James’ team has the edge. LBJ has always been a freak of nature, an athletic and powerful forward, and probably one of the smartest players to ever touch a ball. This season, he hasn’t racked up as many triple doubles as Harden or Westbrook, only having 9 this season. But LeBron isn’t worried about scoring or triple doubles, he only cares about winning and he knows that in order to win he needs his team. His assists are at a career high at 8.9 APG, and it shows that he loves getting his team involved every game. LeBron knows a thing a two about championships and getting to the Finals, but he is also familiar with doing what it takes to win… and that is a MVP attitude.

Who do you think deserves to win the Most Valuable Player award?