It’s been a crazy week of playoff basketball thus far. Most series have gone as we’ve expected them to, while some others have been utterly surprising.
(1) Atlanta Hawks – (8) Brooklyn Nets:
The Nets find themselves down 0-2 after failing to gain any ground on the East’s top seed on the road. With the series shifting over to Brooklyn, I expect the Nets to come out very aggressive in Game 3 in hopes of prolonging their season a few more days. I fully expect Atlanta to steal one game in Brooklyn and wrap up the series in Atlanta in game 5. A presumed series loss should help the Nets transition into an off-season in which they need to address their Point Guard situation. The Deron Williams experiment in Brooklyn has been fruitless to say the least. At this stage of his career he’s not worth the asking price; the Nets must find a way to rid themselves of one of most polarizing players in Franchise History. For Atlanta this series will be a great stepping stone in how to execute in the postseason. Last year’s version of the Hawks had a great chance to send then #1 seed Indiana packing; missing Al Horford certainly didn’t help in that cause. Atlanta continues to play good basketball in hopes of securing the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers- (7) Boston Celtics:
The inexperienced Cavs have gained just that in this series… EXPERIENCE! Any doubts critics may have had about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love’s ability to replicate regular season production in the playoffs have gone swiftly out of the window. LeBron’s decision to return home has emphatically been justified. Lurking in the horizon is an epic second round tilt with the DRose & Jimmy Butler led Chicago Bulls who have gotten healthy at the perfect time. For Boston, down 0-3 in a series few thought they could win, there are a lot of positives to take home. For starters, Brad Stevens is an absolute stud, and Danny Ainge must be content with the output he’s gotten from this roster devoid of All-Star talent. There is much to be happy about as a Boston Celtics fan going forward.
(3) Chicago Bulls – (6) Milwaukee Bucks:
Da Bulls are back. It’s been 3 long years but Chicago fans have a lot to smile about these days as they truly have a shot to add #7 to the franchise tally. Derrick Rose is playing exciting and efficient basketball, Jimmy Butler is adding millions to his stock seemingly by the minute, and Tom Thibodeau’s job security has increased in large part to a 3-0 series lead. Milwaukee is certainly a team of the future. This year’s playoff push will serve as a great bench mark for future stars like Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That duo with the return of star rookie Jabari Parker leaves Jason Kidd with a promising core for years to come.
(4) Toronto Raptors – (5) Washington Wizards:
This is the one Eastern Conference series that has been the most surprising in a way. Toronto has done a complete 180 from their early season successes. Washington’s mid-late season struggles are no more (for now). Toronto’s GM Masai Ujiri has done more talking than his helpless team could back up. Down 3-0 and on the road for game 4, Toronto’s season will end in a veery embarrassing way. Paul Pierce continues to defy conventional wisdom and show why he’s one of the best Playoff performers that the NBA has seen. John Wall, Bradley Beal & company are gaining priceless experience by having a champion like Pierce on their side. The Wizards will be tested by the Hawks in the second round which should be a good challenge for both teams in their pursuit of a championship.
(1) Golden State Warriors- (8) New Orleans Pelicans:
This series is 3-0 in favor of the Warriors, but not without any drama. The Warriors were down 20 points in the 4th quarter of Game 3 and somehow through Draymond Green’s offensive rebounding and Steph Curry’s shooting, they forced overtime and put the wounded Pelicans out of their misery. The Pelicans seem to be content with getting to the dance, but failing to understand the magnitude of the moment. Games 2 and 3 were winnable for the Pelicans and they completely dropped the ball. Anthony Davis and company are now hoping the Warriors left their brooms in Oakland,California if they have any chance of this series reaching 5 games. The Warriors are in prime position to continue their historic season. New Orleans must figure out if Monty Williams is the guy to lead this talented bunch going forward.
(2) Houston Rockets- (7) Dallas Mavericks
Dallas was my sleeper before the playoffs started, but it’s sad to say that this Mavericks team is just SLEEPING. The Rajon Rondo experiment has been an utter disaster and that is a sad reality. Dirk Nowitzki desperately wants to add to his ring total but this 0-3 deficit has shut the door on that possibility all the way tight. Mark Cuban will have a few decisions to make to get his team back in contention, but the immediate future does not look bright in Big D. Houston in my opinion looks like a different team than the one that James Harden heroically led to a #2 seed in the Wild Wild West. Dwight Howard and Josh Smith have tapped into their AAU days with the Atlanta Celtics, as their chemistry is being displayed front and center along with Harden’s exploits that now have the rockets looking like a legitimate contender out West.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers- (6) San Antonio Spurs
This was supposed to be the most challenging first round series, and it still may very well be, but after last night’s 27 point drubbing I am having second thoughts about my pick for the Clips to come out of the West. Outside of Jamal Crawford, there is absolutely no bench production for Doc Rivers’ group. Kawhi Leonard cannot be stopped at this moment, Tony Parker has given the Spurs little to nothing, but none of that has stopped the Spurs since their sole loss in Game 1. If the Clippers cannot even the series in San Antonio in Game 4, there is no way LAC comes out of this series. The Spurs, albeit a 6 seed, seem primed for another Title run. Doc Rivers will have to address how to retool his roster going forward, as there is too much starting talent on the Clippers for them to continue to fall short when it counts. Chris Paul’s legacy is still on the line.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers- (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Wes Matthews’s achilles rupture further magnified Portland’s issues. They have no bench. Arron Afflalo has been forced to assume the starting 2-Guard role leaving Portland’s bench even thinner than it was before. Damian Lillard has been a shell of himself since the “snub”, pretty much forcing Lamarcus Aldridge to play Hercules against the Grit and Grind Grizzlies. Memphis has played their typical brand of basketball and it’s working. Two beatdowns in Memphis have them looking for a sweep in Portland. It just might happen, as rumors are swirling that Aldridge’s days in Black & Red are most likely coming to a close. Memphis knows their defense will show up, the question has always been on the offensive side of the ball. If they can find a way to score, they’ll make life hard for the Warriors in round 2. Portland on the other hand is a ball team stuck in limbo as their future relies on whatever decision Lamarcus Aldridge decides to make.