And we’re back! This week I’ll be continuing a breakdown of the 2020 NBA Playoffs if conferences were eliminated and it was in a 1-16 “match madness” style format. I covered the first round of the playoffs last week and also explained the format so if you missed it, I highly recommend getting caught up here. Now let’s get back into the action.
First, lets take a look at where we left off:
Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Miami Heat (8): The Bucks get another Florida team in the semi-finals, taking on the Heat. At first glance I again thought this would be another sweep for Giannis and co., but after a closer look, I realized the Heat won the only game these two teams played against each other all season. In convincing fashion too! The Heat won 105-89, holding the Greek Freak to 13 points on 33% shooting. As impressive as that is, I don’t think it’s sustainable. The heat shot 48% from 3 including former Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder combining for 8-12 from behind the arc. They also did this while holding the Bucks to 20% from 3.
You love to see it, but you won’t see it enough to win this series. They might frustrate Giannis for a game, but he will inevitably do Giannis things and Bucks will win this series. Don’t get me wrong, I love this Heat team. They have it all – good defense, a young VERY talented core, great veteran leadership, championship coaching. But the Bucks are just so so good. I can see them winning in 5 but I’ll give the Heat 2 gritty, heard fought wins. Bucks in 6.
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Houston Rockets (10): Two teams with very elite duos face off in this all-west series as Lebron James and Anthony Davis take on James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It’s only round two and we’re already getting what some might have predicted as a Western Conference Finals contest. All that to be said, I don’t think this will prove to be a super competitive series. The core of this Rockets team was built to beat a team like the Warriors, with a small ball lineup and a seven seconds or less offense that produces a high volume of shots.
While it’s proven to be [relatively] successful, they run into a team in a team that’s built to beat them. The Lakers are a long, defensively savvy team that can cover 5 out with little issue. They’re great protecting the paint and actually shoot better from 3 that the Rockets! And at the end of the day, which duo do you trust more?? They might have seen success for a while with this style, and they might have had continued success if they hadn’t run into the Lakers so soon, but the Rockets will fall in the second round. Lebron, AD, and the entire supporting cast will just be too overwhelming. I have the Lakers in 5.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Denver Nuggets (6): When I first took a look at this matchup, my gut reaction was that the Nuggets would dominate the series in 5 games, lead by video game numbers from Nikola Jokic. The Toronto Raptors, while very good, just seem to be too average in all offensive categories. I figured they were playing way over their own heads. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized how close this series might be. The Raptors are second in the entire NBA in defensive rating, trailing only the top seeded Bucks. They also play selfless team basketball due in large part to elite coaching and team chemistry that is honestly underrated.
My initial instincts appear to be wrong. Denver seems to find themselves in another dogfight of a second round matchup. Look for this to be a grind of a series, with plenty of close, exciting action. Jokic will still average a near triple double, and the rest of the well balanced Nuggets will do their part, but they’re going to have to fight each game. The Raptors will learn on their championship experience and defensive prowess, but in the end will fall just short. Look for at least one overtime game this series, as the young and hungry Nuggets barely advance in 7.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Boston Celtics (5): Easily the most intriguing series of the second round, the Clippers and Celtics face off as two teams many predicted (myself included) would meet in the Finals. Both teams are prepared to make a deep championship run. Both are more talented than they have been in a long time. But unfortunately, only one will advance.
In the end (it hurts me to type this), I have the Clippers winning in 7. This Celtics team has my heart as an NBA and Boston sports fan. We have an amazing coach in Brad Stevens and incredible emerging talent in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This team plays elite level team defense, led especially by Marcus Smart. We have all-star veterans like Kemba Walker. We even have freaking Tacko Fall! This team is so easy to love. Unfortunately they’re up against a better version of themselves. This Celtics team looks to be contenders for many years to come, but this year is just not their year. Look for this series to go the distance with statement performances from Tatum, Brown and Walker. But ultimately, I have the Clips in 7.
Last week I said that I would conclude with part two but there is too much to get to, and I don’t want to skim over or rush anything. Look for part 3 next week.
–Nick Hannigan (Twitter: @TheNickHannigan)
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