Below the Rim: Conference Semi-finals!

The second round of the NBA Playoffs begins the same day that the first round ends. The Nuggets and Spurs will be playing a game 7 late Saturday that makes one quarter of the conference semi-finals tough to predict, but lets take a look at the match-ups awaiting us in the second round.

Philadelphia 76ers vs Toronto Raptors

The second rounds kicks off Saturday north of the border with the 2 seeded Raptors hosting the 3 seeded 76ers. Both teams beefed up their respective lineups at the trade deadline with the 76ers adding Tobias Harris and the Raptors adding Marc Gasol. Both teams lost game 1 of the first round at home before winning four straight to end the series 4-1. Both of these teams have what it takes to move on to the conference finals, but only one team will move on.

Toronto will try to set picks in order to get JJ Redick to defend Kawhi Leonard 1 on 1. The 76ers can not allow that to happen or Leonard will torch them. Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons will need to fight hard to get through those picks in order to stay on Leonard.

Prediction – Raptors in 6

Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks

The Celtics and the Bucks both come into this series as the lone unbeaten teams. If you had said before the season that this would be the Eastern Semi-final match-up, most people would have placed Boston as the top seed. However, Milwaukee was the top of the conference for nearly the entire season and finished as the lone 60-win team in the NBA. This was due to the coaching upgrade to Mike Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo elevating his game to an MVP Level.

How do you stop this?

While Giannis may be the best player in this series, the Celtics have the most talent top to bottom. They will need all of their players to be playing at a high level to beat the Bucks. Al Horford will be the primary defender on Giannis, but he has to be careful to not get into foul trouble as the Celtics have nobody else that can come close to slowing the Greek Freak.

Prediction – Bucks in 5

Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors

The match-up everyone wanted this season is here one round earlier than expected and it promises to be as enticing as everyone hoped. The Warriors do not seem to be anywhere close to the team that they can be when they are firing on all cylinders, but Kevin Durant was woken up by Patrick Beverley and took over to get his team past a pesky Clippers team.

The Warriors will not be able to beat the Rockets with Durant alone, and it appears they may be closer to that situation than they hope to be. Demarcus Cousins, who the Warriors signed to specifically match-up against the Rockets, went out in the first round with a quad tear and will not be back. On top of that loss, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both limped out of the closeout game with right ankle pain.

From the Rockets side of things it may be as simple as not missing 27 straight three pointers. The sad part is that isn’t a given with this team. James Harden has been on another plane offensively to keep the Rockets afloat, but since the all-star break this team has looked like the team that earned the NBA’s top seed last season. It will be interesting to see who is the best player on the court between Harden and Durant throughout this series.

Prediction – Warriors in 7

Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets/San Antonio Spurs

This series is obviously the toughest to predict since we don’t even know who the Blazers will be playing, or even if they’ll have home court advantage or not. I’m sure that Damian Lillard doesn’t care which team he’s playing since he’s been on a tear so far this postseason, but I’m not sure that he will be able to keep up that level of play. It’s no secret that Lillard has a real beef with Russell Westbrook and I believe that helped him play so well. He’ll have to find a new motivation for this series.

Either team that makes it will pose a big man problem for the Blazers. The Spurs would challenge them with the scoring of Lamarcus Aldridge while the Nuggets would run their offense through their superstar Center, Nikola Jokic. The Portland guards will have to be special to offset their big man disadvantage.

Predicition vs Spurs – Spurs in 6

Prediction vs Nuggets – Nuggets in 7

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