(Continued from yesterday’s Part 1: the Western Conference battles. )
The Eastern Conference battles are more predictable. Easier assignments for the big guns, but the plot gets interesting in the second round of the playoffs.
The top-rated Milwaukee Bucks (56-17) will have no problem disposing the Orlando Magic (33-40). With Giannis’ MVP numbers, plus ample support from Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and the Lopez twins, the Bucks are way ahead talent-wise. The Bucks are the league’s top defensive team, while checking in 8th in offensive rating, for a league-leading net rating of 9.4. The Orlando Magic, starring Nicola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, submitted a 19th best net rating of -1.3. This will be a 4-0 sweep.
The Toronto Raptors (53-19) drew the undermanned Brooklyn Nets ((35-37) for the first round. This is another no-brainer, with the defending champs armed to the teeth with the likes of All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Paskal Siakam, and support from Marc Gasol, Fred Van Vleet and the vastly-improved OG Anonoby. The Nets, on the other hand, are minus their top 4 players: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie. Another 4-0 sweep.
The Boston Celtics (48-24) vs Philadelphia 76ers (43-30) clash would have been a real dogfight if the Sixers’ All-Star guard Ben Simmons had not been injured in the preliminary seeding games. Without their second best player and most versatile defender, the Sixers will rely on their bigs, Joel Embiid and Al Horford, to do battle against the Celtic horde composed of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Gordon Haywood. It will be the Sixers’ size against the Celts’ snipers; and my crystal ball favors the young snipers 4-2.
Finally, the Indiana Pacers (45-28) against the Miami Heat (44-29) will be a toss-up. The Pacers have a big offensive revelation in TJ Warren, but Victor Oladipo has not shown any signs of regaining his pre-injury form, and starting power forward Domantas Sabonis is also out on an injury. The Heat, on the other hand, have All-Stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler along with veteran and former All-Star, Goran Dragic. The Heat should take this series 4-3.
Thus, my picks to step forward to the 2nd round are: the LA Lakers, the LA Clippers, the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma Thunder for the West; and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat for the East. Who goes to the Conference finals will be another story.
I said it before, I’ll say it again. With a cramped playoff schedule, the key elements for this year’s campaign will be injuries, bench depth and team chemistry.
Chances are that there will be some injuries as we tread the shortened playoff sked. With the cramped sked comes fatigue and the bigger risk of injury. Already, the Sixers’ chances are greatly diminished by the injury to Ben Simmons. That said, teams will try to avoid these injuries by ensuring that their key players’ playing times are not overextended. Hence, the team with the deeper bench will have the ability to rest their key players often and thus gain a big advantage. However, the flip side of having a solid bench depth is that cohesion could suffer. Players must be willing to make some sacrifices, if the ultimate goal is to win a championship.
I wish to congratulate the NBA for having succeeded in restarting the season. With the nature of the game, it is truly a big feat to prevail with this project. To have made the games proceed under the most difficult pandemic circumstances, while being able to champion the cause for social reform, is an endeavor well worth it. Great job, NBA. Be proud of what you have accomplished. You have made so many believers in this world of chaos and controversy. Surely, the good vibes and the joy you bring will come back to you with even more blessings for the next generation of players and for all of humanity.
Cover photo courtesy of Raptor Hq. Other pics courtesy of: USA Today, ClutchPoints, Talk Basket, Raptors Hq, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, OregonLive.com and Bleacher Report.