Raise your hand if you had the Pelicans as the first team to claim a spot in the second round?
You’re a liar.
I’ll admit I had the Blazers winning in 6. I’ll take the L. I’m sure a good handful of people had the Pelicans winning the series, but nobody had them doing it in 4 games. When things get flipped on top of their head in the playoffs, things get very interesting. Which brings me to my first storyline:
You can’t count the New Orleans Pelicans out Anymore
The Pelicans made a statement in this series. This is no longer the NBA Playoffs, this is March Madness (or April/May/June Madness). It’s all about who’s getting hot at the right time, and it’s all about matchups. The Pelicans are certainly getting hot at the right time, and although the draw originally looked tough, with them seemingly poised to play the Warriors in the Conference Semi-Final, they now know they won’t have to deal with a certain 2-time MVP by the name of Stephen Curry. Assuming the Warriors finish off the Spurs, they still won’t be a small task, but the Pelicans have every right to be confident they can win. Anthony Davis is putting up numbers that I couldn’t even put up in an NBA 2K game with it set to 10-minute quarters. Jrue Holiday has woken up every possible person who has slept on him, and that’s virtually everyone, establishing himself as one of the best two-way guards in the league at this moment. He’s playing alongside another former all-star in Rajon Rondo, who’s reminding everyone that he’s one of the best pure passers this game has ever had, and also happens to have won a championship. If the Pelicans can find an answer for Kevin Durant (and his name is Anthony Davis), then they should have every right to believe they can win a 7-game series with them.
LeBron will have to do it himself if he wants to make an 8th straight NBA Finals appearance
With the Cavaliers and Pacers locked at two games apiece, the Cavs may not even make it out of the first round, let alone the NBA Finals. After watching the Cavaliers for the past 6 months, there’s no way I can endorse LeBron James making his 8th straight finals. Here’s why:
- The loss of Kyrie Irving last summer: Kyrie Irving was far more than a Robin to LeBron’s batman. We’ve seen all season long that on nights where LeBron James can’t score 35+ points, the Cavaliers will struggle to put up an efficient offensive performance. There is no single player who can create their own offense consistently the way Kyrie could.
- The regression of Kevin Love: If you look at the original All-Star rosters from 2018, you’ll see that Kevin Love was an all-star. That may as well have been five years ago. Kevin Love has regressed significantly since his days in Minnesota, and even since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Love has had a hard time staying on the court after suffering a broken hand and a concussion at different points this season. He’s really struggled to find his rhythm in the playoffs, and with LeBron’s domination of the ball and offensive flow, Love is little more than an inconsistent spot-up shooter. Off the top of my head there are a number of non-all-star players in the playoffs that I’d much rather have: Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Myles Turner, Terry Rozier, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Khris Middleton, just to name a few, and there are plenty more players who deserve consideration.
- The Cavs rely on whether or not their role players are knocking down 3s: As a result of point 1, losing Kyrie Irving, the Cavs now lack a second option who can create their own shot. The way LeBron orchestrates the offense, far too often does their possession end in a LeBron James shot, or one of his teammates firing off a 3 pointer. In their game 4 win over the Pacers, 51 of their 78 shots taken were either taken by LeBron, or a teammate from beyond the arc. That means that they’re relying very heavily on whether or not Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, J.R Smith, and Jordan Clarkson are knocking down shots. While those are all talented shooters, that’s not the formula that took the Cavs to the past three straight finals.
Top Seeds on Upset Alert
In order of who should be the least worried to the most worried:
2 Golden State Warriors vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs (Warriors lead 3-1)
After losing the first three games, the Spurs were able to pull out an important win that will serve as a moral victory for the team. They can say that they didn’t get swept by the Warriors, and it may have been a proper sendoff for Manu Ginobili. Just like in Kobe’s final game, Ginobili reminded fans what they’ve had for the better part of 20 years, leading San Antonio to victory with 16 points and 5 assists by knocking down 3s, finding open teammates, and craftily getting into the paint. Unless the Spurs are going to push the series to seven games (which I don’t see happening), then unfortunately, this series’ main headlines will have been about Ginobili’s retirement and the Warriors, pursuing a championship with Steph Curry on the sideline.
1 Houston Rockets vs. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (Rockets lead 3-1)
After winning the first two games, the Wolves were able to win game 3 at home. The Rockets were able to retake control with a win in game 4, they now have a chance to go back to Houston and clinch a spot in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. I’m not saying to put money on the Wolves getting back in this series, their road most likely ends tomorrow, but they are more of a threat to make a 3-1 comeback than San Antonio. The Spurs understand they are at the end of their dynasty era and beginning a new one. The Wolves are full of youth and desperate for some postseason success. Even if it’s only bringing the series to six or seven games, that would be seen as a big step towards the future of Minnesota basketball.
2 Boston Celtics vs. 7 Milwaukee Bucks (Series tied 2-2)
The home team has won all four games so far in this series, with the Bucks tying it up in a thrilling game 4 in Milwaukee. Khris Middleton has played terrific, and the revelations of Jabari Parker and Thon Maker could be enough for the Bucks to beat the injury-riddled Celtics. If the players on Milwaukee not named Giannis Antetokounmpo can hold their own in Boston, they may have enough to steal game 5 and come home to Wisconsin for a chance to move on to the next round. Boston can lean on the fact that they have home-court advantage, and earlier today Marcus Smart was upgraded to questionable for Game 5. Smart is an important player who does a lot on both ends of the floor. But perhaps his most important skill is the intensity and energy that he brings. If the Celtics get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 in Boston, he’ll set the building on fire, and it would be hard to imaginine Boston losing at TD Garden with that kind of energy. This may be a series where the home team wins every game. One loss for the home team will most likely cost the series.
1 Toronto Raptors vs 8 Washington Wizards (Series Tied 2-2)
Both eight seeds lost their superstar player for the bulk of the second half. Even when they have had John Wall, the Wizards have underperformed. So it’s not too far-fetched to think that the Wizards are finally ready to fulfill their potential by beating the top-seeded Raptors. John Wall and Bradley Beal have matched DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry thus far, and the Raptors bench, which was supposed to be Toronto’s ace in the hole, hasn’t had a single player with a plus/minus better then +3 since Game 1. That’s really worrisome for a team that supposedly has the best bench in the league. The Wizards have found the key to neutralizing the Raptors second unit, and are a real threat to pull off the 1/8 upset for the sixth time in NBA history.
The Utah Jazz style of Basketball is Prevailing over Raw Athleticism in an Entertaining Series
The Jazz are playing a fun, energetic, but in-control brand of basketball that reminds me of the way the Spurs dissected LeBron James and the Miami the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. Their ball movement has been phenomenal. You can see Ricky Rubio having the “Lonzo Ball affect” on his teammates. The flashy ball movement is infectious to the point that we’ve even seen Rudy Gobert dropping behind the back passes. Donovan Mitchell has been playing like a star, Ricky Rubio has been the general, and plenty of contributions have been made by Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Joe Ingles.
Donovan Mitchell's flatly been better than Russell Westbrook: in the last 3 games, he's outscored Russ 32-5 in the 4th quarter.
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) April 24, 2018
Meanwhile, the Thunder have been far less efficient by relying on the athleticism of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. The Jazz are proving that a well-coached team can win out over Westbrook’s hair-on-fire energy and athleticism. The emotion that Russell Westbrook plays with only seems to be affecting him and his team negatively. The side battle of Joe Ingles vs. Paul George has been wildly entertaining. Every other play it seems like the two are starting some sort of scuffle. Ingles obviously isn’t as talented as George, but he’s been evening the playing field by getting on PG13’s last nerve. Since a great Game 1, George has been relatively mediocre, shooting just under 38%.
Video Credit: Clive video parody
Picture Credits: www.si.com