LeBron and the Cavaliers trimmed the NBA Playoff field to eight teams making all four matchups set. The Warriors and Rockets have already won their Game 1s in dominating fashion; the 76ers will face the Celtics in Boston tonight, and the Cavaliers will begin their series in Toronto tomorrow night.
Let’s take a look at the matchups, and what each team needs to do to move on…
Toronto Raptors 1 v. Cleveland Cavaliers 4
Toronto Raptors: I think we can all agree that stopping LeBron with any sort of regularity is pretty much out of the question. However, game 7 against the Pacers did reveal one bit of kryptonite for LeBron James: Remember Game 1 of the 2014 Finals against the Spurs? Well his cramps reared their ugly head again.
LeBron’s mileage is starting to fatigue him. The Raptors need to run run run, push the pace on Cavalier misses, and get out on fastbreaks. Sure, he’ll get a few chasedown blocks; but the only reason his cramps didn’t cause a loss against the Pacers in Game 7 was because Indiana completely failed to take advantage of the five or so minutes that he missed. The Raptors need to punish the Cavs every time that LeBron sits, forcing him to stay on the court longer. It may seem counter-intuitive, but reducing his rest will eventually wear him down, especially if the series goes to six or seven games.
Cleveland Cavaliers : The Cavs can advance against the Raptors if they do the obvious: FIND LEBRON SOME HELP. Nobody else on the team scored more than 18 points in any of the seven games against Indiana. If you told me that no one other than LeBron would be able to crack 20 points in the first round, I’d guess that they’d lose in 5 games. What LeBron has done is truly incredible, but he absolutely needs more help to get through the second round.
The Cavs must hold down the fort when when they are LeBron-less. They were able to turn a two point lead into a seven point lead after LeBron exited in the third quarter of Game 7, and that’s a large reason for why they made it here. The team’s +- while he is out needs to be near 0 at the least, and somebody needs to step up and have a night on offense. It doesn’t have to be the same player each game, but his teammates need to knockdown the shots that he constantly leaves on a silver platter. Kevin Love is the most likely suspect, but what about J.R Smith, Kyle Korver, Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, George Hill? The Cavs need to feel out who has the hot hand each night, and get some 20+ point performances from them.
Prediction : Nobody scoring over 18 points for a seven game stretch is no fluke. The train stops here for Lebron and the Cavs.
Raptors win in 6 games
Boston Celtics 2 vs. Philadelphia 76ers 3
Boston Celtics: The Celtics were able to beat the Bucks in seven games, with the home team winning all seven games in the series. The Process will provide a tougher task for the Celtics, as they appear to be hitting their stride. Ben Simmons is almost impossible to stopbecause he doesn’t need to score to have a profound effect on the game.The Celtics need to buckle down on defense and play their style of basketball. Big Al Horford needs to get physical with Joel Embiid and slow him down, not letting him start getting momentum and become cocky.
It hasn’t all been Simmons and Embiid. JJ Redick has been an X-factor for the Sixers averaging 20 points in the first round. Whoever is assigned the task of chasing JJ Redick around the 3-point line needs to make sure they either shut him down, or call out the proper switchesso that they can contain him.
Thinking outside the box: could hack-a-simmons be a late-game strategy? The rookie is in his first playoff series and his one weakness is foul shooting.
Philadelphia 76ers : Ben Simmons was nothing short of phenomenal in the first round against the Miami Heat. Simmons needs to keep doing what he’s been doing, effortlessly getting to the hoop, finding teammates, playing defense, and ripping boards. Joel Embiid needs to be the dual threat that he’s been all season. He needs to force Al Horford away from the basket so that his teammates have more room to operate in the paint, and win the battle with him when he posts up.
The 76ers shooters, lead by JJ Redick, need to show up and spread the floor by knocking down their shots. During their 17 game winning streak Philadelphia shot just a hair under 40% from deep. Embiid doesn’t shoot a huge volume of treys, and Simmons doesn’t shoot them at all, so that’s on Redick, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Marco Belinelli, all need to get it done.
Prediction: Trust the Process.
Sixers win in 6 games
Houston Rockets 1 v. Utah Jazz 5
Houston Rockets: With Ricky Rubio out, the ball movement can’t help but stagnate somewhat. Rubio is the player who made things easy for his teammates. Without him, the ball be in Donovan Mitchell’s hands a disproportionate amount of time for a rookie, especially one who doesn’t have superior passing skills like Ben Simmons. That means they should throw double teams at Mitchell. Force him to take on the double team or pass out of it and find the open man. When Rubio hit a few shots against the Thunder, it forced Westbrook to overplay him, making it easier for him to find an open man. Mitchell is a great player, but his ball-distribution can’t compare to Rubio’s. The Rockets can throw double teams at him on defense, and force him to find a way to outscore James Harden and the crew.
Utah Jazz : Already a game down, the Jazz have a steep challenge ahead of them. Utah needs to be the anti-Rockets. They need to sloooow the game down, play physical, and try their hardest to bring James Harden back to reality after a 41 point effort in Game 1. Rudy Gobert needs to take care of Clint Capela on pick’n’rolls with Harden. Donovan Mitchell needs to do his best to be a two-way player. The scoring load is squarely on him, and the unenviable task of guarding James Harden will mostly fall on him as well. With Rubio out, Mitchell has to go from star to superstar, and carry his team, if they want to knock off the number 1 seed.
Prediction: The Jazz were already underdogs before the Rubio injury, too much James Harden.
Rockets win in 5 games
Golden State Warriors 2 v. New Orleans Pelicans 6
Golden State Warriors : With a one game lead and Steph Curry set to come back for game 2, the Warriors can go in cruise control for another round. Curry’s minutes will be monitored early, but the Warriors proved that they can win without him, smashing the Pelicans in game 1. The main challenge will be stopping Anthony Davis from doing anything obscene, like scoring 50 points, which is actually harder than it sounds. Davis was held to 21 in game 1, and as a result the Pelicans posed no threat. If the Warriors can outshoot the Pelicans from 3, a relatively simple task, Anthony Davis can probably drop 40 to no avail.
New Orleans Pelicans: Obviously, Anthony Davis needs to score more than the 21 he scored in game 1. The 25-year old sensation can’t do it all by himself, he’ll need his guards Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo to really step up in the second round. Holiday needs to be the Curry-stopper, as well as a bigger offensive threat than he was in game 1.
Rajon Rondo is in charge of finding the hot hand. He had 11 assists in game 1, however only two of them came after halftime. Rondo, will need to establish himself as a more of a scoring threat so that the Warriors will have to collapse more when he penetrates.
Anthony Davis will have to do what he can to slow down Kevin Durant. He’ll have to outscore Durant, while trusting his teammates to contain the splash brothers, a very tall task.
Prediction: The Warriors blew out the Pelicans without Stephen Curry, he should be back for the rest of the series.
Warriors win in 4 games
cover photo (Curry): sportingnews.com
Lebron cramp photo: youtube.com