Nets at Sixers
1:30 pm CDT
This one could be fun. The Sixers are loaded with talent and after their trip through the darkness have won over 50 games for the second straight year. They went all in this season, trading first for Jimmy Butler and later for Tobias Harris. It has not come together seamlessly, however. Despite having guys like Butler and Joel Embiid, who are praised for their defense, as a team they were not great at stopping opponents. Last year they made the second round, but were no match for a more experienced Celtics squad. They will hope for better this year, and have enough talent to beat anyone, but could also disappoint.
The Nets are back in the playoffs thanks to some terrific front office work and good coaching from Kenny Atkinson. They are finally digging out from their disastrous trade with the Celtics several years ago, and have impressed as an organization since putting Sean Marks in charge. They have cobbled together an interesting roster with no real stars, but good depth and a commitment to the three pointer. However, they are severely out-talented in this match up, and it’s hard to see them causing Philly a ton of trouble.
Sixers in five.
Similar to the Nets, the Magic are back in the playoffs after a fairly long drought despite a lack of real star power. They’ve done it with their 8th rated defense, led by Nikola Vucevic, who has emerged as a minor star of the rim-protecting/floor stretching variety. Steve Clifford has them much better organized, they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league, and they don’t turn it over much. They’ve been quite healthy, with their top six in minutes per game playing at least 75 games. Aaron Gordon is getting better. It’s an interesting group.
But they aren’t on par with the Raptors, who are loaded. Their deadline trade for Marc Gasol made them even more formidable and dangerous from the perimeter, where they’ve been lights out recently. Kawhi Leonard may only spend one season in Toronto, but it could wind up being a memorable one. Getting Danny Green as a second piece in the trade was fantastic, and Kyle Lowry now has less pressure on him than ever. And I haven’t mentioned Pascal Siakam, likely the Most Improved Player, or their fantastic bench. After years of being stymied by LeBron James, and earning a reputation as a poor playoff team, the Raps have a chance to reverse all that. They should start by taking care of the Magic.
Raptors in four.
Kudos to the Clippers for making the playoffs in the West after dismantling their squad, losing CP3, Blake Griffin (in a trade) and DeAndre Jordan over the past year. Even in the midst of competing this season, they moved their best player and a big part of the return on Griffin when they sent Tobias Harris to the Sixers. But somehow they still won 48 games. Go look at their roster and tell me how. I’ll wait. They shot the three very well and get to the line a ton, but still. They rely on two rookies, their best players are Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell, and they’ve gone through a bunch of roster turnover. Kudos to them for staying afloat and making the playoffs.
That said, they are no match for the Warriors, who cruised through the regular season and are looking for their third straight title. They could have some trouble along the way, but it isn’t going to be with the Clippers. Just too much talent and experience for the Warriors in this series. I don’t have to tell you about the champs, we all know what they do. Just hope you are watching when the avalanche happens.
Warriors in four
The Nuggets had a fantastic season a year after missing out on the playoffs on the season’s last day. They removed all doubt by finishing second in the West with 54 wins. They have a successful offense built around the passing and scoring skills of center Nikola Jokic, who is likely to make an All-NBA team this season. They have some depth on the perimeter, and after a disappointing, injury-plagued year, Paul Millsap is back to doing Millsap things at the four. Lots of people have suggested they have out-won their talent, and that may be true, but kudos to them for having a terrific season, their first playoff appearance since 2013.
The Spurs, of course, are perennial playoff participants. Things have changed a lot in the last few years, and the Spurs are not the title contenders they have been so often in the last couple of decades, but they have a lot of experience both on the floor and on the sidelines. Pop has cobbled together a system that works for his personnel. They are a great defensive rebounding team and they rarely turn it over, meaning they don’t give up extra possessions. They have the best three point shooting percentage in the league but take the fewest threes. They rely in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan to create offense inside the art. I actually think they can make a series out of this.
Nuggets in seven.
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