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NBA Playoffs Day Two: MVP Candidates Debut

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers at Celtics

12:00pm CST

TNT

For whatever reason, there’s a large part of me that feels like this one is going to be much closer than it should be. Boston struggled with high expectations all season long, and it’s hard to believe that they will just flip the proverbial “switch.” If Boston is able to do so, it’ll be on the backs of their two veterans, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. We all know how Kyrie responds in the big moments. Horford, though, has long been an underrated player whose value is not easily shown through the box score. Kyrie is awesome, but Horford’s defense, passing, and shooting is what makes them go. With Marcus Smart out (oblique), Boston will need to rely more heavily on Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye to defend Bojan Bogdanovic.

In the Pacers corner, it’s all going to be about making the game as ugly as possible. They defied all expectations this season after Victory Oladipo went down, largely on the backs of their stellar defense. If they want to compete with the grossly more talented Celtics, they’re going to have to muck up the game. They probably will do so. They’ve done it all year long and a combustible team like Boston feels like the type of team who could be bothered by that style. Boston’s talent probably wins out in the end, but I’d expect a longer series than most

Celtics in 6.

Thunder at Blazers

2:30pm CST

ABC

This should be one of the more entertaining matchups of the first round. Oklahoma City, on paper, causes matchup issues all over the floor for Portland, which led to a 4-0 season sweep. Oklahoma City has limped into the playoffs after key players (Paul George) have played through injury down the stretch. His shooting has fallen off a cliff since he injured his shoulder.

They might not need PG to shoot like Steph or Klay to get by Portland, but they’ll probably need better than his current rate in order for them to get by.

For Portland, it really comes down to how much they can get out of Damian Lillard. He needs to be superhuman for them to have a chance. He is capable of that type of play, but it isn’t completely out of the question. Without Jusuf Nurkic, they will ask more of Lillard than they ever have. His playoff past has highs (game-winner vs Houston) and lows (Jrue Holiday eating his lunch). He’ll need to have his best postseason yet for them to be competitive.

OKC in 5.

Pistons at Bucks

6:00pm CST

TNT

Milwaukee comes in banged up with both Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon out, but this still figures to be a short series. Giannis is just too much for the Pistons, who snuck in to the playoffs at the last minute. What Milwaukee has done this year is remarkable. It is crazy what a switch from a terrible coach to a good one can do for your franchise. The roster fits together so perfectly. Additionally, Detroit doesn’t really have anyone (sans Blake Griffin) to attack Brook Lopez off the bounce in the pick-and-roll, which figures to be Milwaukee’s biggest weakness.

For Detroit, the postseason should be a celebration of what Blake Griffin has accomplished this season. They’re not going to win this series. Griffin, however, has completely reinvented himself. Now, he’s a crafty ball-handler and playmaker even if he doesn’t have nearly the same athleticism as he once did. He had an awesome year, possibly the best of his entire career. He comes in a bit banged up, but he still deserves to be acknowledged for all he did for Detroit throughout the season.

Bucks in 4.

Jazz at Rockets

8:30pm CST

TNT

This one is a rematch from the second round last season, although both teams look a little different. For Houston, their fate will ultimately come down to how their Big 3 (Harden, CP3, Capela) perform. Houston figures to either put Gobert in as many ball screens as possible to make him defend out on the perimeter, or seek out Kyle Korver whenever he is on the floor. That’s the thing about Houston, they don’t get bored with beating your one weakness to death. It’ll be interesting to see if Utah is able to survive with Korver on the floor, if he is even able to play at all.

For Utah to compete, it’s going to be all about their defense and Donovan Mitchell. They’ll need to find a way to limit Harden as much as possible, or at the least try to make him into an inefficient scorer. If they’re able to keep Harden under control, then their fate will rest in the hands of Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is the most (only) reliable option offensively for Utah. He has to be spectacular for them to have a chance. He’s shown he’s able to live up to the challenge, but he’ll have to do it again if Utah is going to avenge last season’s second round exit.

Rockets in 5.