Most of the remaining four teams in the west made their series fun and long. Dallas and Phoenix had more experience than the younger teams in New Orleans and Minnesota. The losers still earned a lot of respect even if they fell short. Golden State regained prominence and could be the team to beat in order to represent the west. Two of the remaining four will advance to the conference finals. Time to break down which of the two have the best chance to escape the second round.
#4 Dallas Mavericks v. #1 Phoenix Suns
The easiest matchup to break down and predict in the whole second round. Dallas won a four game series against a Utah Jazz team that bumbled and collapsed. The Mavericks led two games to one without franchise star Luka Doncic. Two states out west, Phoenix parried New Orleans and ultimately proved they were the better team despite some injuries and off-nights.
Unlike New Orleans, Dallas doesn’t have multiple options outside their franchise star. Spencer Dinwiddie, Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith compliment Doncic well, but the Suns are better coached and have the depth to counter the Mavericks.
Prediction: Suns win series 4-1
#3 Golden State Warriors v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies
Two of professional basketball’s best teams square off in one of the best series in round two. The guard duos of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson versus Ja Morant and Desmond Bane will be watched in both anticipation and fascination.
Despite Memphis winning the regular season matchup three to one against Golden State, the Warriors didn’t have all their star players on the court in at least three of those games. Golden State eliminated Denver early for added rest and to watch ways they can expose Memphis in certain situations, especially lead changes.
While both guard duos are even in scoring, depth at center and forward determines who advances to the conference finals. Draymond Green, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins have the advantage over Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr. It’s hard to see how Memphis counters the more experienced playoff team with more quality players.
Prediction: Warriors win series 4-2
Western Conference first round playoff picks record: 3-1
Despite eight great teams and four fun matchups, the eastern conference first round ended fast. Philadelphia is desperate to reach the championship and feels they have a lot to prove. Boston is the hottest team on both sides of the ball. Miami and Milwaukee prove why they were the last teams to make the championship round the last two years. Two of the remaining four will advance to the conference finals. Time to break down which of the two have the best chance to make the conference finals.
#4 Philadelphia 76ers v. #1 Miami Heat
The 76ers and Heat have a lot in common; both have underperformed despite talented rosters, coaches Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers had tensions with certain players the past few months, and both have a chance to make the championship despite holding themselves back. It’s fitting one team has to advance to the conference finals despite ups and downs.
The most important factors in this matchup are coaching and depth. Rivers is notorious for losing second round playoff series, highlighted by failure to adapt to opponents with multiple superstars while Spoelstra is not. Bench depth is something Philadelphia doesn’t have past Matisse Thybulle. Miami has Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris and Duncan Robinson. All four range from starter if necessary to critical minutes.
The series comes down to Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid playing better than P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler. Tucker’s one of the most valuable players to have in decisive series. We’ll know which duo stands out after game two.
Prediction: Heat win series 4-2
#3 Milwaukee Bucks v. #2 Boston Celtics
We knew the winner of the Celtics-Nets series would make a fun and physical matchup against Milwaukee in round two. Brooklyn-Milwaukee went to seven games in round two last year. That could happen with Boston-Milwaukee this year with Khris Middleton diagnosed as out the entire series.
The simplest way to break down this series comes down to who stands out in all five positions. Middleton’s absence gives Jayson Tatum an advantage whereas the older Al Horford cannot contain Giannis Antetokounmpo one-on-one. Brook Lopez and Serge Ibaka give Milwaukee the edge at center over Daniel Theis and Robert Williams. This series will be won by which guard duo steps up in second halves: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown or Jrue Holliday and Wesley Matthews.
There’s no doubt the Celtics are the hotter team and will give the Bucks all they can handle. Boston however hasn’t been tested by a competent playoff team and face defending champions that adjusted deep in their series last year. The Celtics have to prove they can adapt against veteran champions with poise. It’s hard to see that happening with how the Bucks were built.
Prediction: Bucks win series 4-3
Eastern Conference first round playoff picks record: 3-1
The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a deep eastern conference playoff race. Philadelphia star Joel Embiid became the first player born outside North America to win the scoring title in a season. Despite discontent, the Miami Heat are the number one seed in the east. While the Chicago Bulls faltered after the All-Star break, Toronto and Boston are two of the hottest teams in the league. Four talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.
#6 Chicago Bulls v. #3 Milwaukee Bucks
The easiest matchup to predict. The Bucks won all three regular season matchups against Chicago, two by over 20 points. It’s possible the Bulls get lucky and win one game because the offense makes all the shots. Keep in mind Milwaukee’s the reigning NBA champions. This series won’t get past a game five with the defensive efforts of Jrue Holliday and Khris Middleton combined with a better offense that’s more physical near the rim.
Prediction: Bucks win series 4-0
#8 Atlanta Hawks v. #1 Miami Heat
Atlanta’s clinch of the eighth seed officially gives the eastern conference all divisional first round playoff matchups. The top two teams in three point percentage have to adjust on defense and play better in the paint if they expect to advance to the second round.
The injury to Hawks center Clint Capela opens a new set off issues outside of his free throw shooting in close games. Heat center Bam Adebayo should dominate both on defense and offense, something most fans and analysts weren’t thinking much on before Friday’s play-in game. Forwards P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler already outmatch John Collins and De’Andre Hunter.
Miami’s overwhelming advantage at forward and center puts more pressure on Atlanta star Trae Young to create more on offense and to take more shots. That’s not a good strategy against a better coached Heat team.
Prediction: Heat win series 4-1
#5 Toronto Raptors v. #4 Philadelphia 76ers
The first quality series in the east to start play this weekend features the NBA’s only Canadian team against an up-and-down Sixers squad with the league’s scoring leader and MVP candidate, who’s paired with a former MVP. Philadelphia’s predicted to make round two because of their talented roster and veteran coaching staff. Many expect a quick advance for the 76ers, but those analysts and fans overlook Toronto’s advantages.
Nick Nurse again should be a candidate for coach of the year. Many who follow the league didn’t expect Toronto to even get a playoff spot this high, let alone make it past the regular season. Coach Nurse deploys odd lineups at times putting four forwards or three guards on the court against specific opponents. Nurse knows while his roster may not have the star-power Boston or Miami does, they can out-play a lot of teams.
Philadelphia is one of them. The Raptors beat the 76ers in three of their four meetings, the recent one a comeback down by double digits. People also forget that both Toronto and the province of Ontario is still pro-vaccination and social distancing. Defensive stud Matisse Thybulle will not play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated. Newcomer James Harden can’t play defense at an elite level and Joel Embiid will be double-teamed in most situations. The Raptors will shock the world again by making the second round.
Upset Prediction of the first round: Raptors win series 4-2
#7 Brooklyn Nets v. #2 Boston Celtics
The best matchup in the eastern conference’s first round. Both teams played their best basketball before the regular season ended. Despite Boston beating Brooklyn in all but one game, the Nets didn’t have consistency until New York lifted the vaccine mandate. After it was lifted, Kyrie’s helped establish a rhythm for the team and Kevin Durant’s playing on an elite level.
Coach Ime Udoka has done a great job improving the playing styles of Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. A year ago, everyone said Boston should move on from the three stars. It’s apparent the franchise needed a new voice and for someone to take the team to the next level in order to get back to the finals.
It’s possible for Brooklyn to win a few games versus Boston, but the Celtics are a complete team. Since point-guard Ben Simmons’ playing status could further complicate matters, team defense could sputter against a hungrier unit who’s proven to beat the Nets in a lot of ways.
Prediction: Celtics win 4-1
Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 8-2
The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a thrilling western conference playoff race. Denver star Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. Dallas and Utah were plagued with drama involving who would step up and lead besides their franchise star. No one can underestimate the growth Memphis has undergone while Phoenix has lost under 45 games since COVID-19 disrupted play. Four deeply talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.
#5 Utah Jazz v. #4 Dallas Mavericks
A lot of people will judge this series by who loses. If it’s Dallas, star Luka Doncic will face heat because he can’t lead the Mavericks past the first round. If Utah loses, it’s because there are locker room problems, Quin Snyder is an ok coach, and they choke when it’s a prime moment to move forward. Both teams want to prove critics wrong.
Let’s start with some basics. Dallas’ second leading team scorer and rebounder was traded mid-season. Doncic will be out game one of the series. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell looked great against a Memphis Grizzlies team without Ja Morant to clinch their playoff spot, but Utah barely won the Northwest despite nine losses in March.
The series is up for grabs and anything can happen. While I personally don’t base stats (because it’s playoffs and anything can happen), the Mavericks have a lot more issues to address if Luka gets shut down by Rudy Gobert or Mitchell one-on-one. Doncic missing game one could determine who wins the series early.
Prediction: Jazz win series 4-1
#6 Denver Nuggets v. #3 Golden State Warriors
It’s been a cruel, one year since Jamal Murray was on the court. The last time he was, Steph Curry broke Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors scoring record. Monte Morris is the most reliable guard the Nuggets have versus a rising Klay Thompson. The return of Thompson and Draymond Green are important since Curry should be eased back into the starting lineup, returning for game one.
The added return and expanded role of Jordan Poole could make a difference and be another reason Curry gets needed time off while Green, Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. hold down the Golden State defense. If the Nuggets’ forward trio of Aaron Gordon and Jeff and JaMychal Green sputter on offense, this series could end before the Splash Brothers find rhythm.
Prediction: Warriors win series 4-1
#8 New Orleans Pelicans v. #1 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Their reward is playing the league’s best Phoenix Suns, who won a franchise record 64 games. While not fair, we know records don’t mean anything in the playoffs.
Despite the nice story of Willie Green, Monty Williams and Chris Paul all being on the New Orleans Hornets at one point, Williams is the superior coach. Paul still exceeds expectations in his late 30s and both Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are playing their best basketball.
There is good news for the Pelicans. Despite being swept handily by Phoenix, they added C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline and could have Zion Williamson at some point in the first round. The Suns haven’t faced a better prepared and stronger starting roster since the trade deadline. Phoenix will win, but the series won’t be boring.
Prediction: Suns win 4-1
#7 Minnesota Timberwolves v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies
This will be one of the nastiest first round series in either conference. Memphis establishes a high scoring physical presence many teams struggle against. Minnesota is hot-and-cold with their shot selection and perimeter play. Regardless of disadvantages, both teams play hard and will establish a bully tone early and often.
Shooting guards Desmond Bane and D’Angelo Russell should have career games with the number of points their teams put up (both average 116 a game), while Patrick Beverley and Ja Morant will be physical and competitive at point guard. Steven Adams is the strongest person in the NBA and has to take on the best athletic center in Karl-Anthony Towns. These three matchups should be watched by fans and analysts to see who become the deciding factor/s. Forwards Dillon Brooks and Anthony Edwards should have their share of opportunities to prove how valuable they’ll be in future series.
The Grizzlies have a major advantage over the Timberwolves: playoff experience. Memphis gave Utah everything they could handle last year and almost took the number one seeded Jazz to seven games. The Wolves are inexperienced and need more time to develop with their new head coach. It’s time the young Grizzlies take the next step.
Prediction: Grizzlies win series 4-3
Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 6-4