The 21/22 season has been an interesting one as 10 teams ended their season with a positive record. This should make for multiple compelling series as a lot of these teams are closer than people may realize.
2) Boston Celtics Vs. 7) Brooklyn Nets
Tale of the Tape: The Nets were able to defeat Darius Garland and the Cavs to secure the 7th seed, but the victory did reveal issues that they will need to work on if they plan on winning their series against the Celtics. The Nets best defender is Kevin Durant, who also happens to be their best offensive player. Durant is an amazing weak side defender, meeting his opponents at the rim after they blow by the Nets perimeter defenders (which happens fairly often). In order for the Nets to stand a chance in this series, they’ll have to rely on more than just Durant and Bruce Brown to make defensive reads.
Another issue for the Nets will be how they manage Durant and Irving’s minutes throughout this series. The Nets 2nd unit is awful and is typically the culprit whenever the Nets blow large leads. Nash has tried staggering Durant and Irving so that Irving is the primary decision maker whenever the 2nd unit comes in, but that has had a negative impact as the Nets are better with Irving and Durant consistently together. I can see a scenario in which the Nets pull a Tom Thibodeau and play Durant and Irving 45+ minutes in order to stay in contention throughout the series.
Key Matchup: Kevin Durant Vs. Boston Celtics Defense
The Celtics, who ended the season with the top defensive rating in the league, are no slouch of an opponent for Kevin Durant. The Celtics are loaded with guards who fight over screens and pressure the ball handler (Marcus Smart), as well as bigs who can read pick and roll plays as well as rotate over to contest shots (Al Horford and Robert Williams). The Celtics game plan is to pressure Kevin Durant and make every shot as difficult as possible. They’re not going to stop him, but the plan should be to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible. The Celtics will settle for open threes from secondary role players if that means Kevin is out of rhythm. Throughout the season, that has proven to be the most successful strategy against the Nets as outside of Durant and Irving, as there’s a a deficit of shot creators on the team.
Prediction: The Celtics defense is extremely impressive, with veteran players who knows how to set the tone in a playoff series from a defensive standpoint. The Nets can’t withstand the pressure that the Celtics will apply. Celtics in 6.
3) Milwaukee Bucks Vs. Chicago Bulls
Tale of the Tape: This is a tough series to get as the Bulls have two stats that tells very different stories. The Bulls have the worst record against winning teams. They ended March 0 and 16 against the top three teams from each conference. This should tell us that they bully bad teams and fold against good ones, which means that they’re in line for a very early exit from the Playoffs. As I dug deeper, it occurred to me that DeMar Derozan is 4th in clutch scoring and holds a 122.2 offensive rating in clutch situations. This makes it hard to bet against a team who seems equipped to handle the intensity of a playoff series when it feels like every possession is a clutch situation.
Key Matchup: Zach LaVine Vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
This is a very important series for Zach LaVine, given that he’s a free agent in the off-season and that this will be his first time playing in the post season. He has a lot to prove if he plans on getting offered a max contract. LaVine has gotten better as a defender over the years, but this will be his true test as he’ll share defending duties on Antetokounmpo with second year player Patrick Williams. Giannis is obviously unstoppable, but all eyes will be on how LaVine handles guarding the reining finals MVP. The Bulls will throw a lot of schemes on Giannis to try to low him down but my eyes will be on how “relaxed” or “pressured” Giannis looks against these Bulls.
Prediction: The success of the Bulls season was a welcomed surprise and it honestly put a smile on my face to see all of the recognition that Derozan got this year but Bulls are out of their element here. Bucks in 5.
4) Philadelphia 76ers Vs. 5) Toronto Raptors
Tale of the Tape: It’s been widely speculated that the 76ers have been trying to stay away from the top two seeds as they wanted to avoid playing the Nets in a series. They should have been trying to avoid the Raptors as they’re best equipped to upset Philadelphia. It doesn’t help that it feels as though James Harden is on the down swing. The explosiveness is not there anymore, neither is his ability to beat anyone off of the dribble. He’s settling for three pointers, which has been his bread and butter but he’s not able to get the same separation from his jab steps due to his lack of quickness.
Key Matchup: James Harden Vs. Toronto’s Length
Joel Embiid will be dominant and will get his numbers, but I will be very curious to see how Harden handles the length of the Raptors. Toronto’s President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, built a roster filled with forwards with long wingspans in a gamble that long, tall, and athletic wings make for winning rosters. Harden is generally bothered by lengthy forwards as they limit his ability to get to the rim and draw calls.
Prediction: I’m expecting this to be a close series and I continue to go back and forth on who I believe will ultimately win here. The length and athleticism of the Raptors will be too much for Philly, with the Raptors winning in 7.
1) Miami Heat Vs. 8) Atlanta Hawks
Take of the Tape: The Hawks are bad defensively, like really, REALLY bad defensively. Blown rotations, guards dying on screens, and no one being able to defend the point of attack is normal for the Hawks. They live and die by wether or not Trae Young is hitting his shots and is able to find open teammates. Effort from the defensive end will tell the story on if Atlanta can make this a series.
Key Matchup: Trae Young Vs. Tyler Herro
Atlanta isn’t winning this series but I look forward to watching these two young and confident guards break down defenders and hit open threes. Miami moves at a slow pace and with their defense I don’t expect Atlanta to light it up as they usually do. My hope is that Young and Herro is emboldened to lead and jack up shots so that this is a semi-fun series .
Prediction: Atlanta doesn’t have a chance here. I’m giving them one game here due to Young’s ability to will his team victory’s. Atlanta’s defense is just terrible. Miami in 5.