Raptors-Bucks Preview

Due to some crazy seeding and hot streaks, we didn’t totally get the Conference Finals we expected in the West.  In the East though, we got exactly what we expected.

No.2 Toronto Raptors vs. No.1 Milwaukee Bucks 

Most teams in the league don’t have anybody to stop or even slightly contain Giannis Antetokounmpo.  That’s why he’s at the heart of one of the more contested and fantastic MVP debates in awhile.  He’s unstoppable.

But there’s a couple teams that do have options for him.  These options aren’t going to stop him, but they could him work a bit more.  These teams are Golden State, Philadelphia, and the Raptors.  That’s it.

But the difference with the Raptors is that there’s a case they have two guys: Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.  Siakam has maybe the closest skill set to Giannis in the league, with insane length and athleticism that translates both ways incredibly effectively.  And Kawhi is the best perimeter defender of all-time, who went head-to-head with LeBron in a Finals and won at 21-years-old.

Toronto is the team most well built to make Giannis not matter as much in a series. If they plant Kawhi or Siakiam on him, that’s a pretty good bet from Toronto’s side. If they switch everything against him, that’s a good bet too.  Throwing mixed coverages and involving Danny Green makes Giannis have to work and defer even more.  The Raptors could also imitate what Boston did in Game 1 of the second round, and build a wall anchored by Kawhi or Siakam, with the other shadowing on the wing and Marc Gasol staying home yet coming up to the elbow, creating a brunt force Giannis would have to penetrate.

Milwaukee’s drive and kick offense is the counter to Giannis being off.  But Toronto’s length and recovering ability limit its effectiveness as well; the Raptors have been the third best defenders of the three this postseason (by opponent three point percentage) and were eighth in the league for the season overall (The Bucks finished 22nd).

So what if Giannis is contained?  Who’s the guy?  I would certainly hope it’s not “I’m gonna show you why I deserved that contract” Eric Bledsoe, who is going to dribble too much, jack threes and take bad mid-rangers, completely messing up Milwaukee’s offensive flow.  Is it Khris Middleton?  He’s coming off of an excellent series against Boston, but he kills them every time those two teams play.  Middleton’s an underrated No.1 offensive option; he’s got a better handle than people give him credit for and is good at creating his own shot.  But is he enough against Toronto, who plays a similar style of offense and has dudes who have been in big games before?

That’s another huge advantage to Toronto in this series.  If Milwaukee’s offense faces trouble, they don’t have anyone to really guide the ship on or off the court.  They don’t have experience.  Practically no one on that roster has been in big games before.  The Raptors have seven dudes who have been in big games, and I know that can be poked… Lowry’s sucked, everyone’s had their butts handed to them by LeBron, blah, blah.  But it’s probably better to have your butts kicked by the best player in the world than to not have any experience in big games at all.

All of this is not saying that Toronto is going to slaughter Milwaukee.  Giannis might be contained a bit but he will not be stopped.  There’s going to be two games in this series where he completely dominated not because Toronto is bad but because Giannis is that good.  Some nights you’re just not going to have a chance.   Plus, the Bucks were the best defensive team in the league all year.  If the Bucks can have Giannis force Kawhi into a Game 7 against Philly-like performance (Look, the shot was incredible, but that wasn’t exactly a showcase from Kawhi.  He never takes that many shots and isn’t that type of offensive player.  He knows that and knew it after the game too.  Most of the time a lot of those shots won’t go in), then they’re letting Kyle Lowry beat them.  I will let him shoot in big games all I can.

Siakam is the x-factor for Toronto offensively.  Giannis giving Kawhi a tough time forces Lowry to go into facilitator mode, and Siakam feeds off that.  Despite being able to put up 30, Siakam isn’t a volume scorer.  He hangs around the rim and gets put-backs.  He stands in the corner and shoots threes that are swung to him.  He’s the type of guy who, when you at the box score, you say, “Wait, Siakam has 30?!?”  It makes no sense at all how he gets there.

The Bucks don’t really have a guy for him.  Malcolm Brogdon will be back at full minutes at some point in this series, but he’s a little undersized to play under the rim where Toronto usually has him.  Siakam trying to drive is probably a better matchup for Brogdon; he can use his athleticism more that way and poke at the ball.

If Siakam can put up 20 a game in this series, that’s trouble for Milwaukee, who can’t have Siakam going off and Giannis doing the opposite in the same night.  That’s a loss for the Bucks immediately.

The other thing Milwaukee has going for them is their fight.  We’ve seen Toronto slack in way too many games, regular season or postseason.  If Milwaukee is up they won’t back down.  If they’re down they won’t quit.  Toronto is going to have to stay keyed in defensively, because even though Giannis won’t bring a rain of threes to the plate, he can run up the score just as quick as someone like Stephen Curry can.

As I said above, this is no way a Toronto slaughter.  Giannis is going to have his moments.  I just think Toronto can make him have less of those, and it will keep the Raptors around a little more than most anticipate.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

Trail Blazers-Warriors Preview

Picking against the Warriors is probably one of the four dumbest things I have done in my entire life.  It wasn’t like it was a non-obvious error either.  After watching Game 1, I immediately thought, “Wow, that was really stupid.”  The Warriors were awake in the middle of the night.  And they had all of their tools ready to go.

Golden State is now in a mode where it seems like they are unstoppable on all fronts.  Kevin Durant has torched everyone this playoffs, and did the same to Houston until suffering a calf injury (WHICH WAS DEFINITELY NOT AN ACHILLES INJURY, REGGIE MILLER) in Game 5.  With KD, the Warriors are probably unbeatable.  Without KD, they might be the same.  The Splash Brothers put on a classic display in Game 6, despite Stephen Curry’s zero point first half.  Klay Thompson held down the fort until Curry found himself, and he did in the most outrageous, most Steph way ever.  Thanks to another James Harden collapse/no-show, Golden State got out of the series in six, and shut everyone, including myself, up for a decently long time.

Does all of this praise lead to an overcorrection in my prediction against Portland?  Possibly.  But the Trail Blazers have their own sense of dominance in their favor right now as well.  Despite letting Denver take them to seven games, the Trail Blazers are riding CJ McCollum, and yes Damian Lillard as well (Despite a brutal series against the Nuggets… more on that later), high right now.  Those two, along with Enes Kanter doing stuff have Portland in the West Finals.  Yeah, they’re actually out of the second round.  And they’re really scary.

No.3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No.1 Golden State Warriors 

Kevin Durant’s injury is the biggest headline heading into this series and it absolutely should be.  His loss affects Golden State and Portland equally.  For Golden State, his loss doesn’t guarantee a win.  For Portland, his absence makes winning possible.

The dilemma for Portland in this series is what to do with KD when he’s on the court.  Their biggest issue over the years has been getting offense out of their wings, not defense.  Al-Faruoq Aminu and Mo Harkless have been horrendous offensively in the playoffs, shooting poorly from three and from the field in general (We saw that continued Sunday).  The two have been better defensively than offensively this postseason, but were both cooked relentlessly against Denver, sinking some of their defensive stats to a non-impressive level.  That wasn’t very surprising though; we knew Portland was going to have troubles guarding Denver because, well, everybody does, and we knew that Denver wasn’t going to guard Portland effectively either.  That series was going to be offense vs. offense and Denver got a lot more of it than I thought they would.

Golden State plays differently, and more importantly has a much different type of player than anyone on Denver in KD.  A player like Durant is someone that we would assume Aminu and Harkless would be more fit to guard; a lengthy, athletic wing who can shoot and score rather than smaller guards running all over the place.  But this is Kevin Durant, who not only is named Kevin Durant probably deserves an inappropriate word as his middle name after the postseason he’s put on.  The Clippers never really had a chance at guarding him, so they’re a wash, but Houston’s Lebron/best player stopper in PJ Tucker didn’t have a chance either.  If Tucker got cooked, Aminu and Harkless are in for a long series.  Thankfully, there’s a good chance they’ll only have to deal with KD for 2-3 games, because even when he’s out, this is a tough matchup for Portland.

Shutting down the rest of Golden State down requires similar personnel and strategy as helping contain Durant does as well.  The Denver series gave us a first hand look at what happens when you have to make the Trail Blazers work on defense.  And Game 6 against Houston gave us a first hand look at what happens when KD isn’t on the court for Golden State.  The doors can open for Curry, and Klay can turn into a super-sized version of what he already is.  The ball moves.  Guys move (ALL.  THE.  TIME.).  They play fast.  And it’s impossible to guard.  It looks like what we watched in 2014-2015.  It’s completely new and unstoppable.  It’s what won the Warriors their first title.

It’s not going to be defense that Portland needs to be in games.  It’s going to be offense.  They’ve made that trade-off work all playoffs.

Golden State can’t play Portland’s guards the way Denver did.  They don’t have the personnel, or really the skill.

The Nuggets usually had Gary Harris on CJ McCollum and blitzed and trapped Dame with whoever they had.

Notice how Mason Plumlee leaves Zach Collins, a decent stretch big, wide open and follows Gary Harris for the double team on Lillard?  Denver did this all series with their variety of defenders, and it pestered Dame into bad and missed shots.

The Warriors are similar to the Nuggets, though they lack the depth.  Their backcourt is one lockdown defender (Klay Thompson as Harris) and a not-so-lockdown defender (Stephen Curry as Murray).  Golden State doesn’t have another real defensive guard to help possibly blitz Lillard with (Curry?), since Andre Iguodula is going to be tasked with stopping CJ.

The Warriors could just switch everything and take their chances with that; those odds are in their favor, especially with KD in the lineup.  But if Dame returns to the form we saw in the first round and McCollum keeps this tear up, there may be no real effective option.  Offense will be the defense.

That’s the case for both teams in this series.  Both defenses could be legitimately screwed.  For the first two games of the series, the ones in which Golden State will be without KD, Portland has to get Dame and CJ loose, because the Splash Brothers are going to be firing.  CJ has shown that his own one-man show can be enough, and if the Warriors exhibit a lower effort performance, that’s probably a Portland W.  What’s guaranteed after that?  Maybe the Blazers shoot well when Golden State doesn’t?

When Portland won Sunday, I thought this could go seven games.  Since then, it’s slowly trickled down to fewer and fewer games.  Six feels right.  It’s possible the Blazers get lucky and Golden State doesn’t try in a game in which KD plays in.  Or maybe this crazy Enes Kanter run single-handily kills Golden State in a game.  If KD is only out for two games, seven means doubting KD.  I am not about to that to him or this Warriors team again.

Prediction: Golden State in 6

Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview

I really couldn’t have been more wrong about both teams in the first round.

For the second year in a row, the Trail Blazers burned me.  They absolutely burned me.  The year I was all in on them, they let me down (Last season against New Orleans).  The year where I told myself to caution that hope and not make the same mistakes, they corrected what went wrong the year before.  And they did it in the most cold-blooded, dominating fashion ever.

It was so cold-blooded that Oklahoma City somewhat proved me right and still lost. It wasn’t that Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder were that bad defensively, it was that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were that good offensively.  It is a new age, but still, guarding someone from 30 feet out is not an alignment that is necessary 100 percent of the time.  In this series, against Dame and CJ, it was.  It was necessary 100 percent of the time.  OKC never adjusted to that.  How is that an adjustment you consistently make?

Denver let me down like Portland did last year, despite still winning the series.  It’s kind of tough to consider it a win though; letting this Spurs team take you to seven games and letting them lose the series not based on anything you did right is pretty embarrassing.  It didn’t seem like they wanted to win the series.  It felt like no one wanted to win that series.

Doubting Portland at this point is terrifying.  Lillard is in the middle of a nuclear-volcano hot streak right now.  He can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league, and that’s even with the way Kevin Durant is playing.  That’s how hot he is.

Denver has nothing to contain the duo of Dame and CJ.  I mean, the Nuggets guards allowed Derrick White to score 36 points in a playoff game.  This is a Derrick White, who, while yes has been fantastic for the Spurs this year, is a defensive-minded player whose offensive ceiling should be a backup facilitator.

Gary Harris was fantastic defensively against the Spurs, but he and Will Barton, who was unplayable because of his offense rather than his defense (-10.2 net rating in this series.  Yikes!), were the only two Denver guards that made the defense better when they were on the court, per NBA.com.  That essentially leaves Harris as the Lillard stopper.  But then you still have McCollum to deal with.

With the way those two are playing right now, either could kill you.  CJ could easily have the type of game Dame did in Game 6 against OKC.  They’re interchangeable with their production.

The Nuggets are going to need a massive offensive output to have a chance in this series, and there’s a case that they could get it.

Again, doubting Portland is terrifying.  But that wasn’t exactly a lockdown series from the Blazers on the defensive side of the ball either.  While Al-Faruoq Aminu was good, Paul George heated up when needed.  Problem was, Steven Adams couldn’t take advantage of an easy mismatch against Enes Kanter (Was he hurt?), and Russell Westbrook did the classic Russell Westbrook thing of saying “I got this” too many times, shooting OKC out of games while Portland poured it on.

The same reasons I picked OKC over Portland can be applied here.  If you torture Dame and CJ on the defensive end, you have a chance.  Russ and Schroder didn’t do that, and games where Paul George’s injury showed featured the bad Russ and Schroder performance rather than the good one.

The Nuggets have two ways to expose Dame and CJ.  1) Run everything through Jokic by making him throw crafty passes to cutters and slashers heading to the rim (San Antonio had no answers for the Malik Beasley cut-around Jokic toward the basket play) and 2) Jamal Murray, who may or may not decide to show up when you need him.

At least one of these options can be consistent.  Just like Steven Adams should have been, Jokic and everything he brings can be unstoppable against Portland.  When Denver fed him at the top of the post and gave him a couple power dribbles to gain position, the Spurs had no chance.  Running him down the lane and giving him an entry pass?  Also no chance.  The underrated rim-running part of his game can dominate teams with unathletic rim protectors or no rim protectors (Like Portland).

Or, Denver can make Portland have to work defensively, and put Dame and CJ in DHO-like motions, forcing them to collide into the refrigerator that is Jokic which gives Denver an easy layup or a kick-out for an open three, depending on where a wing like Aminu’s help is on the inside.

Murray is hit-or-miss.  If he’s having a good night or has a Game 2-like performance where he bails them out despite having a bad night, then it’s a huge added boost for Denver.  A good Jokic and Murray game gets them a win.

For Denver to win this series, they need that every night and some luck, which would come in the form of McCollum and Lillard both having games where the shooting percentage’s regression hits them like a brick.  With the guards playing the way they are though, there’s no way that happens.  This feels too special to just fall apart.  Portland has more firepower, and more importantly, they have more of it every night.

Prediction: Trail Blazers in 5

Rockets-Warriors Preview

No.4 Houston Rockets vs. No.1 Golden State Warriors 

For a series that is between two titans and two teams that are both so good and could both easily win the series, the key to it all is quite simple.

If the Warriors try, it shouldn’t go more than six games.

If they don’t try, anything is possible.

In years past, the Warriors malaise through the first two rounds of the playoffs didn’t matter.  We never batted an eye.  That’s because there was no one who ever presented a serious challenge.  There was no one who we ever thought would actually beat them.

This year, there’s two and maybe three teams where that’s the case.  And this year, the Warriors got the number one threat early.

That could be a good thing.  It makes the rest of the path to a three-peat easier.

But it could also be a bad thing.  The Warriors right now are like when someone wakes you up abruptly at an ungodly hour in the morning and tells you that you have calculus homework to do (Could that have been me last weekend?  Maybe…).  Instead of actually focusing on the task you have to do, you spend time thinking about why you have to be doing that task right now.  You’re complaining, tired and not ready to do the task in the moment.

That’s the Warriors right now.  They’re asleep.  They didn’t care about the Clippers series.  And now they have to face a calc exam when they’re not ready (Is that me this upcoming week?  Maybe…).

A calc exam is a pretty good comparison for the Rockets, not only because are they an extremely difficult opponent, but because this whole thing really does come down to math.

When the Warriors are trying and shooting well, Houston is the only team in the NBA who stands a chance.  They have the system and the shooters to keep up.  And they have one of the two most unstoppable forces in the league, no matter who is guarding him.

Given the series we just witnessed, and our test analogy, the number of games this Warriors team shouldn’t try in is two.  They’re slow, sleepy and not warmed up yet.  Their brains aren’t ready for it yet.  Just one screw up is impossible to ask of.

So that’s two games for Houston without them really doing anything positive.  Houston could shoot horrifically and still win thanks to a James Harden bailout performance.

And then there is two games where Houston will actually beat Golden State, beat them because Houston is a really, really freaking good team.  Not because they got lucky.

Those two games are these: The James Harden, “It doesn’t matter if Klay Thompson can do some things to make me work, you’re not stopping me tonight” game and the game where Golden State does try but Houston hits that many more threes, because they’re the Rockets and they’re capable of that.  That’s the Harden hits nine, Eric Gordon hits eight, Austin Rivers hits four and Daniel House Jr. hits three game.

And just like that, we’re at four Houston Rockets wins.

Doesn’t feel right, but makes logical sense.

So yeah, this series does come down to the Warriors trying or not.  It’s really that simple.  Can the brains go into overdrive and power through when they aren’t ready?

I’ve had Golden State and Toronto in the Finals all season.  Nothing had changed all season.  Nothing had changed when the playoffs started.

It’s time for that to change (I really can’t believe this is happening).  I don’t trust the Warriors to give the effort they have to.  The malaise this year and especially lately has been different.  Couple that with Klay Thompson’s impending status in Game 1, which would be an incredible detriment to the Warriors defensive ploy, and Houston should win this series.  If Klay is out today, the Rockets should easily win.  That’s five Houston wins based on the formula we used above.  You need four to win a series.

Prediction: Houston in 7

Celtics-Bucks Preview

No.4 Boston Celtics vs. No.1 Milwaukee Bucks

It didn’t really feel like it, but the Celtics swept the Pacers last round.  It definitely wasn’t with ease.

The biggest margin the Celtics won by was 10 points in Game 1, and that felt even closer as it was Kyrie Irving who had bail them out like usual at the end.

That was practically how every game ended up.  Indy never went away, and it wasn’t because Boston wasn’t trying, it’s because they simply weren’t playing well.

Boston’s not going to be able to do that this series.

As I wrote yesterday, the Bucks essentially got a free pass in the first round with Detroit.  The difference in their performance is that they never didn’t try, and that was against someone that they didn’t have to try against.

The biggest problem for Boston in this series is the fact that they aren’t going to get away with their slow starts.  Milwaukee keeps the same energy throughout the entire game.  If the Celtics start slow and get in a hole, they probably aren’t getting out of it.

Indiana did nothing defensively that was suffocating either.  It was just bad play and slow starts.

The Bucks have the best defense in league.

Against a tall, long team, Kyrie is a massive mismatch.  He’s too quick and squirmy for most wings.  But Milwaukee is perfectly built.  They have a huge stocking of lengthy wings and have smaller guards who can hang with him.  Bledsoe and George Hill are defensive minded guys who can make Kyrie have to work.  If you do that, you kill a large percentage of Celtics hope in this series, because Kyrie is the guy when things don’t go well, and for too much of the time this season, that has been the case.

The Bucks can suffocate the Celtics offense.  With all their wings, they can switch everything and force Boston to make shots.  If Kyrie is out of the picture, leaning on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to produce is a risky bet; it’s a boom or bust scenario.

Gordon Hayward is rounding into shape, and he brings an extra dimension with his facilitating ability, but whether he is off or on the ball, the Bucks can close those passing and cutting lanes easily.  This is a series where I’d expect to see a lot of Giannis at the five lineups, because the Celtics don’t have a guy who the Bucks need Giannis to take care of.  No one is that potent, and there’s other, better matchups for Kyrie.

This series matches up so well for Milwaukee that they don’t have anyone their best player has to guard on the defensive end while the other team no one to guard him on the offensive end.

The Celtics could sag off Giannis and dare him to shoot, but building a wall in front of the rim just gives him more room to explode.  Plus, Giannis can score on a layup from the free throw line.

Jaylen Brown doing his best and Al Horford sitting back is the best scenario, but the Bucks play lineups where it’s five out for most of the time, which leaves the minutes Horford is out there for not very valuable.  The only reason he isn’t unplayable is because there’s no other option.

While being a tough play defensively, Horford could get some easy buckets down low on the other end against the smaller Milwaukee lineups.  Those baskets are going to be incredibly important.

This series is going to be a problem for Boston.  They have no one for the best player on the floor.  They’ll start slow against one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and won’t be able to creep back against the best defense.  They’re going to need special production from Kyrie and from everyone else.  Production that we haven’t seen from Tatum or Brown on a consistent level.  They’re going to need Hayward to have a “Hey!  Hayward!” game every night.  They’re going to need Eric Bledsoe to turn back into the Eric Bledsoe we saw last postseason.  They’re going to need… everything.  This team has underwhelmed all season, and this is going to be the series we realize any of the hope we built up for them was all false.

Prediction: Bucks in 5

76ers-Raptors and Spurs-Nuggets Game 7 Preview

With a big and excellent day of basketball ahead of us, here are previews for today’s actions.  Previews for tomorrow’s action will be up tomorrow morning.

No.3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No.2 Toronto Raptors

If we learned anything in the first round, it’s that the Bucks are the one team that we have zero concerns about coming into this next round.

Sure, that could be indicative of their opponent.  The Pistons never had a chance in that series, and played like they didn’t as well.  What happened was exactly what we thought would happen.  Detroit got killed, and the Bucks essentially got a pass in the first round.

The Raptors and 76ers both made us hold our breath for a minute; the 76ers much more than Toronto.  The Raptors came out and lost AT HOME to Orlando in Game 1; setting up what we thought could have been a greater Raptors choke than ever before.  They eventually whipped themselves into shape; DJ Augustin’s fall back to Earth helped as well.

The Magic got to the Raptors in Game 1 and pestered them in Game 3.  Vucevic found himself in that third game of the series after struggling immensely in Game 1, and Terrence Ross got hot late to make it close.

If we can take anything from the Orlando series to learn about Toronto, it’s that using a big guy who can do it all and a spark-plug scorer can make it a game.

The 76ers have one of those in Joel Embiid.  Redick isn’t crafty enough to count as the Terrence Ross prototype.

But Embiid was in and out of the lineup against the Nets, and even with him in the Sixers had their problems.

The Nets relentlessly attacked the rim no matter who was playing five for Philly.  Embiid was ridiculous defensively in Game 5, where he looked fully healthy, but that was also a game where the Nets had quite possibly the worst offensive showing of the playoffs.  Philly’s defense was really good, but Brooklyn’s offensive showing made it twice as worse.

Still, Embiid’s health has to be in question.  When he’s healthy, he’s unstoppable.  He’d be too athletic for Marc Gasol and too strong for Pascal Siakam.  But when he’s not out there or not fully healthy, the Sixers lose a massive contributor on both ends  (when he’s out) or have their already prickly chemistry thrown off even more (When he’s playing at less than 100 percent); we saw the bad side of that in Game 1 against the Nets.

That inefficient, brick-chucking Embiid is detrimental to the Sixers, especially against a high-powered Toronto offense that moves the ball, has multiple looks and a cold-blooded killer in Kawhi Leonard.

Aside from the problems Embiid presents, the Raptors defense can put Philly into bind.  Ben Simmons’ newfound aggression has been a good sign, but Toronto is much more equipped to handle it.  Toronto can try and force Simmons to play as he used to by sagging off and making him drive, to which he would face Siakam or a brunt Gasol at the rim.  They could also be aggressive with him at the point of his attack by slapping Kawhi or Siakam on him at the top of the key and try to pester him that way.

Simmons has shown lately that, if you give him the lane, he’s going to attack.  So Toronto is probably better playing man-to-man, tight D on him from the start of the possession.  They’re going to make Simmons work; really work.  And they have a lot more answers than Brooklyn did, who had Jarrett Allen wandering aimlessly under the rim wondering where to help.

That leaves Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick left for Toronto to contain.  That sounds daunting of course, but the Raptors have the personnel.  Danny Green figures to be matched up with Butler, and Kawhi on Harris given the switch.  But Redick is a bit of an x-factor, as he is in any series.  He’s not a fantastic matchup for tall, long teams due to his ability to get any shot off, his constant movement and his smallness.  He’s going to make Lowry run to keep up with him.  I would expect to see a bit more Norman Powell in this series; he’s a good defender and has length but isn’t big enough for Redick to just curl around off screens and motion.

Factor in those defenders against the tendencies of the Sixers offense to combust due to bad decision-making from a multitude of players and you have a problem for Philly.  The chemistry and question marks surrounding Embiid’s health make me feel even better about Toronto now in this series rather than earlier this year, and that’s coming from someone who has had Toronto in the Finals since the first month of the season.

Philly won’t be wiped.  They’ll get a massive Embiid game or two, or a game where Toronto doesn’t play well (Entirely likely) for whatever reason.  But Toronto is the better, more equipped team, and will send Philly into a summer full of questions.

Prediction: Raptors in 6 

On Spurs-Nuggets Game 7…

This series has gone in the complete opposite direction I thought it would.  The concerns some had about Denver being just a regular season team have came true.  Jamal Murray has at times had deer-in-the-headlights, while at other times has been the guy the Nuggets have needed him to be; that crunch-time, cold-blooded scorer.

The Nuggets have had bad luck but have also played bad defense in this series.  Essentially, the Nuggets got torched by Derrick White once and the Spurs having a crazy good shooting night in two other games.  DeRozan’s prowess hasn’t helped, but we weren’t really expecting the Nuggets to be able to contain him fully in the first place.

To avoid the upset, the Nuggets need Nikola Jokic to replicate his Game 6 performance; a game where he not only facilitated the offense well but also scored a ton (43 points).  When Denver has ran everything through Jokic in this series, they’ve had immense success.  Couple that with a Murray Game 2-like showing and Denver should win.  But getting both of those to happen in the same game, and the Spurs to have neither of their game-winning catalysts ignite, has been tough.

The Nuggets have home-court, meaning they should shoot better and overall play better.  Having Gary Harris, who has been excellent this series, guard DeRozan should limit his production, and the same goes for Paul Millsap on LaMarcus Aldridge.  Denver needs one of them to be stopped, or else what happened in Game 6 will happen again.

2019 NFL Mock Draft

This draft is a fascinating one.  The Cardinals may easily take a quarterback for the second straight year.  There is a stunningly low amount of information about what teams are thinking.  There is an array of defensive talent that could see studs drop way farther than we ever imagined or go way higher than we imagined.

As usual, this mock draft features no trades.  And not as per usual, there is no No.1 overall pick.  You can read here for that.  As of now, that pick shouldn’t change.  Josh Rosen is still an Arizona Cardinal.

No.2, San Francisco 49ers: LB Josh Allen, Kentucky

This is a tad high for Allen, I know, and taking him above a potentially generational defensive tackle prospect may be a little confusing.  But this is the NFL, and drafting for need is much more common than in the NBA (In the NBA, you throw need out the door 95 percent of the time.  Here, not so much).

The 49ers just don’t have room for Williams.  With DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas inside, they should be set for the future (Thomas needs to massively improve though.  Still, you just can’t take Williams right after taking Thomas, even if you find a taker for him, which may be more likely than we thought based on reports this morning).  The ends are occupied by now Dee Ford and Arik Armstead, each who give the 49ers pass rush and some versatility (At least with Ford).

Versatility is the key with Allen.  The guy can play anywhere on the field.  The 49ers won’t necessarily need him to help out with the pass rush, but he’s a dominating fifth guy to come off a blitz.  He’s a run-stopping outside linebacker who can also cover tight ends with ease.  Kentucky even had him cover some slot receivers last season.

Allen is an absolute stud.  He can legitimately do anything on the defensive end of the field.  Plugging him in at outside linebacker makes San Francisco’s front seven very scary with the addition of Kwon Alexander.

No.3, New York Jets: DT Quinnenn Williams, Alabama

The Jets could not be more ecstatic that Williams is here.  They have a hole in the middle of their defensive line, and pairing Quinnen with Leonard Williams creates a terrifying combo up front.  He’s the closest thing we’ve seen to Aaron Donald, and could be as good as him someday as well.

No.4, Oakland Raiders: LB Devin Bush, Michigan

This is again a bit high, but I love Bush and this serves a need for the Raiders.

The reason I prefer Bush over the other Devin (White) is because of the scheme he played in at Michigan.  The Wolverines defensive scheme puts huge trust into anyone playing coverage; it’s a straight man-to-man scheme that isn’t really creative at all; it just relies on its talent.  Bush was a massive part of that talent, even as an outside linebacker.  He’s a hard-hitter and makes plays.  The Raiders need that blue-chipper in the middle of their defense.  Bush is it.

I would not be surprised if the Raiders stun everyone and take Murray here.  Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have shown no inclination that they have any idea what they’re doing.  There’s been rumors about Gruden’s infatuation with Murray, and it’s certainly known that him and Derek Carr don’t get along that well (If Carr’s contract wasn’t an albatross, I think he would be well gone by now).

Still, I don’t think that’s the right move.  Carr needs weapons to be successful, and the Raiders have given him that.  If he doesn’t succeed, move on and get your guy next year.  If Carr sucks, chances are you’ll be in good enough draft position to get him.

No.5, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

This is perhaps the most surprising pick of this mock draft.

First, the “But they have Jameis Winston!” case is not valid here.  Are you trying to tell me that someone who has been benched multiple times, is a good bet to throw five interceptions a game, and has proved nothing in now four (!!!) seasons is a better option than Kyler Murray?  Really?

Sorry Bruce Arians, but Winston isn’t fixable.  So go get yourself a stud who you can actually develop and who can take advantage of the underrated weapons core.

That’s the bigger picture here.  Not only is the Buccaneers weapons core underrated, but the whole roster really is.  Kwon Alexander and DeSean Jackson are big losses, but Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and OJ Howard is a fun bin of toys, and the defense still has the likes of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Vernon Hargreaves on it.  There’s talent on this team; it should be a lot better than it was last season.  A lot of the problem was quarterback.  With Murray, you fix that, and if he’s as good as we hope, Tampa Bay is really good really soon.

No.6, New York Giants: QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

The Giants get their hopes up that Murray may somehow fall to them, but end up taking the guy who they’ve been connected to for awhile now.

If the Giants were smart (Hint: They’re not), this wouldn’t be a debate and the Giants would have already announced that they’re taking Haskins.  Instead, they continue to think that Eli Manning is a serviceable starter.

But I still think, despite their commitment to Manning, they take Haskins.  There’s been a lot of smoke, and the Giants have to know that Manning won’t be able to be whatever below serviceable is much longer.  He could be so bad this season that the Giants actually realize he’s not the guy anymore.

Which is why having Haskins for the moment Manning really falls apart, to the extent that the Giants realize it, is the right move.

I have Murray above him because of the star power.  Haskins has a fantastic arm and a big body; he’s strong and can withstand hits unlike Murray.  The Ben Rothlisberger comps are accurate; he has the ability to evade guys and extend plays but not run.

The decision-making has to be better.  That’s Haskins biggest question.  The extension of plays is a fantastic skill, but it isn’t one when you made bad decisions when you use it.  Because of that, Haskins has some similarities to Jameis Winston. I’d be surprised if he ends up like him though.

No.7, Jacksonville Jaguars: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa

Again, it’s high.  But the Jaguars can’t afford to make the Nick Foles contract look and be worse than it already is.

The key to Foles’ success in Philadelphia was good coaching and supreme weapons. I don’t believe he’s going to get the first part of that, so loading up on the second part would be ideal.

The Jags don’t have anyone who’s considered an above-average weapon on the roster right now.  Marquise Lee has to prove he can stay healthy, and I like Dede Westbrook but don’t see him as even a number two option on a team some day.  Keelan Cole isn’t a very reliable target either.

Essentially, the Jaguars have a bunch of third options for their receivers.  Hockenson fixes that.  He’s a big, tall downfield tight end with immense size who can also run routes in the intermediate range.  At 6’5, he’s a pain to tackle and to cover.

No.8, Detroit Lions: DL Rashan Gary, Michigan

For a draft that is loaded with front seven talent, we’ve reached a bit of an odd point at number eight overall.

The Lions need another guy on the edge.  They paid up for Trey Flowers, and have Damon Harrison in the middle.  To cap off their 3-4 line, Gary would be an explosive addition, and create a menace for opposing offensive lines.

But like a lot of the defensive linemen left in the draft at this point, Gary has issues. A torn labrum is scaring teams off, and he is kind of heavy to play the edge.  Some mock drafts have him plummeting close to out of the first round.

So at this point if you’re the Lions, you’re kind of picking your poison.  I like Gary more than Ed Oliver, who didn’t live up to nearly the hype we had for him last season and is making a rejuvenated run at a top ten pick.  He’s also an inside presence unlike Gary.  Montez Sweat would be in play here, but his issues are much more complex and concerning than Gary’s.

No.9, Buffalo Bills: LB Devin White, LSU

The Bills are another linebacker away from having a very scary defense.  White fills the hole.  It’s not too high for offensive line; Jawaan Taylor has been a popular pick, but White is a higher impact player.  He’s a maniac on the field and makes plays.  He’s not super rangy and doesn’t really excel in coverage, but can cover tight ends and running backs on screens.

No.10, Denver Broncos: C Garrett Bradbury, NC State

Another bit of a reach.   But there’s no middle linebackers that make sense at this point in the draft for Denver, and they sound way too committed to Joe Flacco to pick a quarterback.

Bradbury doesn’t have the ceiling of someone of like Quenton Nelson, but they’re similar in the sense that Bradbury is someone who can come into a situation and be very effective right away.  With Matt Paradis in Carolina, Bradbury fills the center hole nicely in Denver.

No.11, Cincinnati Bengals: CB Greedy Williams, LSU

The Bengals could go anywhere on the offensive line, but Greedy Williams is too special to pass on.

There’s nothing to not like about Williams.  He’s long, physical and nasty.  He’s a ball-hawk that doesn’t have ball-hawk numbers.  That’s because no one ever threw at him.

The Bengals secondary is in rough shape aside from Dre Kilpatrick.  Pairing Greedy with him establishes at least some competency.

No.12, Green Bay Packers: WR D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss

It’s time for Aaron Rodgers to stop having mediocre weapons.

Metcalf is perhaps the most freakish receiver we have seen in awhile.  He’s absolutely shredded and flies down the field.  He’s an unguardable deep threat and uses his size to go up and grab balls.

If there’s a problem, it’s the route running.  Despite the size, Metcalf doesn’t have good lateral quickness.  Short and intermediate routes might be a wash in the playbook for him.  You hope that with the athleticism he can figure it out.

No.13, Miami Dolphins: DL Ed Oliver, Houston

This is quite a drop for Oliver, who was the number one overall prospect on most people’s big boards to start the season.  After seeing his value tank a bit though, Oliver is suddenly rising up boards again.  It’s been reported that the Raiders really like him at number four, and a lot of mocks have him in the top ten.

The Dolphins have some talent on their defense, and Oliver makes their defensive line tenacious.  Robert Quinn is an underrated addition, and Akeem Spence is a good space-taker in the middle.

Oliver plays inside; he’s not an edge rusher at all.  The problem with Oliver, and the reason I have him falling, is because he’s too big to play on the end and a little too small for in the middle.  He’s a weird combo of both; he doesn’t have the burliness of a defensive tackle and doesn’t have the length of an end.

He can’t fall much further because of his ceiling and because of what he can do.  I’m just weary of how much of an impact guy he’ll really be.

No.14, Atlanta Falcons: G/T, Jonah Williams, Alabama

Examining the Falcons’ needs made me realize how talented this team is.  They really don’t need a lot.  Last season was an injury season from hell and it made them appear in much worse shape than they were.

Where they need help is in the trenches.  With Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, the Falcons have some anchors on the line.  But the guard spots are weak.

Williams can play either.  He has great footwork but is a little small to play on the outside, which makes him a great fit for the Falcons.

No.15, Washington Redskins: WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss

Washington could go a lot of ways with this pick.  Quarterback is the sexy route, and rumors have them definitely interested in the possibility of selecting one here or trading up.

I honestly don’t see anything in Daniel Jones.  If someone is being compared to Alex Smith, then how is that a good thing?  And while I’m higher on Drew Lock, 15th overall is a tad high.  Where is the accuracy?

If the Redskins planned to draft a quarterback tonight, then there was no sense in trading for Case Keenum.  By making that trade, the Redskins signified that they (stupidly) intend to compete this year.  Keenum doesn’t make you good but he does make you decent.

So if Washington intends to compete, they might as well get Keenum some more weapons.  Jordan Reed is essentially the number one option on this roster, and he plays anywhere from eight to 12 games a year.  We don’t know if Josh Doctson can produce anything.  Paul Richardson was a good signing, but he’s a number two option on a good team.   The Redskins aren’t that.

Insert A.J. Brown, the other stud Ole Miss receiver.  He’s a shifty but not lightning quick slot receiver who can get open over the middle of the field.  Brown’s going to be reliable; he’s a safe pick.  Getting Keenum, or the next franchise QB, someone like that is critical.

No.16, Carolina Panthers: DL Brian Burns, Florida State

The Panthers have more pressing needs, but letting an edge-rusher like Burns slip by is a tough proposition to pass up.  They could use another receiver, or a tackle like Jawaan Taylor (More on him soon), or a cornerback (A little high at this spot).

They have a hole they could plug along the defensive line.  Burns is an electric pass-rusher and has length at 6’5.  His long arms toss offensive linemen around.  He’s nasty, and would make the Panthers front unblockable.

No.17, New York Giants: OT Jawaan Taylor, Florida

The Giants have done an underrated job of rebuilding what was their disastrous offensive line.  Taylor is the second to last piece.

In a theoretical addition of Taylor, the Giants grab a physical freak who is terrifying to be lined up across from.  He’s insanely strong and moves well.  Putting him on a line with Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler and Nate Solder puts together a group that Giants fans couldn’t believe would have existed three years ago.

No.18, Minnesota Vikings: OT Andre Dillard, Boston College

The first question I always ask myself when mocking a draft is “What does this team need to improve?”

With the Vikings, the first thing that came to my mind was quarterback.

But obviously the Vikings don’t believe that, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

The offensive line has been up and down for years with Minnesota.  They only have two above average linemen at the moment, and one is playing out of position.

Drafting Dillard doesn’t fix the Pat Elflein position problem, but it does improve the line.  He’s a tall and strong left tackle who will have Kirk Cousins’ blindside, allowing him more time to throw an interception (Sorry).

No.19, Tennessee Titans: G/T Cody Ford, Oklahoma

Like Jonah Williams, Ford has the ability to play either guard or tackle.  Tennessee has a hole at guard on the right side, and it’s really the only weakness on their line.  If they plug that, and make sure their weapons stay healthy and perform at a high level, the excuses for Marcus Mariota don’t exist anymore.

No.20, Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Rock Ya-Sin, Temple

Ya-Sin has exploded up draft boards the past couple days; his rise reminds me of Denzel Ward’s last draft.  All the sudden it sounds like he is a guaranteed first rounder.

It makes no sense why it took so long for Ya-Sin to shoot up boards.  He’s a smaller cornerback who uses his speed and coverage skills to shut guys down.  His coverage on the deep ball is a bit in question, but his physical skills should be able to make up for it.

For the Steelers, whose secondary has plagued them over the past few years, this is a perfect pick.  Ya-Sin is a stud, and a future lockdown guy.

No.21, Seattle Seahawks: DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson

It’s impossible to pick a favorite out of all the Clemson guys, but Wilkins gets just the slightest edge for an unexplainable reason.  Plus, he’s the best fit for the Seahawks.

With Frank Clark now in Kansas City (That was a sweet deal by Seattle, by the way), the Seahawks need a dominate edge presence.  Wilkins replaces that production on a rookie contract.  I understand he projects better as an inside presence, but Clemson got really creative with him last season and played him on the outside as well.  He can do both.

Despite his large size, I’m not sure it matters.  Wilkins is a dog, who is going to produce no matter where he is.  What better place to go than Seattle to refine or add to your defensive skills?

No.22, Baltimore Ravens: DL Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Right after Wilkins is picked, the Clemson guys start coming off the board.

Ferrell’s the true pass rusher out of the group, but his ceiling is a little lower than Wilkins’ due to it.  Ferrell is long and physical, but isn’t someone who has defined moves or true grace getting to the quarterback.  He just kind of finds his way there.  Can that possibly be a bad thing?

The Ravens lost a lot in free agency on the defensive side of the ball.  Taking Ferrell here replenishes that, even though they still have a long way to go.

No.23, Houston Texans: TE Noah Fant, Iowa

The other Iowa tight end finally comes off the board.  Fant’s different than Hockenson in the sense that they aren’t the same mold.  Fant’s a big dude rather than a long dude like Hockenson is.  If Hockenson is Jimmy Graham, then Fant is Rob Gronkowski (Those are strictly size and not skill/potential comps).  Because of that, Fant has lower value.  He’s bulky and a lumbers a bit.

That doesn’t mean Fant isn’t destined for success.  In Houston, he will at least have a quarterback that can get him the ball if protected well enough.  If we haven’t complained about the line in front of DeShaun Watson, we’ve complained the lack of a second option for him aside from Deandre Hopkins.  Will Fuller is a streaky target and battles injuries, and we need to see it from Keke Coutee for one more year.  In Fant, you’re giving Watson somebody who will get open simply because of his size.  He’s that much of a problem for the opposition.

No.24, Oakland Raiders: DL Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

The last of the three Clemson big guns comes off the board, and the Raiders are slowly becoming a force on the defensive end of the field.

Lawrence is a meaty defensive tackle who can play inside of edge rushers Arden Key and Josh Mauro.  He’s an excellent run stopper who is quite good at getting to the quarterback at his size, though those skills of his may take longer to develop.

No.25, Philadelphia Eagles: DL Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame

With Timmy Jernigan’s re-signing this morning, it seems less likely that the Eagles could go with a defensive tackle here, and could instead opt for an edge rusher.  But, Jernigan is only on a one year deal, so if the Eagles decide to move on from him after next season, Tillery is there to take his place.

Tillery is massive at 6’6.  His length and moves make him a force inside.

No.26, Indianapolis Colts: CB Byron Murphy, Washington

Murphy is small slot cornerback whose speed allows him to stay with most receivers.  He’s lockdown within the intermediate range of the field.  His downfield coverage is questionable, but with Malik Hooker behind him, that’s less of a concern.

The Colts could desperately use upgrades at cornerback.  Murphy is someone who could have a Marshon Lattimore-like impact immediately.

No.27, Oakland Raiders: RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama

The Raiders shouldn’t do this, but it seems all too entirely likely to happen.  Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock want to make splashes; that’s why we can’t totally rule out Murray for them at number four overall.

I like Isaish Crowell, but there’s a reason he’s been on three teams in five years.  Aside from him, Oakland has a bunch of speciality backs who are more useful in the passing game rather than in the running game.

Getting Jacobs helps them replace Marshawn Lynch, who has decided to retire again.  Jacobs and Lynch are similar backs; big, powerful runners who plow over dudes, and unlike Lynch, Jacobs could be a reliable option in the passing game.

A cornerback or a reach for a linebacker here is a better option.  At this point, the Raiders should trade down.

No.28, Los Angeles Chargers: OL Kaleb McGary, Washington 

Some scouting reports have McGary going late in the second round, while others evaluate McGary as one of the better offensive line prospects of the decade.

The later description is a bit much, but McGary is a first round talent and worth a reach.  He played tackle at Washington, but the Chargers could use help at guard, and McGary is suited to play both.  The reason he could slide is because of that; that teams maybe don’t see him as a tackle and do just as a guard.

He’s a big dude for that spot; so much so that he may be overqualified.  That’d be good news for the Chargers.

No.29, Seattle Seahawks: S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida 

The Seahawks may find themselves going edge here, or could reach for Washington safety Taylor Rapp instead, but I think Gardner-Johnson is the better prospect on the board.

Gardner-Johnson was a play-maker at Florida as well as a skilled coverage back.  As a safety, he surveyed the field while also covering slot receivers in sets where he’d line up as a corner.

The Seahawks secondary has recovered well from the losses it has sustained over the years, but Gardner-Johnson gives them depth behind Tedric Thompson.

No.30, Green Bay Packers: WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma

Probably my favorite receiver in the draft, and teams are starting to realize the mistake they are making by giving him a third round grade.

That was where Brown was projected to go until essentially a week and a half ago, when a serious market correction occurred.  Now, some mocks have him going in the top 20, which is probably about right.

I’m not sure how much I trust it though.  Plus, Brown does have a decently serious foot injury, which was the heart of his fall early in the draft process.

No matter what, with this pick the Packers now have Metcalf and Hollywood amongst their receiving core.  That is not a bad duo for Aaron Rodgers, who has been completely depleted of weapons the past two seasons, to work with.  Taking two receivers in the first round is a bit much, but people to make Rodgers happy is the Packers biggest need.

No.31, Los Angeles Rams: OL Chris Lindstrom, Boston College

The Rams desperately need help along the offensive line.  Lindstrom is another plug-and-play guard who will be effective immediately.  His footwork and athleticism makes him play like a tackle at the guard position.

No.32, New England Patriots: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State

I wasn’t sure if Harry was going to make it into my first round.  Harry’s stock has fell a bit as we’ve approached tonight; he essentially went from possibly the top receiver in the draft to the fourth or fifth best, which makes the Patriots the front-runner for his services.

If Harry doesn’t go here, it sounds like he won’t be in the second round for much longer.  He himself has reported that the Cardinals are likely to take him at No.33 with the first pick of the second round.  I would be… let’s just say… more than excited about that.

Harry would give the Patriots a deep threat they’ve lacked for awhile.  That’s essentially the one thing he is really good at.  His size makes him impossible to cover on downfield routes, and he’s a pain to tackle thanks to it and his after-the-catch explosiveness.  Harry is like a rich man’s Kelvin Benjamin.

The problem with Harry is that he’s not a very diverse receiver.  He’s not a good route runner; the go and deep routes are essentially the only two he can run effectively.

Harry on the Pats puts him in the best position to succeed, and gives him a quarterback who can actually get the ball downfield to him.