With the 2nd round out West underway, here are previews of the Eastern Conference’s 2nd round series, which begin tonight.
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #4 Atlanta Hawks
This is going to be a fascinating series on so many levels. Atlanta has played so well lately, handling the Celtics in six games (It really felt like five.). Cleveland got past a frisky Detroit team, which rejuvenated Kevin Love.
I don’t feel like this is the series for him though. Paul Millsap has played out of his mind lately, and he’s no matchup for Love defensively. Since last series wasn’t the series Kevin Love disappeared, this one will be.
Tristan Thompson also has a mismatch with Al Horford, another Hawk who gave Boston serious issues. Thompson is subpar defensively, and can’t match the sheer talent of Horford on either end.
This is a favorable matchup for Kyrie Irving, as Jeff Teague is a very sketchy defender. I don’t know whether its about effort with him or just not being good enough defense.
The Hawks will win this series by using the same advantages they used and had against Boston. The only problem is that the competition they are facing is much greater.
I really like Kent Bazemore. He was a great player for Golden State, and has finally gained a bigger role with Atlanta.
However, if you’re scouting Bazemore, this is not going to be a series you’ll look for his positives in. He’s gonna be guarding Lebron James, or attempting to, at least.
We’ve seen what Lebron and the Cavs can do with only Lebron in a playoff series. They took the NBA champions to six games last year with only Lebron left. Atlanta isn’t Golden State by any means, but they’re the best competition a healthy Cavs team has seen in the playoffs. If the Cavs can do what they did to Golden State with one of their big three last year, imagine what they can do to this Hawks team with three of their big three.
Its scary, and while I want to give Atlanta a shot to win in seven games, I can’t do it. Sure, Kevin Love may be limited in this series, but the fact that Atlanta doesn’t have guys good enough to cover Kyrie and Lebron is too overwhelming.
I’m giving Atlanta two games for Paul Millsap and Al Horford. I think they each have big games in this series. Besides that, this series is Cleveland’s.
Pick: Cavaliers in 6
#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #3 Miami Heat
After watching the first round where Toronto barely made it out alive, they’re lucky I am even writing about this series.
The Raptors’ biggest issue has been getting off to good starts in games. Its the reason they were taken to seven games against the Pacers. Toronto is so sketchy at the start. They get down big and then scramble. As the first round displayed, sometimes the scramble works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Toronto can’t have that happen in this series. The Heat are too good at taking advantage of other’s mistakes. Ask Charlotte.
Miami was super fun to watch in the first round. Hassan Whiteside was a beast, as Charlotte had no match for him. Him against Jonas Valanciunas will be fascinating. They’re both extremely skilled defensively, but Whiteside’s ultra-effectiveness may prove to be the difference. He does things you don’t totally notice, but they show up in efficiency stats. He’ll still get overpaid by $30 million this Summer.
Speaking of other guys who will get massively overpaid this Summer, DeMar DeRozan had a horrendous first round. He was partly at fault for Toronto’s crappy starts against the Pacers. Toronto needs him to snap out of it and play good enough defense to stop Miami’s wings, who have been on fire lately.
DeRozan or Kyle Lowry must step up. Neither had great first rounds. Lowry is capable of snapping out of it, but has Goran Dragic defending him.
The Raptors need to attack the rim, especially in Heat lineups that feature Whiteside as the biggest guy. Thats definitely not saying Whiteside is bad defensively, but when he’s biggest man on the court, it does open the lane more for the Raptors. Toronto can’t rely on outside shooting anymore, and Valanciunas will have a tough time producing against Whiteside.
Miami needs to do what they do best in this series. It shouldn’t be too hard to score on this Toronto defense, and if the Raptors lay eggs to start games, then there will be no excuses for the Heat.
Pick: Heat in 5