Sorry for this preview being so broken up. Being on vacation means using hotel, airport and Starbucks Wifi to write, and not having much time in general. Anyways, here is previews for today’s early games. Previews of Thunder-Jazz and Timberwolves-Rockets will be up later.
No.7 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No.2 Boston Celtics
Just another brutal first round series. Had not for Kyrie Irving’s season-ending injury, this would have been at least watchable. Kyrie vs. Giannis would’ve been a delight.
Now, we’re watching a Boston team that can’t score vs. a Milwaukee team that’s honestly just bad at the fundaments of basketball.
I told you this was gonna be a brutal series.
I’m just salty about Milwaukee. I had them winning 55 games, Giannis contending for MVP, Jabari Parker being awesome again and everything coming together. Nope.
First of all, coaching hasn’t helped them with any of their deficiencies. Jason Kidd had no idea how to rotate guys defensively or clock reasonable minutes. The offense relied too heavily on Giannis, although as we’re still seeing it wasn’t Kidd’s fault entirely.
Joe Puntry hasn’t done a better job. Nothing’s gotten better, and the Bucks are now the underachieving 7th seed that everyone wants to play.
The Bucks have serious issues, yet they’re so simple and so dumb. The Bucks are like that 4th grade community league team that your son is playing on, and the refs are high schoolers and the coaches are Dads. Their play is a mess. They can’t catch passes. They make dumb plays. They have no awareness. You get the point.
That’s the Bucks. They don’t turn the ball over a lot, but when they do it’s at the most critical time. It’s stuff like Khris Middleton accidentally stepping out of bounds, or Giannis taking a jumpshot when he shouldn’t.
Brad Stevens has to be licking his chops. This is a suicide mission for the Bucks from that point of view. Joe Puntry sounds like the owner of your local farm store.
The Celtics don’t really have anyone primed for Giannis (Who does?). I guess you slap Jaylen Brown on him and hope that switching can catch him off guard and force bad shots (Not hard in Milwaukee’s offense). That would force the ball to go elsewhere, which, given the play of Milwaukee’s offense lately, sounds like a pretty good plan.
But in a vacuum, the Bucks should be much better. They have fiery guards in Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, both who are crafty with the ball and can shoot off the ball, though both have been in that 35% gray area from beyond the arc this season. Middleton is an excellent scorer, and hasn’t regressed like others this year, but may not be suited for a secondary role.
The Bucks have to get guys to step up. Getting this banged up Boston team was their only chance of winning in the first round. The story of the Bucks has been when the ball isn’t in Giannis’ hands, things don’t work out. That can’t be the case in this series.
Boston may not be able to totally slow down Giannis, but as this season has taught us, Giannis himself isn’t enough. Couple that with the shortcomings on Milwaukee’s defensive end, and the Bucks are looking at a poor matchup.
What Milwaukee does have that Boston doesn’t is a closer. The Celtics offensive rating plummeted to 101.9 when Kyrie was off the court this year, compared to 108.7 when he was on it, per NBA.com. Now the Celtics are staring at that first number 100% of the time.
Without Kyrie, the Celtics are looking to Terry Rozier dribbling the ball just a little too much, 20 year old Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward’s Players Tribune videos for offensive production. I would include Marcus Smart, but he’s not scheduled to come back from his own injury until Game 6, if the series gets that far. Smart, even though he’s a loose cannon, would be a huge upgrade over anyone the Celtics currently have on the offensive end. The shots don’t always go in, but when they do, they’re at pivotal points in the game. That alone would give Boston a chance at the end of games.
The offensive concerns I have about Boston may not matter though. They could go old-school, and bang down low with Al Horford and Aron Baynes. The Bucks pretend that rim protection doesn’t exist. They have to put Giannis down there half the time, since John Henson just isn’t strong enough to contest shots, and Thon Maker seems like a swing and miss on a potential home run pick (Which, is okay. It was worth it).
Boston will have to take what it can get offensively, which could be enough given Milwaukee’s likely overall disarray. Tatum probably won’t be consistent, but he will have moments. And those moments are gonna be the ones that carry Boston. I expect Horford to get the ball a lot, Rozier to be subdued a little bit, and Tatum have plays ran for him. No matter how basic or weak it is, Milwaukee won’t be able to guard it. They’re just that bad on that end.
Picking against Giannis is scary. Picking against Brad Stevens is terrifying. In close series, systems give the edge.
Milwaukee will get a couple games. Giannis is too good, and Boston will have a game where the ball just doesn’t go in.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
No.5 Indiana Pacers vs. No.4 Cleveland Cavaliers
I don’t think we talked enough about the fact that a LeBron James led team fell to the 4th seed in the East. The Sixers had a better record!
What the Cavaliers did at the deadline certainly helped, but it didn’t really bring them above and beyond. Getting back to normal was probably the first goal, and it was met, but any reach above that level would have been nice.
It didn’t happen, which led to LeBron going into one-man wrecking crew mode and putting up insane stat-lines night after night.
Indiana has also been a one-man wrecking crew, with Victor Olidipo running the show.
That might be as simple as this series gets.
The Pacers are fine defensively. They don’t have many of the stretchy, three-and-d wings the league possess right now, but their alternative has gotten them this far. The Pacers love to play three guard sets, with a stretch 4 in the corner and Myles Turner anchoring down low.
What that means is that they don’t have someone they can just plant on LeBron. Sure, no one does, but some teams have a rotation of guys who can at least make him work. Indiana’s best bet is probably Olidipo, which is problematic given the offensive load he must supply (30.1% usage rate this season).
This is a bad matchup for Indiana. If you maximize your resources for LeBron, then you’re leaving shooters open. This is a Cleveland team that can catch fire quickly. If you don’t put pressure on LeBron, well, he’s torching you. That alone may not work for the Cavaliers later on this postseason, but it will in this series.
Cleveland needs to let LeBron do everything. It’s not great for durability and enjoyment purposes, but it’s the best option they’ve got. And more importantly, it will work.
Defensively, stick George Hill on Olidipo. The Cavaliers backcourt has been trash, but Hill is a pest defensively. This is why you went and got him. The biggest advantage every team will have over Cleveland is the guard play. Indiana has that as well, but they lack the firepower around Olidipo for it to matter. LeBron may not get to the Finals, but Indiana won’t be the team to knock him out.
The Cavs horrific defense will give up at least one game up. They have that special ability to get absolutely ran in any game. Olidipo will put up 34 one night, and maybe Bojan Bogdanovic hits seven threes in another game and forces Cleveland’s hand.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 6