Celtics in 7
This should be an exciting hard fought series as both teams are rather evenly matched with strong back backcourts. The Washington Wizards led by John Wall needed six games to get by the Atlanta Hawks, while the Boston Celtics led by Isaiah Thomas rallied to beat the Chicago Bulls in six games, after losing the first two games at home. The Celtics rough start could be attributed to the death of Thomas’ sister which seemed to cast a cloud over Boston when the series began. The Wizards meanwile enjoyed home cooking taking the first two games at the Verizon Center, as the home team won the first five games of their series with Atlanta. The Wizards and Celtics split four regular season meetings, with the home team taking all four games. One thing that has to be of concern for Boston, is their struggle on the boards, with the Wizards abillity to move the ball and get the open man they will need to raise their game in the front court in this series. That is where defense and Al Horford emerges as the key to this series, the Celtics can certainly play a more physical game and that could wear down John Wall, especially over a long seven game series, which this one will likely be. With the Celtics having Game 7 at TD Garden, I like them to emerge as the winner and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Cavaliers in 5
Bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be heating up. After a lackluster final six weeks in the regular season, the Cavs reminded everyone they are still the reigning NBA Champions as they swept away the Indiana Pacers, highlighted by a big comeback in Game 3 on the road. After beating the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Cleveland continued to frustrate Toronto, winning three of four regular season meetings, with the Raptors only win coming in a meaningless regular season finale. Although all three wins by the Cavaliers are close it demonstrates what a difference a player like LeBron James makes. When the game is on the line the great ones shine their brightest. The Raptors have a solid team led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but at times their play in the fourth quarter has been questionable as neither have been good finishers. In their closeout win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors nearly blew a 25-point lead. The Raptors picked up Serge Ibaka just for this matchup and he should help them be more physical. However, with the Cavaliers starting to find their grove, it is hard to imagine them not winning and doing it rather quickly in five games.
Warriors in 4
The Golden State Warriors will not know who they will be facing next until after the second round begins, as one series remains outstanding from the opening round with the Los Angeles Clippers forcing a seventh game by winning in Utah on Friday Night. In the end, it won’t matter this series is going to be an absolute mauling as the Warriors will sweep the series no matter who they play. If they play the Utah Jazz, the games could be a little tighter as Rudy Gobert is one of the league’s top defensive players would could find a way to possibly steal a game. The Warriors beat the Jazz in two of three meetings, losing in the season’s penultimate game. If it’s the Los Angeles Clippers expect a lot of garbage time as the Warriors roll over them nearly every time they meet. In four regular season meetings, Golden State crushed the Clippers winning all four games by double digits, including a humiliating 46-point beatdown in January. If the Clippers win Game 7 against the Jazz they will be facing the Warriors without one of their top players as Blake Griffin is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury. The Warriors have a hunger and focus, and with Kevin Durant slowly getting healthy the deeper they go the stronger they will get, even if they are without their coach, Steve Kerr who is ailing and missed two games against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Spurs in 7
In what could best matchup of the second round the San Antonio Spurs take on the Houston Rockets for Lone Star State pride. The two Texas rivals have only met three times in the postseason, with this the first meeting in 23 years. The Rockets looked terrific in their opening round series blowing past the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, while the Spurs needed six hard fought games to beat the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs won the season series against Houston, but had trouble containing James Harden, as he averaged nearly a triple double in the four games with 29.8 points, 12.5 assists and nine rebounds per game. All four meetings were tight, with the games going down to the final minute. I expect the same in this series, which would put a lot of pressure on the Beard, who is more than capable of carrying the Rockets into the next round. James Harden may not be the MVP this season but he can make a case going forward if he can win this series. The Spurs meanwhile will go with the old stand by the system of Greg Popovich, which means a different hero every night. While Kawhi Leonard will be the key to stopping Harden, it will have to be Danny Green or Tony Parker to make the big shots in the end, and knowing the Spurs pedigree I have no doubt they will in a seven-game series.