The Conference Semis feature several intriguing matchups in the East and West.
The First Round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs was sort of a bore in the East and pretty fun in the West. Fortunately for basketball fans, I think we are in for an entertaining round of Conference Semifinals.
Round 1 Takeaways
Couple quick takeaways from the First Round, specifically for the losing teams:
-The Raptors are one good player away from being a threat.
-Ingram is a stud - if Zion stays healthy, look out.
-The Bulls had it going on early this season - if Ball can get healthy or they acquire another good player they will be a fun team to watch next season.
-Denver needs Jamal Murray to advance.
Eastern Conference Semis:
(1) Heat vs (4) 76ers
Prediction: Heat in 6
Both teams have been beaten up with injuries as of late. Embiid with an orbital fracture/torn thumb ligament (his status is uncertain), Jimmy Butler with knee inflammation, and Kyle Lowry unlikely for Game 1 with a hamstring. If everyone was healthy this would be a banger series to watch.
Early in the Toronto series, Embiid was looking like one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He didn't look great in the losses, though. Philly has four legit scoring weapons in Embiid, Harden, Harris, and Maxey, who is breaking out. But they will be facing Miami's pesky, smothering defense, which neutralized Trae Young. Spo is going to figure out defensive schemes to force Philly to cough up the rock and take low-percentage shots. The Philly pick-and-roll isn't going to be as effective as it usually is.
Butler, one of the best 2-way players in the League, has looked great on offense, averaging over 30 against the Hawks. Harden has been looking more like the Harden we know but, if Embiid is out or limited, the Heat will target Harden like they did Trae in the previous round. If Butler's knee holds up, Bam forces the ball out of Embiid's hands (if he plays), and the rest of the Heat play hard defense. Look for the Heat to win this series in 5, BUT, with injury uncertainty let's call it 6 games. At the end of the day, Miami has better players than the 76ers.
(2) Celtics vs (3) Bucks
Prediction: Celtics in 7
Hands down, this is going to be the best series to watch. The Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since January and they're pitted against the defending champions. Tatum and Brown are playing great on both sides of the ball. I've never seen Durant look so uncomfortable on the court and that was a result of the Celtics defense, mainly because of Tatum. Could the Greek Freak face a similar demise? Smart's DPOY must be brushing off on the rest of the team.
The C's are big, athletic, and Udoka has them playing really damn hard. The old line "...defense wins championships" keeps going through my smooth brain when I think about this matchup. It's true, and the Celtics have a tidal wave of momentum in their favor and I wouldn't want to be in the way of it.
On top of all the good stuff the Celtics are doing, Milwaukee is going to be without Middleton (Grade 2 MCL) who has proven to be a closer for the Bucks. The defending champs are still a really good team without Middleton, but they're not at their best. They have the best player on the planet in Giannis and a very, very good supporting cast with Holiday, Lopez, Allen, Portis, Matthews, and Connaughton. Even if the Celts can contain Giannis, he still has options with Middleton on the sidelines.
The two teams split in the regular season but neither one was at full strength. A lot of pressure will be on Giannis to elevate his own game if the Bucks want to advance; he needs to absolutely dominate. He was excellent in their Game 1 victory. That will have to continue, and then some. It's worth noting the Bucks defense isn't top tier like it has been in years past, and the Celtics offense is flowing with a lot less ISO ball. Get your popcorn and soda ready for this series!
Western Conference Semis:
(1) Suns vs (4) Mavericks
Prediction: Suns in 6
Both teams had to grind it out a little bit in their prior series. Dallas had to play a few games without Luka, and Booker strained his hammy for Phoenix in Game 2. Dallas actually looked pretty solid in the games Luka missed, which is a good sign for the team when he goes to the bench.
Phoenix on the other hand, didn't look quite as sturdy. CP3 had to step it up, laying an egg in Game 4 but pouring it on in 5 and 6 like the Point God he is. Book returned in Game 6 on a minutes restriction and netted 13 points, but it remains to be seen how efficient he will be in the Conference Semis. Hamstrings suck; they seem to never go away. This Booker injury will be worth monitoring.
J. Kidd has Dallas playing pretty good ball and guys are stepping up every night, whether it's Brunson, Powell, Dinwiddie, or Kleiber. The Suns wiped the Mavs in the regular season 3-0, but they haven't faced this Dallas team that made trades at the deadline and is clearly trending up. Defensively, the Suns are among the best in the League and they will have to prove it against Dallas' firepower. If the Mavs want to upset the Suns, Luka is going to have to play the best ball of his life and his teammates will need to continue showing out. Unfortunately, I don't see the Mavs doing this to produce four wins.
2 Grizzlies vs 3 Warriors
Prediction: Warriors in 7
As a guard who has won several men's league basketball championships , I am pumped to watch this series that will be loaded with A+ guard play. Steph, Klay, and Poole are all averaging more than 20 PPG, with Wiggins dumping in 14 PPG in the playoffs. Bane and Ja are combining to average 45 PPG, while Brooks and Clarke are averaging 16.5 in the playoffs. Expect some intense perimeter battles.
GSW have been around the top of the NBA all season with a solid offensive attack and a top-rated defense. Memphis, well, Memphis transformed into a monster when no one expected it. They win with Ja and they win without Ja. They have a very deep roster with five guys in double-digits and Tyus Jones just shy of 10 per.
Complementing their balanced offensive attack, they also have an elite defense. Jaren Jackson Jr. swats the crap out of anything near the rim and everyone else plays tough-nosed defense. Nothing comes easy for opposing offenses. The Warriors didn't face much pressure from Denver guards; that won't be the case in this series. Memphis also never seems to go away, just ask the T-Wolves.
One big hole on the Warriors team is piss-poor defensive rebounding. Memphis will clean it up on the O-Glass. Memphis took three of four in the regular season, but Golden State was never at full strength. AKA this is going to be an interesting series. To be honest, I'm having a tough time picking a winner here. As Game 1's 117-116 thriller indicated, these teams are evenly-matched. I think it will go the full seven games and GSW's experience and strategizing will allow them to advance.