In a league that is predicated on teams copycatting championship-caliber teams’ recipe for success, it’s not surprising to see the majority of teams buying into Golden State’s small ball strategy. The Warriors are the best team in the National Basketball Association, and they might be the best team of all time. After having the greatest regular season of all time and coming up short of winning a championship last season, the Warriors added future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant to their roster. Although there have been a few bumps along the road, the Warriors look poised to win their second championship in three seasons. Teams around the league are using Golden State as a case study for creating a dynasty.
The Warriors start Zaza Pachulia, a 6’11” center whose primary job is to rebound and play with physicality. Although Pachulia is considered a starter, he plays roughly eighteen minutes a game and isn’t part of their small ball lineup. Their 2016 small ball lineup was dubbed the “death lineup” because of how easily they would kill the other team’s chances of winning. Now in 2017, the death lineup is even deadlier with the addition of Kevin Durant. The lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green has taken the NBA by storm. This lineup includes five players that can dribble, pass, and shoot on offense and defend at a high level on defense. Other than Curry, the other four death lineup members can switch any pick and roll. Curry is 6’3”, but the others are all between 6’6” and 6’9” tall (although Durant is rumored to be nearly seven feet tall). They play a positionless style of basketball that other teams are mimicking.
This brings us to the Milwaukee Bucks. Continue reading “Tall Ball: How the Milwaukee Bucks are Separating Themselves in Today’s Small Ball Era”
Toronto Raptors defeat Milwaukee Bucks 118-93: The Toronto Raptors took a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks with a dominating win in game five. The Raptors got off to a fast start and never looked back. The Raptors didn’t get much of a contribution from their bench, but all five of their starters scored in double figures. The “trash bros” backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played their second consecutive great game, even though Lowry was playing through a back injury. The Raptors were led by Norman Powell, who scored 25 points on 8-11 shooting from the field. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a game-high 30 points on 12-19 shooting. He had a great all-around game, but didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. Khris Middleton had another terrible game. He scored only 8 points and looked out of rhythm throughout the game. Milwaukee needs to win the last two games of the series if they want to advance to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. These two teams will play game six on Thursday in Milwaukee.
Atlanta Hawks defeat Washington Wizards 111-101: The Hawks defeated the Wizards at home to even the series at two games apiece. Although the Wizards have the better starting unit, all five of the Hawks’ starters scored in double figures. The Hawks also got bench contributions from Kent Bazemore and Jose Calderon. The Wizards were led by their backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but didn’t get help from the rest of their starters. After a terrible game three, Beal bounced back to lead the Wizards with 32 points. John Wall scored 22 points, but wasn’t as efficient in game four as he was in the first three games of the series. Although the Hawks won both games at home, they are still the underdogs in this series. These two teams will play game five on Wednesday in Washington.
Golden State Warriors defeat Portland Trail Blazers 128-103: The Warriors completed a four game sweep of the Trail Blazers with a convincing win in Portland. The Warriors got off to a fast start by scoring 45 points in the first quarter. Damian Lillard was dominant again for the Trail Blazers, but he didn’t get help from anyone besides Al Farouq Aminu. C.J. McCollum had his worst game of the series, scoring just 6 points on 2-12 shooting from the field. Although this was Kevin Durant’s return game, he only scored 10 points in 20 minutes of play. The Splash Bros picked up the slack by combining for 55 points. The Warriors were playing for coach Steve Kerr, who has missed the last few games because of complications from back surgery. Hopefully he’ll be able to return to coaching during the second round of the playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors: The Bucks and Raptors are playing a pivotal game five in Toronto which will break the 2-2 series tie and give one of these teams an overwhelming advantage to win the series. Although the Raptors are favored to win this game and the series, the Bucks proved they can win in Toronto when they won the first game of the series. The Raptors were outplayed in each of the first three games, but were able to steal game two despite a poor performance from their backcourt. Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have lived up to their “trash bros” nickname during the playoffs, but are still in the driver’s seat to advance to the second round. They both had their first great game of the series in game four, which happened to be the first game that Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled. This game will come down to the two stars for each team. If Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton dominate, the Bucks will win game five. If Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan dominate, the Raptors will win game five. The stars for both teams will be under enormous pressure to help their team win and become overwhelming favorites to advance to the second round to face the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks: The Wizards and Hawks will play a crucial game four in Atlanta that could possibly decide the series. If the Wizards win game four, they’ll take a 3-1 series lead back to Washington. In all likelihood, the Hawks won’t win the series if they lose this game. If the Hawks win game four, they’ll even the series at two games apiece. Either way, the Wizards will still be favored to advance to the second round. John Wall has been fantastic in all three games, but didn’t get any contribution from his teammates in game three. If the Hawks are able to shut down John Wall’s teammates again, they’ll have a great chance of winning this game. If Wall and his teammates are able to play their style of basketball, they Hawks will be in serious trouble. For all intents and purposes, this is a must-win game for the Atlanta Hawks.
Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers: The Warriors look to complete the sweep of the Trail Blazers in Portland. The Warriors have dominated the series, even with superstar Kevin Durant missing games two and three. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been dominant in two of the three games, but it ultimately hasn’t mattered because they haven’t gotten any help from their teammates. Jusuf Nurkic tried to play in game three and was ineffective. He won’t play in game four and likely won’t return later in the series (if the Trail Blazers win this game). The Splash Bros have been dominant all series, and have gotten large contributions from their teammates to win all three games. Portland will try to become the first team to win a seven game series after losing the first three games, but they probably won’t even win this game. This isn’t a must-win game for the Warriors, but they’d like to win and get some rest. Hopefully they’ll be able to get Durant and coach Steve Kerr back during the playoffs, but they probably won’t need either of them to advance past Portland to the second round.
Toronto Raptors defeat Milwaukee Bucks 87-76: The Raptors defeated the Bucks in a defensive struggle that evened the series at two games apiece. The Raptors were able to regain the home-court advantage by shutting down Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton also struggled with his shot all game, which caused the Bucks to lean on their role players. Tony Snell was their best player all game, but he doesn’t have the talent of Antetokounmpo or Middleton to lead the Bucks to victory. Both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry had a great game for the Raptors. This was the first game in the series that both of their stars showed up. These two teams will play game five on Monday in Toronto.
Atlanta Hawks defeat Washington Wizards 116-98: The Hawks dominated the Wizards to win their first game of the series. They outscored the Wizards 38-20 in the first quarter and never looked back. Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap, and Taurean Prince all had huge games for the Hawks. The Wizards were switching every pick and roll all game long, which ended up being a failed strategy. The Hawks were attacking the mismatches and scored at will. The Wizards’ starting unit struggled all game. John Wall was fantastic again, but didn’t get any help from the other four starters. Wall had the highlight of the game when he went coast-to-coast and dribbled the ball behind his back before dunking on Kent Bazemore. That was the only highlight of the game for Washington. These two teams will play game four on Monday in Atlanta.
Memphis Grizzlies defeat San Antonio Spurs 110-108 (OT): In the most exciting game of the playoffs, the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs in overtime on a last-second shot by Marc Gasol. The final few minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime were absolutely fantastic. This is what playoff basketball is all about. Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the floor and made his case for being the league’s MVP (although it is a regular season award). He hit multiple clutch shots in the final minutes to send it to overtime. A few times I caught myself calling him Kobe because his performance was mamba-esque. He led all scorers with 43 points and played fantastic defense all game long. Mike Conley played like a superstar point guard. He hit clutch shots down the stretch and helped rally his team when it seemed like Leonard was going to win the game singlehandedly. After Leonard hit a game tying shot in the final seconds of overtime, Marc Gasol put in an ugly looking game-winning shot with a second remaining. These two teams will play game five on Tuesday in San Antonio.
Golden State Warriors defeat Portland Trail Blazers 119-113: In a game that the Warriors were missing star Kevin Durant and coach Steve Kerr, Golden State took a commanding 3-0 lead in this series. The Trail Blazers got off to a fast start with a 67-54 halftime lead. But the Warriors came out in the second half and dominated to get the victory. Klay Thompson took over the third quarter by hitting multiple threes. The Warriors started getting stops defensively, which fueled their fast break offense. The Warriors have won both games without Kevin Durant, which shows how dominant of a team they are. Portland’s star backcourt put in a combined 63 points, but they were not enough to defeat the heavily favored Warriors. These two teams will play game four on Monday in Portland.
Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks: After a pathetic showing in game three, the Raptors will look to bounce back and even the series at two games apiece. The Raptors cannot afford to go down 3-1 in the series, even though they are the more talented team and have the potential to win three straight games against the Bucks. The problem with this Raptors team is their confidence. If they go down 3-1 in this series, they’ll have to win despite being a perennial playoff underachiever. They added Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline, which will end up being a huge waste if they don’t make it out of the first round (especially if both leave in free agency). The Bucks have outplayed the Raptors in all three games of this series. With this game being in front of their home crowd, they have a good chance of taking a commanding lead in this series. The winner of this game will be huge favorites to advance to the second round.
Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks are playing the Wizards at home in a must-win game. After losing both games in Washington, the Hawks cannot afford to go down 3-0 in this series. They’ve been competitive in the first three quarters of both games, but have struggled to close in the fourth quarter. John Wall has been the best player on the floor in both games. The Hawks don’t have a player that can stop him, so they’ll have to collectively try to limit his impact. The Wizards have the much more talented starting lineup, so the Hawks will need their bench players to rise to the occasion if they want to stay competitive in this series
San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies: After a convincing win in game three, the Grizzlies can even the series at home against the Spurs. After game two, the Grizzlies’ coach was critical of the referees. Although they won game three, the Spurs still received more foul calls than the Grizzlies. But that didn’t matter, because coach David Fizdale got his point across. He wanted his team to realize that they shouldn’t change their game plan because of how the refs were calling the game. The Grizzlies are a tough and aggressive team, and they cannot afford to stray from that style of basketball because they aren’t getting calls. Fizdale moved Zach Randolph into the starting lineup, which ended up being a fantastic decision. Although this game is extremely important for the Grizzlies, the Spurs will still be the favorites to win the series no matter who wins this game.
Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers return home to Portland in this must-win game against the heavily favored Warriors. After an embarrassing loss in game two, the Trail Blazers’ star backcourt needs to bounce back and lead their team to victory. With Kevin Durant missing game two, the Trail Blazers had their best chance to steal a road game from the Warriors. The Warriors will be heavy favorites to advance no matter what happens in this game. Durant may miss this game too, which likely won’t end up mattering. Portland needs to win four straight games to make Damian Lillard’s “Trail Blazers in 6” prediction come true. If Lillard doesn’t have a stellar game tonight, the Warriors will take a commanding 3-0 lead in this series.
Cleveland Cavaliers defeat Indiana Pacers 119-114: The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers in the craziest game of the postseason. After leading at halftime by 25 points, the Pacers had an unbelievable collapse that basically ended their season. Although they could still win four straight games to move on to the second round, it’s not going to happen. Paul George led the Pacers with 36 points, but struggled with his shot all game. The Cavaliers’ defense was putrid in the first half, but they were able to figure things out in the second half. Amazingly, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. They were struggling and the team was making a run with them on the bench, so coach Tyronn Lue decided against putting them back in the game. LeBron James put the team on his back and singlehandedly won them the game. He scored a game-high 41 points to go with his 13 rebounds and 12 assists. These two teams will play game four on Sunday in Indiana.
Milwaukee Bucks defeat Toronto Raptors 104-77: In a game that was a blowout from the beginning, the Milwaukee Bucks punked the Raptors to take a 2-1 series lead. The Bucks won the first quarter 32-12 and never looked back. The Raptors’ star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 21 points. DeRozan scored as many field goals as I did during the game (zero). Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo only scored 19 points, but he was extremely efficient. Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley, and Matthew Dellavedova all scored in double figures off the bench. Everyone stepped up for Milwaukee and nobody stepped up for Toronto. This was an embarrassing effort by the Raptors on the road. These two teams will play game four on Saturday in Milwaukee.
Memphis Grizzlies defeat San Antonio Spurs 105-94: The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Spurs at home in a must-win game. Grizzlies coach (take that for data!) David Fizdale decided to move Zach Randolph into the starting lineup, and Z-Bo rewarded him by scoring 21 points. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley both scored over twenty points, which was crucial for the Grizzlies. They needed their stars to step up, and that’s exactly what they did. The game was close at halftime, but got away from San Antonio in the third quarter. Coach Gregg Popovich would say after the game that they lost because of the first minutes of the second half. Popovich was so upset with his team’s effort to start the third quarter that he benched all five players after a timeout. Kawhi Leonard was not his usual self in this game. Former stars (and soon-to-be retirees) Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to score as many points as I did. This was a game that the Grizzlies needed to win, and they played dominant basketball on both sides of the court. These two teams will play game four on Saturday in Memphis.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers: The Cavaliers head to Indiana up 2-0 in the series to face the desperate Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were able to keep both games competitive before falling apart down the stretch. Cleveland is the much more talented team, but Indiana has proven that they can win if a few breaks go their way late in the fourth quarter. With their fans cheering them on, the Pacers need to win this game to avoid going down 3-0 in the series. Paul George has been fantastic in both games, but he needs help. Usually role players play better at home in the playoffs, so they might get a much needed boost from their bench. Myles Turner has emerged as the second best player on this team, and he’ll need to play like it after an abysmal game two. George was critical of both Turner and Lance Stephenson in the media. He claimed that it was to motivate his teammates. Both Turner and Stephenson will be counted on to give George support, which will be crucial if the Pacers want to get back in this series. This is a must-win game for the Pacers.
Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks: The winner of game three between the Raptors and Bucks will take a 2-1 lead in this series. After struggling in game one at home, the Raptors were able to even the series by hitting a few clutch shots late in the fourth quarter. The Bucks were playing catch-up all game, but had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter. Coach Jason Kidd played a few questionable lineups during the game that put the Bucks behind the eight ball. This was an inopportune time for his inexperience to rear its ugly head. The Raptors did a much better job of limiting superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in game two. He wasn’t able to get to the rim as easily as he did in game one, and he had trouble finishing due to the presence of Serge Ibaka. With Milwaukee stealing the home-court advantage from the Raptors, they’ll need to win these two games at home if they want to win the series. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies need to defeat the Spurs to avoid going down 3-0 in this series. If Memphis doesn’t win this game, they’ll have to try to become the first team to win a seven game series after losing the first three games. “TAKE THAT FOR DATA!” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was recently fined after criticizing the officials after game two. He was upset that Kawhi Leonard shot more free throws than his entire team. The NBA playoff officials have been so terrible for so many years that this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Right when Memphis was getting back into the game, the officials started making one-sided calls that helped the Spurs regain a double-digit lead. This was blatantly obvious to any non-biased observer. As a fan of basketball that loves playoff competition, I was furious. Now that Fizdale made his point, look for the refs to swing in the opposite direction and start making calls to benefit the Grizzlies. We all hope they start calling the game fair, but don’t get your hopes up. These are NBA playoff refs, and they take sucking at their jobs very seriously. I appreciate Fizdale standing up for his players and criticizing the terrible playoff referees, and his “take that for data” rant was so fantastic that I hope this motivates his team and the officials to do a great job for the Memphis fans.
Toronto Raptors defeat Milwaukee Bucks 106-100: The Raptors were able to defeat the Bucks in this back-and-forth game to even the series at one game apiece. Kyle Lowry was able to bounce back after a horrible game one to lead the Raptors to victory. Although the Bucks kept it close, they were not able to take the lead down the stretch. This game was lost by Milwaukee due to their coach Jason Kidd. It was obvious that Spencer Hawes and Mirza Teletovic were struggling, but he refused to pull them from the game. Greg Monroe was a dominant force all game, but Kidd decided to play rookie Thon Maker down the stretch. Milwaukee fans are used to Kidd’s head scratching lineups, but this was an inopportune time to make terrible coaching decisions. Toronto deserves credit for evening the series, but the Bucks missed out on a great opportunity to take a two game lead heading to Milwaukee. These two teams will play game three on Thursday in Milwaukee.
Chicago Bulls defeat Boston Celtics 111-97: For the second consecutive game, the Bulls dominated the top seeded Celtics in Boston. Once again, Isaiah Thomas did not get enough help from his supporting cast to defeat the Bulls. Chicago has a lot of talent, but underachieved all season. They have the best player in the series in Jimmy Butler, and have two veterans in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo with championship experience. Rondo was dominant all game, falling just one rebound shy of a triple-double. The Celtics now head on the road down 0-2 in this series, which has to be extremely disappointing. They’ll likely need to win both games in Chicago, especially game three. These two teams will play game three on Friday in Chicago.
Los Angeles Clippers defeat Utah Jazz 99-91: The Clippers were able to take advantage of a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team to even the series at one game apiece. Although Gobert missed all but ten seconds of the first game, the Clippers weren’t able to make in-game adjustments to their game plan to attack the basket. This showed that Doc Rivers isn’t a great coach like many people think. The Clippers were able to make adjustments between games to attack the Jazz’s new weakness. Without Gobert, the Jazz don’t have a rim protector to stop the Clippers from scoring at will in the paint. This was evident all game. The Jazz fought hard to keep the game competitive, but they didn’t have enough firepower without Gobert. Hopefully he’ll be able to return during this series. These two teams will play game three on Friday in Utah.
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors: The Bucks and Raptors will play game two in Toronto after the Bucks pulled off the stunning upset in game one. This is a must-win game for the Raptors, who cannot afford to go down 2-0 in this series before it heads to Milwaukee. The Raptors didn’t have an answer for Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in game one, so they’ll need to make adjustments to limit his impact. Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was terrible in game one (which has been a playoff theme for him), so he’ll need to find a way to put the ball in the basket. His backcourt teammate DeMar DeRozan put in a decent amount of points in the first game of this series, but they were mostly from the free throw line. This backcourt cannot play like the “trash bros” again in game two. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in this series, the Raptors are the more complete team and should be favored to even the series before heading to Milwaukee.
Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics: The Bulls and Celtics will face each other for the second time in this series. The Bulls pulled off the upset in game one, which wasn’t all that surprising given the circumstances that surrounded the game. Celtics star point guard Isaiah Thomas played game one just one day after the tragic death of his younger sister. Thomas was visibly shaken up before the game, but he showed toughness by playing when many others would’ve sat out. He not only played, but he played at a high level. His teammates didn’t help him out enough, as they were outclassed by Jimmy Butler and the Bulls. Thomas is expected to play in game two, and they’ll need him in this must-win game. The Bulls are more talented than most eighth seeded teams, so the Celtics will need to bring their A game if they don’t want to head to Chicago down 2-0 in this series.
Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers: This third game of the night also consists of a favored team playing at home in a must-win game. The Utah Jazz pulled off the upset with an “Iso” Joe Johnson buzzer beater to stun the fans in Los Angeles. The Jazz were able to rally after the loss of star center Rudy Gobert just ten seconds into the game. Gobert will not play in game two, and may miss the entire series (or longer if they advance). Losing Gobert is a huge loss, and should make the Clippers heavy favorites in a series that was evenly matched before the injury. The Clippers should make game plan adjustments that can attack the Jazz inside without Gobert’s presence. The Jazz have been dealing with injuries all year, so they’ll be ready for the adversity that this latest blow brings them. This should still be a competitive game, but the Clippers will have the upper hand. The Clippers need this victory, otherwise they’ll be down 2-0 in this series when it heads to Utah.
Cleveland Cavaliers defeat Indiana Pacers 109-108: In the first game of the NBA postseason, the Cavaliers squeaked out the victory against the Pacers in Cleveland. The game was back-and-forth until the final shot, which was a missed shot at the buzzer by the Pacers’ C.J. Miles. Down by one with roughly ten seconds remaining, the Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan called a timeout to set up a play. This was a crucial mistake because it allowed the Cavaliers to set up their defense and get the ball out of Paul George’s hands. George passed the ball to Miles and tried to get open to take the final shot, but it was too late and Miles was forced to take the shot. Miles got off a good shot, but it came up just short. Paul George had a fantastic game in which he scored 29 points and was 6-8 from three point range. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 32 points and 13 assists. These two teams will play game two on Monday in Cleveland.
Milwaukee Bucks defeat Toronto Raptors 97-83: The Bucks pulled off the road upset in Toronto in the first game of this series. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a stellar game full of blocks and ferocious dunks. He blocked DeMar Derozan at the end of the game and was called for a technical foul, even though it was DeRozan who started acting like a child. Although poor officiating isn’t rare in the playoffs, it didn’t cost the Bucks in this game. The Greek Freak scored 28 points and had 8 rebounds to lead his Bucks. Rookie Thon Maker had an impactful game including three blocks in a matter of minutes. Kyle Lowry had another terrible postseason game in which he shot 2-11 from the field and scored four points. DeRozan had a decent game, but roughly half of his 27 points came from the free throw line. The self-proclaimed “trash bros” need to step up their game in game two unless they want to head to Milwaukee down two games to none. Game two will be played on Tuesday in Toronto.
San Antonio Spurs defeat Memphis Grizzlies 111-82: In the one boring game of the day, the Spurs routed the Grizzlies in San Antonio. Although the Grizzlies won the first quarter, they would be outscored in the remaining three quarters. In a battle featuring the Gasol brother, Marc would outscore his brother 32-6. But Marc Gasol was the only player on the Grizzlies who had a good game. Kawhi Leonard would also put in 32 points and played stellar defense throughout the game. The Grizzlies clearly missed Tony “first team all defense” Allen, who got hurt in the meaningless last game of the season. He would’ve guarded Kawhi Leonard, but will likely miss the entire series. These teams will play game two on Monday in San Antonio.
Utah Jazz defeat Los Angeles Clippers 97-95: In an game that featured Jazz star Rudy Gobert injuring his knee ten second into the game, the Utah Jazz were able to defeat the Clippers on the road in the first game of this series. The Jazz could’ve easily folded after watching their big man go down with a potentially serious knee injury, but they rallied around his injury and pulled off the upset. The Jazz are used to playing with backups due to the plethora of injuries their starters have sustained this season. Both of these teams had injury issues during the regular season, but were relatively healthy heading into the playoffs. If these teams didn’t have so many injuries, they both could’ve been the two seed in the Western Conference. That’s how talented both of these teams are, and it’s why this series will likely be the best first round series in the playoffs (regardless of the status of Rudy Gobert). This game came down to the last shot, in which “Iso Joe” Joe Johnson hit the game winning floater at the buzzer to stun the crowd in Los Angeles. Jazz coach Quin Snyder elected not to call a timeout before Johnson hit the game winning shot, which was a fantastic decision. Hopefully Gobert’s knee injury isn’t as serious as it looked, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be ready for game two. Their next game will be on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pacers and Cavaliers will meet in Cleveland for game one of this first round playoff series. LeBron James looks to lead the defending champion Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals. This would be LeBron’s seventh straight trip to the NBA Finals. The Indiana Pacers aren’t as good as they’ve been in past seasons, but they still have superstar Paul George leading the way. George is starting to look like the pre-injury Paul George again, which could give the Cavaliers trouble. LeBron’s teams have beaten the Pacers in multiple playoff series in the past, and shouldn’t have any problems beating this weaker Pacers team. The Cavaliers struggled towards the end of the regular season, so they’ll have to find their rhythm if they want to repeat as champions. This should make for an exciting series.
Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors: The Bucks and Raptors will meet in Toronto for game one of this first round playoff series. The Raptors are at full strength since the return of Kyle Lowry from his wrist injury. This Raptors team is more dangerous since the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline. The Raptors traded for these players to help them during the postseason, so now we’ll see if these moves pay off. The Bucks have been a much better team since the return of Khris Middleton, even though Jabari Parker tore his ACL in the game Middleton returned. With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, the Bucks have enough firepower to challenge any team in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is the favorites in the series, but Milwaukee has enough talent to pull off the upset.
Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs: The Grizzlies and Spurs will meet in San Antonio for game one of this first round playoff series. The Grizzlies will likely be without Tony “first team all defense” Allen for the playoffs, so this might be a lopsided series. The Grizzlies still have a lot of playoff experience with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph on the roster, even though their coach David Fizdale doesn’t have any playoff experience. This could be an issue going up against the great Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have a ton of playoff experience too, led by superstar MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. Both of these teams play a slower style of basketball, which could limit the number of possessions each team gets while keeping the games close. The Spurs are heavy favorites in this series, but they better not underestimate the Grizzlies with all of their playoff experience.
Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers: The Jazz and Clippers will meet in Los Angeles for game one of this first round playoff series. The Jazz and Clippers both underachieved this season largely due to the injuries both teams sustained. Now that both teams are relatively healthy, they should both be playing their best basketball at the most important time. The Jazz are one of the deepest teams in the NBA, but depth isn’t extremely important in the playoffs because starters usually get the bulk of the minutes. But the Jazz had to play a lot of their bench players in crucial minutes during the regular season because of the plethora of injuries their starters sustained. They received valuable experience that should help them during this playoff run. The Clippers also had to overcome a lot of injuries during the season. They were one of the hottest teams in the NBA during the first month of the season and then started to cool off when star players got injured. Now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are both healthy, the Clippers have enough firepower to beat any team in the Western Conference. This may be the most exciting and competitive first round series, so winning game one will be crucial for both teams.
Toronto Raptors defeat Cleveland Cavaliers 98-83: The Cavaliers decided a few days ago that it is more important to rest their starters before the playoffs than try and compete for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The defending champion Cavaliers are confident that they can win a seven game series against the Celtics without home-court advantage. The last time these two teams played, the Cavaliers dominated the Celtics in Boston. It’s hard to bet against LeBron James, but the Cavaliers aren’t playing their best basketball heading into the postseason. This strategy will be questioned all offseason if the Cavaliers don’t make it back to the NBA Finals. Although this game was played by backups for both teams, this could be a potential second round playoff matchup. The Raptors are a much more dangerous team with the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline. With the return of a healthy Kyle Lowry, this Raptors team has enough firepower to make an NBA Finals run.
Boston Celtics defeat Milwaukee Bucks 112-94: In a game that was a lot closer than the score suggests, the Boston Celtics were able to clinch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference by defeating the Bucks. This game was extremely close through three quarters before the Celtics were able to pull away in the fourth quarter. The Bucks were resting most of their starters including superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. This game shouldn’t have been close, but it seemed like the Celtics were feeling the pressure of competing for the top seed. Since the Cavaliers lost, the Celtics would’ve been the number one seed even if they lost this game. If this is how the Celtics play under pressure, they may have a disappointing showing in the playoffs.
Miami Heat defeat Washington Wizards 110-102: The Miami Heat’s improbable season came to an end after a victory over the Wizards. The Heat needed either the Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls to lose in order to clinch a spot in the playoffs, but both of those teams won and clinched playoff berths. The Heat had one of the greatest endings to a season for a non-playoff team in NBA history. They had a ton of injuries and had one of the worst records in the NBA halfway through the season, but they never gave up. Coach Erik Spoelstra deserves a ton of credit for the way he led his team to the precipice of the playoffs. Although they came up short, this season proves Miami has a bright future ahead of them.
Indiana Pacers defeat Atlanta Hawks 104-86: The Indiana Pacers clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a win against the Hawks. The Pacers would’ve missed the playoffs if they lost this game. The Pacers have a great challenge ahead of them in the first round of the playoffs when they face the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Although LeBron has had the Pacers’ number in past postseason matchups, this year’s Cavaliers limped into the playoffs. The Pacers aren’t as big of a threat as they’ve been in year’s past, but they still have superstar Paul George leading the way. George looks like the pre-injury Paul George again, and that could be a major problem for the Cavaliers. The defending champions will be heavy favorites in this series, but you can’t sleep on a team with a superstar of Paul George’s caliber.
Playoff standings –
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Utah Jazz
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Boston Celtics
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Toronto Raptors
- Washington Wizards
- Atlanta Hawks
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Indiana Pacers
- Chicago Bulls
All non-playoff teams: Fans of non-playoff teams should watch their team’s season finale. This will be the last time to watch your team until next season.
Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers: Although this is an extremely important game for the Cavaliers, there is a good chance that they will rest their starters. The Cavaliers are in second place in the Eastern Conference and are just one game behind the Boston Celtics. They rested LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in their last game, which cost them the top seed in the playoffs. The Cavaliers seem to care more about resting their players than getting the top seed. The Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics in Boston the last time they played, so they might not be worried about beating the Celtics on the road in the playoffs. This strategy is extremely risky and may come back to bite them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics: The Boston Celtics are currently one game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. With Milwaukee already locking up the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, there’s a good chance the Bucks will rest their starters including superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. This could help the Celtics clinch home-court advantage.
Washington Wizards at Miami Heat: This game is a must-win for the Miami Heat. They are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They are tied with the eighth seeded Chicago Bulls, but they don’t own the tiebreaker. They are one game behind the seventh seeded Indiana Pacers, but in this case they own the tiebreaker over Indiana. If the Heat lose to the Wizards, their valiant effort to get back into postseason contention will be wasted. There are multiple scenarios that could lead to the Heat making the playoffs. If the Heat and Pacers win and Bulls lose, the Pacers and Heat will be the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively. If the Heat and Bulls win and Pacers lose, the Bulls and Heat will be the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively. If all three teams win, the Heat will stay in ninth place and will miss the playoffs. The Heat must win and hope either the Bulls or Pacers lose.
Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers: The Indiana Pacers control their own destiny. If the Pacers beat the Hawks, they will clinch the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Pacers lose, they could fall to eighth place if the Heat or Bulls win. The Pacers will miss the playoffs if they lose and both the Heat and Bulls win. If all three teams win or lose, the playoff standings will remain the same. The Hawks have already clinched the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and may decide to sit their starters. This would be an enormous help for the Pacers. Indiana cannot focus on all the potential playoff scenarios, they just need to focus on themselves and beat the Hawks to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Miami Heat defeat Cleveland Cavaliers 124-121 (OT): For the second straight day, the Cleveland Cavaliers blew a fourth quarter lead before losing in overtime. This game was a lot different than Sunday’s loss against the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers were tied with the Boston Celtics with the best record in the Eastern Conference before yesterday’s game, but decided to bench LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. If they didn’t rest their stars, the Cavaliers would’ve won and would likely be the top seed. But for some reason the struggling Cavaliers thought it was more important to rest their starters than try and gain home-court advantage. They dominated the Boston Celtics in Boston the last time they played, so it seems like they don’t believe they need home-court advantage to make it to the NBA finals. The Heat had to win this game in order to stay in playoff contention after both the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls won earlier in the day. The Heat need to win their last game and have the Bulls lose to make the postseason as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks defeat Charlotte Hornets 89-79: The Milwaukee Bucks won their last home game of the season against the Hornets behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double. With the Hornets having nothing to play for, this was a game that the Bucks couldn’t afford to lose. The Bucks are now a half game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth seed and one game ahead of the Indiana Pacers for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The last game for Milwaukee will be against the Boston Celtics, who currently have a one game lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. This will be a pivotal game for both teams.
Los Angeles Clippers defeat Houston Rockets 125-96: In a game that meant nothing to the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers won in convincing fashion to stay in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Rockets already have the third seed locked up, so coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t play their key players their usual minutes. The Clippers were tied with the Utah Jazz heading into today’s game, but owned the tiebreaker over Utah. They will play each other in the first round of the playoffs, but the last game will decide which team will get home-court advantage.
Utah Jazz defeat Golden State Warriors 105-99: The Utah Jazz won against the NBA’s best team without their star player. Gordon Hayward didn’t play yesterday, but that didn’t stop the Jazz from pulling out the victory. Klay Thompson didn’t play for the Warriors either, but Hayward is a more important piece for the Jazz than Thompson is for the Warriors. The Warriors have already clinched the number one seed in the Western Conference, so this game was meaningless to them. With this victory, the Jazz kept pace with the Clippers after they defeated the Houston Rockets. With one game remaining for the Jazz and Clippers, Utah needs to win and have the Clippers lose in order to jump them in the standings. If both teams win or lose, then the Clippers will have home-court advantage over the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat: The Cavaliers look to rebound after yesterday’s debacle in Atlanta. They are currently tied with the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference, but own the tiebreaker over Boston. The Miami Heat are tied with the eighth seeded Chicago Bulls but wouldn’t make the playoffs if they started today. Since the Bulls own the tiebreaker, the Heat will likely need to win their last two games to make the postseason. This is an extremely important game for both teams.
Charlotte Hornets at Milwaukee Bucks: This is an important game for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Hornets have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but are a talented team that many expected to make a postseason run before the season started. The Bucks cannot take these Hornets lightly. Milwaukee is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They are one game behind the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks and one game ahead of the seventh seeded Indiana Pacers.
Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (TNT): The Houston Rockets have already locked up the third seed in the Western Conference and will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets may decide to sit their starters for their final two games. The Clippers do not have that luxury. Los Angeles is currently in fourth place in the Western Conference with two games remaining on their schedule. They are tied with the fifth seeded Utah Jazz, but own the tiebreaker over Utah. They will face each other in the first round of the playoffs, and these last two games will determine which team will get the home-court advantage.
Utah Jazz at Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors have already locked up the number one seed in the Western Conference and will play the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. The Utah Jazz are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference with two games remaining on their schedule. They are tied with the fourth seeded Los Angeles Clippers, but do not own the tiebreaker. They’ll face the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, but will have to end the season with the better record if they want home-court advantage in the first round.