I wrote this piece early Tuesday morning, by which time all the 16 teams left in the NBA playoffs have played four games each with varying results.
Earlier, I mentioned that all of these teams, on a good night, are capable of beating one another, due to the depth and talent of their line-ups, especially the top-ranked ones, capable too of sweeping their opponents. I was confident that all the teams will have at least a win each for the losing teams. This came true except for one match up.
And so now, there are teams that are just a game away to extend their NBA season just as there are teams, their opponents, who are just a game away from playing their last game of the season. Two teams have made it into a best-of-three series after ending up even, and one team has already finished its assignment with a sweep of its opponent.
So let us go to the details. The mighty Bucks of Milwaukee surprisingly swept their series against the Miami Cold, sorry, Miami Heat, who ironically made it to the finals against the Lakers last year. What is good for the Bucks is the fact that its MVP player Giannis Antetokounmpo did not have to overexert himself to try and win all the games by himself like last year when they missed the trip to the semis.
He has been getting his teammates more involved in the scoring and in turn has been getting more rest for the more important closing minutes of the game. The question is if they can get past their probable opponents, the mightier Brooklyn Nets of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, who between the three of them can win a game by themselves.
One of the teams enjoying a 3-1 lead over its opponents, the Nets have only allowed the Boston Celtics to take one game out of four. The Celtics, minus Jaylen Brown and now Kemba Walker (unless he returns for duty in Game 5), simply cannot match up with the Nets, period.
The Philadelphia 76ers had the same story, having their way with the Washington Wizards for a similar 3-1 lead and I do not think the Wizards can come up with a magic formula to win the next three games against the 76ers. Just like in the case of Giannis, Philadelphia’s big man Joel Embiid is enjoying an MVP level season, but he has been getting very good support from teammates Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons, throw in the maturing Seth Curry.
Embiid only played 11 minutes in their last game and I am not sure if there is a minor injury or the 76ers are simply resting him for the next phase of their campaign. Again, can the Wizards win three straight games? Possible, but in all probabilities, the players cannot and will end up watching the next phase from the comfort of their homes. But give Washington a couple more of All-Star caliber players to go with Russel Westbrook and Bradley Heal, and the Wizards will be a contender next season.
Utah Jazz allowed Memphis to take Game 1 in an upset of sorts, then simply overwhelmed Ja Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies in the next three games for a 3-1 lead. And once they get past Memphis, their next opponents will not be patsies—either the Clippers or the Mavericks, currently tied up at 2-2 after the first four games. Problem for Dallas is if Luka Doncic can play at 100% in the next games because of a minor injury. Without him, the Mavericks might as well kiss their title aspirations goodbye.
Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks have taken the measure of the New York Knicks with a 3-1 lead and what was evident was that Julius Randle has not been consistent at all in the series and it is former MVP Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett, who have been carrying more the load for the Knicks. Biggest factor right now is the confidence level and the Hawks have plenty of that after seeing themselves reach this level.
The Lakers-Suns’ match up, tied at 2-2, is not easy to predict but with a healthy Anthony Davis, I will give the edge to the Lakers. Unfortunately, Davis suffered a groin injury in Game 4 and if he does not play, it’s goodbye to Los Angeles’ dream of winning back to back titles.
Denver against Portland is, for me, the harder prediction to make, as it is now down to a best-of-three series, with the two teams alternating wins and are equally matched. The team which will have the bigger motivation and play more consistently will be able to extend its season.
Please do not ask me for my semifinals prediction, and even if I do, please do not bet on it.
Just an update, the Eastern Conference has already finished with Philadelphia advancing to the next phase at the expense of Washington, 4-1. Brooklyn likewise ousted Boston with same score, 4-1; Atlanta ended New York’s dreams with a 4- 1 score in their series, while Milwaukee was way ahead with a 4-0 sweep of Miami. The Western side had Utah eliminating Memphis, Dallas taking a 3-2 lead over the Clippers, and Phoenix and Denver only needing to win their next games against the Lakers and the Trailblazers, respectively to advance.