After not running more than five games in any first round series in the Eastern Conference, we’re in the second round here with two top-class matchups.
Can the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks come over Brooklyn Nets‘Big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden? How much will that Philadelphia 76ers Get out of All-NBA Big Man Joel EmbiidWho is out and about with a knee injury every day? What does Trae Young for an encore after the Atlanta Hawks knocked out New York Knicks?
While we wait for the winner of LA Clippers–Dallas Mavericks in game 7 (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC) – the winner meets the top seed Utah Jazz in Round 2 – our experts break down what’s most important in Nets-Bucks, 76ers-Hawks, and Suns-Nuggets, including the keys to each series.
How the nets got here: The Nets were big favorites in their first-round match with the Boston Celtics. And despite a sloppy performance in Game 3, Brooklyn never felt for a moment that it was losing the series on its way to five-game victory.
More importantly, after a regular season in which Durant, Harden and Irving only played eight games together, Durant, Harden and Irving have spent the past few weeks practicing and playing, including in a hostile environment in Boston, one invaluable time that will only help Brooklyn on their way to a gigantic showdown with Milwaukee – a series that could become this year’s de facto NBA final.
One thing that needs to be monitored is the health of Jeff Green. Though he became a journeyman late in his career, Green’s versatility on both ends made him a crucial role-player for Brooklyn, and it’s unclear how much he’ll have against the Bucks with the plantar fascia variety that he’s got him for Most of the time sidelined did first round.
But the nets will go as far as Durant, Harden and Irving take them. And if your wind through the first lap is a sign of that, that could go as far as the championship.
How the Bucks got here: When the Bucks decided to play things out on the last weekend of the regular season and make sure they got that intense heat in the first round they were chastised in many corners for facing the toughest opponent.
How did the Bucks react? By getting the most shocking first round result, sweeping the heat – a team more than few said would knock out Milwaukee for the second straight year – and dominating the last three games of the series. Point protection Jrue vacation produced exactly the kind of results Milwaukee had hoped for when the Bucks swung to the fences to win it in the off-season. He averaged 15.3 points and 9.8 assists during the sweep.
Milwaukee’s reward is this star-studded Nets showdown – a matchup made difficult by the loss of Donte DiVincenzoas the Guard was lost to the playoffs in their third year with a foot injury in Game 3. That will leave coach Mike Budenholzer with an interesting choice of who to replace in the starting XI against Brooklyn. In Game 4 against Miami, the answer was Pat Connaughton.
But after the playoff disappointments of the past two years, the Bucks cast out some demons by throttling the heat. If they can beat the Nets, this may be the year Milwaukee finally breaks through.
Series Keys: Can Brooklyn Handle Milwaukee’s Economical Scale?
In a series with so many stars, most would assume that the most important matchup would be a combination of the top six players – Durant, Harden and Irving for Brooklyn and Antetokounmpo, Chris Middleton and Holiday for Milwaukee – against each other.
In truth, how Brooklyn’s porous central defense can withstand the size and strength of Antetokounmpo and Bach Lopez inside for Milwaukee this series could swing. The nets are banned DeAndre Jordan the last few weeks until the end of the bench and only played small against the Celtics.
Bostons Tristan Thompson could wreak havoc in and on the boards, and he’s a far less threatening presence than Lopez, let alone Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee made a subtle change to get Lopez to play more again, as he did at the beginning of his career with the Nets when he was a low-post maker, rather than the Stretch-5 he turned into.
The Nets also don’t have a clear matchup for Antetokounmpo as Durant isn’t strong enough to guard him and Green is injured. Blake Griffin can bring charges against him, but probably won’t make it through a whole series.
Meanwhile, the bucks at the other end have to solve their own impossible problem: How do you guard all the nets? Most of that equation is who Milwaukee chooses to match Holiday with between Harden and Irving. Harden is in many ways the engine of Brooklyn’s offensive, while Irving will attack in isolation – few players are better placed to guard him than Holiday, one of the league’s elite defenders.
The problem is, the Bucks only have one of his. This is where the loss of DiVincenzo will come into play as he is a solid defender who could have played difficult minutes against either Irving or Harden.
Ultimately, it is clear that this series could become a classic. In the course of the hopefully seven fascinating games, all possible moves will be observed.
– Tim Bontemps
How the 76ers got here: A new man in charge (Daryl Morey), a new head coach (Doc Rivers) and a few new characters (snipers) Seth Curry and Danny Green) and the Sixers’ existing questions about their quick exit in 2019-20 sparked mixed opinions on where Philadelphia would go after the season started. All the Sixers did was have the best record of the Eastern Conference Joel Embiid with an MVP caliber season.
The biggest obstacle the Sixers now face concerns Embiid’s health. Embiid was diagnosed with a small tear in the meniscus and its status is described as daily. Embiid did not play in the closure of Game 5 against the Washington Wizards because of the injury. Nevertheless, Philadelphia with its outstanding defense played its way into the top seeds in the east – it came second in the league in the defensive standings. However, if Embiid’s status has not solidified, this streak will be more difficult.
How the Hawks got here: Perhaps the biggest challenge the Hawks faced was on March 1, when they split from Trainer Lloyd Pierce. At this point, the Hawks were 14-20 and had a 14% chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
But after Nate McMillan took over, the Hawks stormed the regular season to a 27-11 finish, the best win percentage (0.711) in the east of the range – just a notch better than the 76s (0.703). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McMillan was only the fifth coach in the past 20 seasons to take on a mid-season team and win a playoff series that same year.
The Hawks also struggled with health for most of the season. According to Spotrac’s injury tracking data, the Atlanta players combined missed 278 games this season, the fourth most in the league and the most for any team in the 2021 playoffs while still missing Cam reddish and Brandon Goodwin, they have the rest of the rotation in place and play great roles. DeAndre Hunters defense against the New York Knicks was a big reason they were able to slow down All-Star and 2020-21 Most Improved Player Julius Randle.
Series keys: who scores for Philly and can Trae be stopped?
Against Washington Tobias Harris shouldered the offensive load for Philly with an average of 25 points and 10 rebounds in five games. Ben Simmons almost an average of a triple-double (16.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists), but struggled powerfully from the line (10 of 28).
While Philadelphia is as safe as possible with Embiid’s injury, it will need more from Harris, who averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the regular season. To get past Atlanta, Philadelphia must get Simmons to find his way right on the free throw line.
In the regular season, with Embiid sitting and Simmons, Harris, Curry and Green sitting on the floor, Philadelphia’s defensive rating jumped to 114.8. The Sixers went 10-11 in the regular season in games Embiid missed.
Atlanta could put the defensive under just as much pressure as it did in the first round against the Knicks, but Philadelphia would be well equipped to make Young big on the defensive. When Philadelphia throws Matisse Thybulle In the starting group, it would allow the Sixers to throw someone at Young who would focus most of his energy on the defensive.
It’s hard to take any of the three matchups between teams in the regular season as an indicator of what to expect in the playoffs. The Hawks were absent from the two consecutive games in late April Bogdan Bogdanovic and Hunter on the one hand and these two plus Young on the other.
But as they proved against the Knicks, the Hawks won’t be weaklings. McMillan has postponed his rotations to ensure that one of either Young or Bogdanovic is on the ground at all times and is helping the offense kick water when Young is seated – Bogdanovic can point with the second unit Lou Williams and provide that playful punch that Atlanta was sometimes lacking.
– Andrew Lopez
How the suns got here: It was eleven years since the last time the Suns won a playoff series, but they broke the series in the most forceful way: they beat the defending champions who happened to be the Los Angeles Lakerswho happened to have Lebron James. As No. 2 seeded, the Suns were not favored in the series, and it looked questionable after a dominant win in Game 1, in the Chris Paul injured his right shoulder.
Paul worked in Game 2 but made steady progress as the Suns relied more on their formidable youth. Devin Booker rises, heads for the upper echelons of the superstar, but Deandre Ayton, Mikal bridges and Phoenix’s youth closet was up to the opportunity.
But it was Booker and his epic 47-point closeout performance in Game 6 that pierced the suns and also conveyed the message that Phoenix is to be taken very seriously.
How the nuggets got here: The Nuggets hit their bumpy road ahead of the start of the playoffs, with their starting backcourt injured and relying more than ever on the likely MVP. Nikola Jokic. They cobbled together a guard group with a 30 year old beginner Facundo Campazzo, and a guy who went in out of the league for almost two months Austin Rivers. You’ve gotten a massive boost from Monte Morriswho rose as a stable backup point guard and a sophomore striker Michael Porter Jr. begins to scratch the surface of its ridiculous potential.
You had to overcome Damian Lillard and his relentless coupling ability that outlasted one of the best playoff performances ever in a double game 5 in overtime Portland Trailblazer. Without Jamal Murray and Will Barton, The Nuggets relied on their identities as tough, brave, resilient playoff warriors, but most of all, they just jumped on Jokic’s back.
As head coach Michael Malone said after Game 6, the Nuggets coaching staff could speak up with Jokic and they would find a way to do them all well enough to stand a chance.
Series key: A star-driven showdown
Both teams have unguarded players. It is clear that there is currently no player who can guard Booker. The nuggets will try out a range of wings and strikers and give him multiple glances with traps, lightning bolts, and teams of two.
And on the other hand, individual reporting doesn’t work at Jokic either. As good as Ayton was in the opening round, although he faced a botched Lakers apron, he will now face the ultimate test. Foul trouble was a critical element for the Blazers in their cover plan against Jokic, and it will be an important factor for the Suns. Ayton has to be on the ground because, according to him, the possibilities of guarding Jokic don’t look so good. The Blazers tried an adaptation to get small with Robert Covington Guarding Jokic, and the Suns could use a similar approach if necessary. to attempt Jae Crowder. Smart doubles with the help of defensive on a string is available from a curveball Suns head coach Monty Williams.
Jokic aside, what the Nuggets got from their roleplayers against Portland has to be stepped up against Phoenix. The suns have a multitude of talented wings and guards beyond bookers and bridges, so the bank battle will be a fascinating underlay. Denver’s Morris was an unexpected X-Factor in the opening series; Phoenix’s Cameron Payne played a similar role against the Lakers.
At its core, however, this series is star-driven. Can Jokic shoulder the burden one more time and lift his teammates higher while maintaining his own brilliant, efficient score? And can Booker move up and build on his reckless performance against the Lakers? And where does the point god matter – not to mention his health – taking over late in games and snaking around screens for tilted midrange magic?
– Royce Young