NBA Playoffs Second Round Status Check

For the first time in NBA history, the 8 teams remaining in the playoffs represent seeds 1-8:

We are now guaranteed to have either a 6 or 7 seed in the Conference Finals in the West, and the 8-seed Miami Heat are up 1-0 in their second round series against the Knicks.

So where do things stand? How are we looking heading into the second round?

Let’s start with a brief review of my initial playoff predictions and how they’ve turned out, and then we’ll move on to the four series, starting with the one that have already gotten under way.

My predictions at the start of the playoffs:

I really screwed up on the Minnesota/Denver series. I will own up to that. I did not take Denver seriously, but I do now. Minnesota is a good team and Denver handled them in 5.

I obviously got the Cavs/Knicks series wrong–Cleveland is weak on the wing, weak on guard defense, and got bullied inside. Plus they were too young and inexperienced and not ready for primetime.

And then of course instead of the Bucks beating the Heat in 5, it was the Heat beating the Bucks in 5 with Jimmy Butler stealing the show.

I did nail the Lakers in 6 over the Grizzlies and the Warriors in 7 over the Kings, though. And I was pretty close on Phoenix over the Clippers (although to be honest, now, I think the Clippers would have beaten Phoenix in 5 if Kawhi and PG were both healthy).

So obviously my Finals matchup of Lakers/Bucks is shot. So I have to make a revised pick.

I am going with Lakers over Celtics. I don’t trust the Celtics, and the Lakers are an injury away from going down in flames, but I just feel like the Celtics are the most likely team to come out of the East (even if they’re not significant favorites), and I’m sticking with the Lakers.

Lakers beat the Celtics 4-2.


Denver dominated Game 1, and honestly, after that performance, I think they win this series pretty easily.

It is fairly obvious that Phoenix just cannot keep up with them unless KD and Booker combine for like 70-75 points a game. They had 56 combined in Game 1 and they lost by 18–and really, they were down 25 points with about 3 minutes left. It was a total blowout.

Denver is a much more complete team than the Suns are.

I saw this coming when the Suns struggled to beat the Clippers even when the Clippers were missing Kawhi and Paul George for most of the series. Phoenix is not an elite team, and I’m still shocked that they were considered the favorites to win the West.

Phoenix has basically no bench. Once you get past KD, Book, Ayton and Chris Paul, it’s Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig, Jock Landale, Bismack Biyombo and Damion Lee.

The Suns are going to get killed in their bench minutes, because Denver’s bench is leaps and bounds better. Phoenix’s only hope is that they win huge in the starter minutes, but I don’t even know if that’s possible. Denver’s starters are probably better than Phoenix’s, at least when we’re talking about how well they play together.

Denver has a core of players that have been around for years. Phoenix’s core with KD has only played together for 14 games. Yes, Booker, Ayton and CP3 have been there for a few years now, but they are still working on integrating KD into the system–it’s a process that takes time, and there are no shortcuts.

Denver runs plays–they have a diverse and robust offensive playbook with sets, actions, and they all know how to play with one another.

Phoenix, on the other hand, seems like their offense devolves into “Iso Gang” with KD and Booker a lot. Like it just turns into “Your turn, my turn”. That just isn’t going to get it done in the playoffs over the long term–it can work for spurts in games here and there, and if they both get hot, it will probably enable them to steal a game or two, but it doesn’t work over the course of a series, or the playoffs.

Denver is a much better team defensively as well.

They’re just a better team than the Suns. That was evident on Saturday. They completely overwhelmed Phoenix. KD was red hot early on and that kept the Suns in the game for a bit, but they just could not stop the Denver offense from scoring, and they were unable to keep pace offensively.

It feels like Denver wins this one in 5, maybe 6 at the most, and a sweep is on the table as well.

Phoenix shot 51.2% from the floor (but 7/23 from three, or 30.4%) in Game 1 and still got blown away.

Denver shot a respectable 47.5% from the floor, and they were better from three (16/37, or 43.2%), but even if Denver shot 13/37 from three (35.1%), they still win that game easily.

This result was not a fluke, either. Who on Phoenix can you count on to hit multiple threes in a game? Only KD and Booker. Only them. But they are more midrange pullup shooters. They will hit a few threes here and there, but shooting threes is not really their game now. There are no snipers on that roster that can space out the floor and really get Denver to defend all the way out to the arc.

Meanwhile, Denver has loads of those guys.

The Nuggets are just a better team from three, they are a way more complete team, they have Nikola Jokic who may be the best player in the league, they have Playoff Jamal Murray who is now back to his bubble form, they have a great coach in Michael Malone, they play better defense than Phoenix–they are simply a better team than Phoenix is.

Phoenix, on the other hand, has no bench, no defense, no GRIT or TOUGHNESS, no interior physicality, Chris Paul is a shell of himself–they just don’t have anywhere near enough to win this series. That’s what it looks like.

KD and Booker went a combined 22/38 from the floor (58.9%) and combined for 56 points, and it wasn’t even close to enough. Even if they combined for 65, it wouldn’t have been enough.

Look, I just don’t feel like Phoenix is a legit NBA roster behind their main four guys. They have nothing down low–Joker had 19 rebounds in his 33 minutes, including EIGHT offensive boards.

Deandre Ayton is such a Chris Paul merchant, too. Do not be fooled by his numbers. First of all, he wanted no part of rebounding against Jokic in Game 1. And second of all, every bucket he scores is assisted–at least that’s the way it looks to me (in reality it’s about 80% per Basketball Reference). Ayton catches the entry pass, turns and puts up a floater. That’s basically the only way he scores. He has to score within like 2 seconds of catching the ball or else he is totally ineffective. If he has to actually bang down low for more than 2 seconds, he’s not doing shit.

Nuggets are taking this series in 5, 6 at most. And again, a sweep is still on the table, although I do think Phoenix will get a game at home. There’s going to be some game where KD and Book combine for like 75 points and just carry the whole team.

But they won’t be able to do that for a whole series. It’s just not possible. It’s just asking way too much of them–or anybody, for that matter.

Denver is a complete team, Phoenix is two guys.

Who on Phoenix beyond Booker and KD is going to score enough to get them to 115 points? I just don’t see it. No defense.


Unlike the Cavs, Miami was not fazed by The Garden.

Jimmy Butler’s ankle, though, is the biggest factor in this series. He’s the best player in the series, and his team was still able to secure the Game 1 win with him basically being a decoy for the last 5 minutes.

I just don’t know how to pick this series. Julius Randle missed Game 1 for the Knicks and they still were pretty dominant in the first half of the game, but at the same time, Jalen Brunson did not play well.

I feel like if Brunson plays well and Randle comes back, the Knicks should be favored in the series, but I don’t know how healthy Randle will be even if he comes back. And I don’t know if Jalen Brunson is capable of carrying a team by himself.

But then again, Jimmy Butler’s ankle is a huge question mark for Miami.

I just don’t know about this series. It really feels like a crapshoot with all the injuries.

If these two teams are healthy, I lean Knicks ever so slightly. I just feel like they’re deeper.

But they’re not healthy.

I don’t know, man. I really don’t. I have nothing here right now.

It all depends on Butler’s ankle. If he misses games, Miami is in big trouble. If he’s not 100%, Miami is in trouble. I just need to see how much they can get out of him.

If I have to make a pick I’ll say Heat in 6 but I really am not sure.


This series will kick off tomorrow, Monday night, and Boston is favored by 10.

It seems like a lot, no?

I mean, I know Joel Embiid isn’t likely to play in the game, but 10 points? Philly still has Harden, Maxey, Tobias Harris–they’re a pretty deep squad.

Vegas really likes the Celtics, though.

You know my thoughts on the Celtics: they’re good, they’re probably the best team in the East, they should be the favorites to make the Finals, but Jayson Tatum is a big ol’ pussy. And the inevitable Robert Williams injury will really be a blow to their defense.

But really, it’s Jayson Tatum. He’s always got that same expression on his face, where he just looks like the new kid at school on the first day–unsure of himself, awkward, low confidence.

I have not seen any fire in his eyes. He’s the definition of “soft eyes.” You just look into his eyes and you know he’s not Like That. You know he’s not a killer. When it really comes down to it, he’s afraid to win. He’s afraid of the intensity of the highest level of competition.

Dude thinks all there is to being a championship competitor is TALKING about how much he loves and idolizes Kobe.

Jayson Tatum will not shut up about how he’s the next Kobe, yet I have never once seen him get this look in his eye:

Those are the eyes of a man who will feel no remorse about destroying you. These are the eyes of a man who will take food off of your family’s table without thinking twice.

Jayson Tatum is simply not Like That.

Fortunately for him, Philly are a bunch of choke artists, and the yearly Joel Embiid playoff injury is happening as scheduled. He has a fairly significant LCL sprain on his knee, and even if he plays, he won’t be 100%, which really puts Philly at a disadvantage in this series.

Which is a shame, really, because this should have been the best playoff series in the Eastern Conference this year. These are two teams with a history, two cities that hate each other, and these are two really good basketball teams.

I wish we could get the 7-game war that this series has the potential to be with both teams healthy, but it just seems unlikely with Embiid hobbled.

Assuming Embiid is missing multiple games and when he does play he’ll be well below 100%, I see Boston winning this series in 5 or 6.

Real bummer.

UPDATE: After Game 1, the SIXERS are now in the lead in the series and have stolen home court. James Harden had the best game of his entire career (no exaggeration), and Jayson Tatum, despite scoring 39 points, showed us that he is, like I said, simply not LIKE THAT. When it really comes down to it, Tatum is afraid to lay it all on the line.

But I have to give James Harden so much credit here. He was unbelievable. I didn’t think he still had that in him anymore.

He put on a masterclass. I have never been more impressed with him.

On the road, no Embiid, maybe his last best chance at getting a ring–and he was nearly perfect. Just a virtuoso performance. I’m legitimately blown away by how great he was. He was drilling huge three pointers with no hesitation.

I really cannot emphasize enough how good he was.

And now I think we have a series.

Because you know what? As good as Boston looks on paper, there’s just something missing with them.

They still have that deer in the headlights vibe to them when it really gets down to crunch time. I do see Marcus Smart out there trying, but he is not the tone-setter for his team–Tatum is, for better or worse. And Tatum just isn’t a dog.

He doesn’t have any gladiator in him–no kill or be killed mentality, no War Daddy in him.

Ain’t no way this Boston team should be favored to win the title.


And now for the marquee series of the playoffs–the series that I believe is the Real Finals.

The two premier NBA franchises of the 21st century, the two premier players of the 21st century, star power all over the place, the Battle of California–as a basketball fan, I am so excited to watch this go down.

It’s LeBron vs. Steph VI.

We had the four straight Finals matchups from 2015-2018 (the latter two having been unfortunately RUINED by Kevin Durant), we had the play-in game in 2021, and now we have this series.

Fortunately, both teams are relatively healthy, although LeBron is playing on a bad foot and is clearly not playing at his full potential. He has a torn tendon in his foot and American doctors recommended season-ending surgery, so he had to go to Germany to see “the LeBron James of feet” and get back into the lineup.

LeBron senses that this is golden opportunity to win his 5th ring, and there was no way he was getting surgery that would shut him down for the year unless absolutely unavoidable.

The Lakers are underdogs in this series against the Warriors. Warriors are -155 to win it. Not huge favorites, but favorites nonetheless.

And look, they’re the Champs, they have the best front office, the best coach, and they have a $370 million roster:

This may be the last hurrah for the Warriors no matter what happens, because the new CBA rules are direct squarely at teams like them–the other owners don’t want to be competing with $370 million rosters, with owners who are willing to pay $170 million in luxury taxes.

Here’s the thing, though: Steph’s 50 point Game 7 against Sacramento was cool, but we need to keep some perspective on things here.

Were the Kings a better team than the Grizzlies? I would say no, although they’re tough to compare because the Grizzlies are a defensive team and the Kings are an offensive team. But the Grizzlies won more games than the Kings did in the regular season (despite not having Ja Morant for 21 of them), the Grizzlies had a better SRS rating (3.6 vs. 2.6), the Grizzlies had a better net rating (+3.9, the 4th best in the NBA vs. the Kings’ +2.6 which was 8th best), and on top of all that, the Grizzlies had more playoff experience than the Kings did coming into the series.

The Warriors got taken to 7 games by a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in 17 years.

The Lakers, meanwhile, handled a better team in 6 games and at one point had a 3-1 lead.

The Lakers were just more impressive in the first round.

They may not have looked more impressive because games against Memphis are typically uglier, more defensive, more physical, and points are harder to come by. People typically equate offense with being good more than they do with defense, since good offense is just much easier to identify.

Draymond Green and Kevon Looney just absolutely bullied Domantas Sabonis down low all series long. The degree to which they humiliated him on the boards in Game 7–Looney in particular–was extraordinary.

That is not going to happen against the Lakers.

The Kings were one of the worst defensive teams in the league all season, the Lakers, since the trade deadline, have been one of the best.

This is going to be a big step up in competition for the Warriors. The Lakers as well, since Golden State is much better on offense than Memphis. But I think it’s fair to point out that the Warriors struggled pretty significantly against a Kings team that isn’t that great in the big picture. Golden State was a missed Harrison Barnes three pointer away from being down 3-1 in the series.

The Warriors were not a great team in the regular season. Neither were the Lakers, but the Lakers were also basically two different teams in the regular season. The first iteration of the Lakers was mediocre, arguably bad. The second iteration, though, has been one of the best teams in the league, if not the very best. They were 27-32 at the All Star break, but since then they have gone 21-9 (including the playoffs and the play-in game) which is the best record in the league over that span–actually tied with the 76ers.

The Warriors have been pretty good, too, going 19-12 over that span. But they were a 44-38 team. I know Steph was hurt for a while, but the team actually went 14-12 without him this year.

This is the difference between the Lakers and the Warriors: the Lakers have a legitimate excuse for being 43-39 in the regular season. The Warriors largely don’t. They were 30-26 in games Steph played this year, 14-12 without him. They are obviously 4-3 in the playoffs with Steph.

The Warriors are not a particularly exceptional team this year no matter how you slice it. They are a slightly above .500 basketball team and have been all season long including the playoffs.

Look, the Lakers have their flaws, but I just think people are overrating this Warriors team for beating the Kings. If anything it should be a concern that the Warriors let that series go 7, and couldn’t close the series out in their own building.

I still have a feeling that I can’t shake that the Warriors are going to win the series with their black magic, perhaps due to an injury to LeBron or AD, or the Lakers as a team just conveniently shooting 27% from three in the whole series.

That Warriors mystique is a real thing: dudes just freeze up against them. I’m already worried about a few players on the Lakers being particularly susceptible to this (won’t name any names though).

I want to say Lakers in 6, but I just have this nagging feeling that the Warriors will somehow find a way to Warriors this one up and win it.

In terms of actual basketball analysis, I really do think the Lakers just have too much length and size for the Warriors to handle. Golden State is going to need everyone–not just Steph–to be hitting their threes in order to win this series.

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