First off, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors, AKA the Drakes according to Zach Lowe. After that bad game 6 loss I lost all faith in the team coming from the 6. But they actually played like the better team they are and now move on to face Pat Riley and South Beach. A small part of me wishes the Hornets could have moved on, just so we could see Purple Shirt Man in the courtside seats, screaming at Kyle Lowry. Too bad. Then on the other side we have a rematch from last years Conference Cinal; Cavs and Hawks. With these two playing in the semis, that means we will see a new matchup in this year’s Conference Final. Could LeBron be returning to Miami? (Just to match up against them, relax Cavs fans. Well…actually…he could opt out and leave you in the dust again…but that’s for a later article.) Will Drake get to harass superstars in the Final? Could Paul Millsap throw the entire city of Atlanta on his back and block LeBron from reaching his 6th straight NBA Final? Well, let me attempt to answer these questions and more.
CAVALIERS vs. HAWKS
Key matchup: Al Horford vs. Kevin Love
- Yes, Kevin Love starts at the 4, and Al Horford starts at the 5. But with the Cavs finally adapting to the idea of Love playing a small-ball 5, this is the series where he isn’t undersized. Al Horford may play the center for Atlanta, but ideally he would play at the power forward. With no DeMarre Carroll after he made the move up north, Millsap will probably be assigned with guarding LeBron in clutch situations, where Bron will be playing as a point forward. If Kevin Love can battle with Al Horford inside, while nailing his shots from downtown, the Cavs will dominate.
Things to consider when watching:
- Can one of Teague or Schröder play defense well enough to contain Kyrie? Irving comes into this series averaging a league playoff high 27.5 points per game.
- Which J.R. Smith shows up. He’s shooting over 50% from 3 so far in the playoffs, but we all know how streaky J.R. can be. Smith’s confidence and talent can either shoot a team into a series, or out of one.
- If things aren’t going the Cavs way, who will be calling the plays in the huddle? Does Coach James surface once again, or does Lue actually command respect.
- Fight watch: Matthew Dellavedova vs. Dennis Schröder. Delly, voted as the dirtiest player in the NBA by his peers, Schröder, had an altercation with Thomas last round and many more before him. I don’t want to advocate violence but, SOMEBODY HIT SOMEBODY!
Prediction: Cavs in 5
- If the Hawks want a chance in this series, they need to steal the first game tonight. The Cavs have appeared to not fully show up in game one’s, they come in and look to see what the other team is doing and then they adapt. If the Hawks can come out strong and put the pressure on, they could stretch this series out. However, with Carroll gone, the only wing defenders to take LeBron on are Bazemore and Sefolosha, one who is much smaller, the other who is on the wrong side of 30. This will cause Millsap to guard LeBron, which will tire him out on the defensive end.
RAPTORS vs. HEAT
Key Matchup: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Hassan Whiteside
- Once again, a big man matchup. Yes, the Wade/Johnson (presumably) vs. DeRozan will be a nice matchup as well, same with Carroll vs. Deng. However, I picked the center matchup for one reason and one reason only; one of these guys might end up punching the other. And I can’t wait to see them get physical in the post. I am not a fan of Jonas whatsoever, but he has soft hands and can finish in the post. And with Hassan leading the playoffs with 3.4 blocks per game, he will be going after every shot Jonas and the rest of the Raps put up. These two aren’t well known for having calm demeanors. Watch for these two to get in one another’s faces early on.
Things to consider when watching:
- Casey earned a head kiss from GM Masai Ujiri after advancing past round 1. What will happen between these two if the Raps make the first Conference Final in their franchise’s history?
- This matchup means one thing for the Raptors rotation: Luis Scola CAN NOT GET MINUTES. There is absolutely no way he can play in this series. The Heat’s big man rotation currently consists of Whiteside, McRoberts, Deng, and very occasionally Haslem. Other than Haslem, Scola can’t keep up with any of these players. Deng and Whiteside start at the 4/5, and the Raptors must continue with Patterson and Jonas. If I see Scola anywhere other than the bench, I will buy Drake’s new album and burn it ceremoniously to represent the Raptor’s title hopes.
- Can Chris Bosh somehow convince Pat Riley and co. to allow him to play against his former team? This would be a great storyline if Bosh’s health has improved.
- Lowry and DeRozan have to play like the All Stars they are in order to stand a chance. Will the playoff monkey be off their back now that this core has advanced to the second round, or will they still come out playing nervous.
Prediction: Heat in 6
- Sorry Drake. But it’s okay, because you’ll hop on whichever bandwagon is the most attractive come Finals time and you’ll be able to celebrate then. But the Heat playing small ball, with Deng shooting the lights out from the corner 3, Whiteside actually playing up to his potential, and Wade rewinding the clock, the Heat will be able to steal at least one on the road. Get ready to see the Heat face off with their ex-teammate, with a berth in the NBA Finals on the line.