A HOT TAKE From Each Playoff Series
Hello everybody and welcome to the first ever edition of AC Playoff Takeaways, a series where I'll be writing daily articles with a focus on coaching/player strategy, and will be making predictions about player stats, game outcomes, and coaching adjustments along the way! The easiest way to stay updated when we release an article is by following our Twitter. Thanks and hope you enjoy the journey :)
Philadelphia 76ers (#1) vs. Washington Wizards (#8)
Washington is obviously a two headed monster and there’s no counter-argument to that. Sure, they have some decent periphery pieces - Bertans can shoot it, Gafford is a solid rim protector, and Rui is a nice jack of all trades guy - but they are HEAVILY reliant on their two stars, Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Philly can counter this, in my opinion QUITE EFFECTIVELY, with the defense of both Matisse Thybulle and Ben Simmons. These are two of the best wing defenders in the NBA, and they should be able to give Russ and Beal some real migraines on the offensive end with their quick hands and length. I see a tough series ahead for Washington, and specifically for their two stars. Perhaps they’ll each have a couple games where their numbers turn out OK, but I predict they both shoot below 45% from the field in this series with the perimeter defense of Simmons and Thybulle playing a HUGE part in those poor performances.
New York Knicks (#4) vs Atlanta Hawks (#5)
Each of these teams are led by a star that has not been to the playoffs. Think about that for a second and try to remember the last time something like that was the case (I certainly can’t remember any time). We all know that the intensity picks up 10-fold in the playoffs, and I think it’s super important to think about how these two stars (Julius Randle and Trae Young) will adapt to these circumstances given their lack of experience. I think Julius gets the better of Trae in this series from an individual standpoint; Julius is extremely strong and I would guess his game will translate well to the playoffs, where the pace slows down and one on one play is more prevalent. Trae, on the other hand, relies a lot on his quickness and burst, and less so on his strength or finishing at the rim. I think the playoffs will be quite the adjustment for him, and the Knicks certainly aren’t the best team to make that adjustment against, as they play extremely tough, physical defense for 48 minutes. I predict Trae Young will shoot worse than 40% from the field and worse than 30% from three and will have tons of trouble with this long, athletic New York team.
Miluakee Bucks (#3) vs. Miami Heat (#6)
Does Jrue Holiday push the Bucks past the Heat? I’m not sure, to be honest, but at this point I’m going to go with no (hesitantly); I predict the Heat will win this series. Jrue will certainly help on the defensive end, but I don’t anticipate him “shutting down” Jimmy Butler, and even if he did, the Heat are an excellent TEAM and play basketball the right way, so I have a lot of confidence that they would be able to shift their offensive focus away from Jimmy and more to Bam and Ducan/Herro dribble hand-offs, something they did a lot of last year against the Bucks and which promotes lots of good ball and player movement. Offensively, I’m not sure how much Jrue helps them out; the Heat are going to build a wall of 3-4 players every single time Giannis dribbles the ball over half court with any sort of pace, and Giannis will be forced to kick out to shooters, much like he had to last during last season’s playoff series against the Heat. The Bucks didn’t get that much better on the three point line, though, with the addition of Jrue. He’s a decent spot-up shooter, but he certainly won’t kill you there. I think the Heat are an EXCELLENT match up with the Bucks and will surprise a lot of people here.
Brooklyn Nets (#2) vs. Boston Celtics (#7)
I’ll just come right out and say it: This series is going to be a sweep (in the Nets favor, obviously), and I don’t think any of the games will be within 5 points. Brooklyn is the most talented offensive team ever assembled; they have 3 of the best 10 individual offensive players this game has ever seen, and they have the role players and shooters around those guys to compliment them perfectly. They’re an absolute juggernaut, and even though they haven’t played many games together, I have a lot of confidence in them to handle the Celtics with absolute ease. The Celtics (who I’m a die hard fan of, by the way) are probably the least likeable C’s team in recent memory, and it’s because of their lack of ball movement and failure to bring any sort of energy or intensity on far too many occasions. They’re playing really bad basketball as of late, and I think this series will be the most lopsided one of this playoff season.
Utah Jazz (#1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (#8)
The Grizzlies and Jazz are actually similarly constructed. Both teams are balanced with a ball-dominant star and an imposing big man in the paint. I think the Grizzlies could present some slight discomfort for Utah, but IF Donovan Mitchell is healthy, it won’t matter much. The Grizzlies just played an OT game last night, and they’ll be starting a grueling series against a team that plays physical defense and will MOVE THE BALL offensively in just 1 day. I don’t think they’ll have the energy to stick with Utah, IF Mitchell is healthy. So, that brings me to my hot take here, which is related to the health and the comeback of Mitchell. I expect Mitchell, perhaps contrary to traditional thinking about injuries and missing time, to come back looking great (he'll score 28+ ppg). He’s an absolute worker and has definitely been grinding his rehab, and I could totally see him being like a shot out of a cannon in this first series. We saw what he could do when the lights were the brightest last season in the Bubble, and I think we’ll see similar things in this first series.
Los Angeles Clippers (#4) vs. Dallas Mavericks (#5)
The Clippers have quietly had an excellent season and are a threat for the title, especially with a banged up Lakers team. I say quietly because they’ve done lots of load management this season (Kawhi and PG played only 46 games together) and haven’t really been viewed as a threat for that reason. I think we forget about how dominant Kawhi Leonard can be in the playoffs, though; just two finals ago, he was considered probably the best player in the world after leading the Raptors to a championship. Now, he’s not even remotely in the MVP conversation and I almost never hear his name come up in the best player in the league debate. However, he’s STILL THAT DUDE, and I predict he lets everyone know that by averaging more than 30 ppg this series, 7.2 more than his regular season average. I also think both Leonard and George will be more prepared for Luka, someone who definitely surprised the Clippers last season with his incredibly offensive arsenal. PG and Kawhi are two of the elite perimeter defenders in the NBA, though, and I think they’ll be more ready this time around for Luka.
Denver Nuggets (#3) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (#6)
This series poses a super interesting strategy: I think the Blazers will attempt to put Jokic in as many pick and rolls as possible. Defense is definitely Joker's weakness (although he’s underrated defensively), so I think the Blazers try to make Jokic have to defend Lillard 35+ feet away from the hoop early and often. And, I think Lillard takes advantage of Jokic’s lack of foot speed by shooting TONS of threes during this series. Lillard took 10.5 threes per game this season, but I predict that he will take more than 13 threes per game this series. The best way to slow down an offensive superstar is to go at him defensively. I don’t see the Blazers going to Nurkic in the post, because he’s almost never the focal point of their offense and is only a beneficiary of drive and dump down finishes. Rather, I think they’ll get him in as many pick and rolls as possible; after all, the playoffs are all about hunting matchups, so what will the Nuggets do about a Lillard/Nurkic pick and roll? We’ll have to find out, but I think how that strategy and coaching plays out could be the key to this series.
Phoenix (#2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (#7)
Lebron isn’t healthy. It’s clear to anyone who’s watched Lebron over the past few years and has also seen his recent performances in both the regular season’s final games and the play-in game against the Warriors. Sure, he put up some decent numbers, but he’s clearly not himself; he’s less explosive, and he just doesn’t have that same burst to the rim that he normally does. The Suns and their squad of 3 and D players (Bridges, Crowder, Johnson, Craig, Saric, etc) will certainly look to take advantage of this; Lebron will have multiple fresh, long bodies thrown at him throughout the game, and I think it results in a very tough series for Lebron and the Lakers. For a player like Lebron, who relies heavily on his strength, downhill speed, and jumping ability, his nagging ankle injury will definitely impact his performance significantly, especially as he’ll have to play lots of games in a very short amount of time (something he hasn’t done in quite a while). For these reasons, as well as the lingering injuries of AD and Schroder, I predict the Suns will win this series in 6 or fewer games.