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Round one of the NBA playoffs left us with plenty of memories to add to a rich history of postseason moments. Round two should be very interesting as well, ripe with new teams and juicy storylines.
The Eastern Conference has been better this season as opposed to recent years. The teams at the top are legitimate title contenders. Let’s see who breaks through:
The Atlanta Hawks have had a roller coaster season and the ride is trending upwards. With a 4-2 series win over the New York Knicks, the Hawks showed a propensity to score at key times, especially down the stretch. They averaged 104.0 points per game while holding the Knicks to under 100 points in every game of the series.
Trae Young upped his scoring average to 29.2 points per game. His role on the defensive side will be more of a factor in the upcoming series versus the Philadelphia 76ers. They have guards who can run around and knock down shots, meaning Young will have to lock in more on that side.
The Hawks’ defense should be able to handle the job, especially with a healthy DeAndre Hunter on the wing and Clint Capela fortifying the middle. Those two guys can match up versus their opponents’ best players, relieving the rest of the starters.
The Hawks will need a heightened offensive output from the likes of Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins and guys like Lou Williams and Kevin Huerter off the bench. These guys can spread out opposing defenses with their shot making.
The Hawks are trending up, but they definitely have the highest climb to make in the East.
Big Piece Of The Pie
The biggest key to any success the Philadelphia 76ers might have going forward rests on Joel Embiid’s health. Whether he can play when the series opens up is one thing: whether he can stay healthy for a Finals run is something totally different.
Embiid averaged 29.3 points per game in the first three games. He left game four with a knee injury and hasn’t been back since.
A big plus for Philadelphia has been the play of Tobias Harris. He’s averaging 25.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in these playoffs, playing with a confidence we’ve never seen from him.
Ben Simmons averaged close to a triple-double in round one and continues his great defensive play. Philadelphia can spread the floor with Seth Curry, Danny Green and Harris knocking down threes.
Philadelphia can have a legitimate big three on the floor, but Embiid is the big piece in the middle of that.
Bucking The Trend
The Milwaukee Bucks are sick of having top notch teams and having less than stellar results. This year the third seeded Bucks can stop all the noise and push through to the Finals.
Milwaukee has six players averaging double digits in points during the playoffs. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are averaging over 20 points per game.
Teams are finding it hard to clog the middle and force Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to shoot long range shots. With the addition of Jrue Holiday and Middleton’s consistency this year, opponents can’t just focus in on trying to stop one player.
Their round two match up will be significantly tougher than round one versus a depleted (and probably tired) Miami Heat team. The Bucks’ defense will have to be as good as their offense if they plan on pushing through.
A Big Bite Of The Apple
The Brooklyn Nets are the all out favorites to win the NBA title. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden are averaging a combined 85.2 points per game during the playoffs. Add in Joe Harris’ 13.4 points per game and they have four players averaging about 100 points combined.
With those numbers it will take a minimal effort from the rest of the team to win games. The Nets raised their overall team scoring average from 118.6 points to 123.4 points per game during the playoffs.
The Nets will have some tough competition coming up to get through the next three rounds. Better defenses that could possibly match up and way better players that will be hard to stop.
They seem to have everything they want going for them, let’s see how far their big three can take them. Outside of injury I can’t see any other team defeating the Nets.