2018 NBA Playoffs: Second Round Preview

The Houston Rockets and James Harden are on a mission to make it to the NBA Finals.
Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi
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By Joel Montgomery

With the first round of the playoffs now in the books, the 8 remaining teams fighting for a spot in their respective conference finals now can look forward to even tougher competition amongst each other from here on out.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Houston Rockets vs (5) Utah Jazz
For the first matchup of the semi-final round, the Rockets come off their 5-game cruise past the Timberwolves raring to flex it’s titanic offensive firepower on yet another poor, lowly victim. But they won’t be able to just relax if they plan to do close to the same to the Jazz—a rough and tough young squad led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell, who week-in and week-out has continuously displayed flashbacks of a prime Dwyane Wade right before our eyes. Mitchell is a dangerous and efficient scorer in his own right, being able to blow by or float the rock over the best of them. Furthermore, Rudy Gobert provides Utah with something becoming increasingly rare in the current NBA—a dominant paint presence on both sides of the ball. One problem for them will be seeing how they fare without always-improving point guard Ricky Rubio, whose could be out the next 10 days due to a hamstring injury. Quite a blow, as Rubio has been playing some of the best ball of his career in his short time with the Jazz. While the Rockets surely come in to this series as a healthy squad with plenty of confidence (even more so now with Rubio out), they can still potentially have their hands full dealing with this team of young studs. Series winner: Rockets

(2) Golden State Warriors vs (6) New Orleans Pelicans
While any series between a powerhouse like the Warriors and a lower seed would more often than not seem unappealing, this matchup in particular is actually quite interesting in Golden State’s latest quest for the Finals, as the super team will have to manage without one of it’s main pillars, Stephen Curry, for the first portion of the series. Kevin Durant and company have done their part however in keeping the train chugging for the Warriors as they crushed the waning Spurs in the previous round. With “Playoff Rondo”, the red-hot Jrue Holiday, and main player Anthony Davis, the Pelicans bring forth a whole new set of factors for the Dubs to deal with. Regardless, Golden State even now will be Davis and co’s toughest road block yet, and with the looming shadow of Curry on New Orleans’ mind, they’ll want to steal a game at Oracle Arena if they want a shot at pulling this ultimate upset. Series winner: Warriors

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Toronto Raptors vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers
While both of these teams were expected to at least have a LITTLE easier time in their first playoff matchups, both the Raptors and Cavs had their respective series taken to 7 games. Toronto can try all they want to claim the playoff demons are behind them after their assertive takedown of the Wizards in game 7, but it won’t truly be so until they get past the one demon that’s haunted them in all their time of recent significance, one named LeBron James. Despite his whole team playing under par throughout the course of the first round, King James might have still pulled off the most individually impressive Eastern conference series since his time back in Cleveland. But he can’t do it all alone, and the Cavs’ recent team struggles and over-reliance on LeBron aren’t sustainable for a championship run. The Raptors have been a top 5 team in both offense and defense all season, and even though James has always been their weakness, he’s gonna need at least SOME help if he wants to get past what looks like the best Toronto squad he’s ever faced. But even when backed in a corner, it’s hard not to count on ‘Bron. Series winner: Cavaliers

(2) Boston Celtics vs (3) Philadelphia 76ers
In the second Eastern conference semi-final matchup, a crippled-to-the-core Celtics team find themselves up against a red-hot Sixers team that’s looking to keep their Process going next level. While Terry Rozier, Al Horford and the rest of what’s remaining of Boston’s squad managed to overpower Giannis’ less-than-reliable side cast, things won’t be as simple against Philadelphia, who’s recent success has practically all of sports media eyeing them as the next NBA superpower. While the injury-riddled Celtics have been impressive to make it this far behind some award-worthy coaching by Brad Stevens, the road’s gotta end eventually against a powerful, more healthy opponent. After serving a tough Heat team behind the stellar play of Rookie of the Year leading candidate Ben Simmons and once in a generation big-man talent Joel Embiid, Sixers nation has something to be excited about now and for years to come. Series winner: 76ers

The conference semi-finals of the playoffs now is under way, and you don’t want to miss a second of the intense competition. 

Upcoming Game Dates

Houston vs Utah – 4/29 (Game 1), 5/2 (Game 2), 5/4 (Game 3), 5/6 (Game 4)

Golden State vs New Orleans – 4/28 (Game 1), 5/1 (Game 2), 5/4 (Game 3), 5/6 (Game 4)

Toronto vs Cleveland – 5/1 (Game 1), 5/3 (Game 2), 5/5 (Game 3), 5/7 (Game 4)

Boston vs Philadelphia – 4/30 (Game 1), 5/3 (Game 2), 5/5 (Game 3), 5/7 (Game 4)