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BallnRoll’s Preview & Predictions for the 2nd Round of the NBA Playoffs

These playoffs have been absolutely electric.

With the first round all but wrapped up, last year’s Finals teams in the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have been eliminated in shocking fashion.

While the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks head to a decisive Game 7, the second round field is all but set as the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are slated to kick off the Conference Semifinals on Saturday afternoon. With that being said, it is time to revisit BallnRoll’s crystal ball as we jump right into our next round of previews and predictions!

Eastern Conference

(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks 

Neither the 76ers nor the Hawks had much trouble with their first round opponents as the Sixers defense suffocated the Washington Wizards and Trae Young’s superstar level play was too much for the New York Knicks to handle.

Now, the young Hawks are in for a much more difficult task.

While Joel Embiid’s status for Game 1 and onwards remains in question as the Sixers star big man recovers from a “small meniscus tear”, the Sixers have proven to still have plenty of depth to overcome his absence – at least at this early stage of the playoffs. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris still provide the Sixers with two All-Star level players capable of making plays on both ends of the court, while the Sixers have plenty of versatile wings and defenders which will make life increasingly difficult for the inexperienced Hawks.

That being said, the Hawks have some exceptional offensive depth of their own and Young will surely be a problem in this series with his elusive and skillful level of play and expertly shooting.

Nevertheless, once Embiid returns, he will be far and away the most dominant player in the series playing for the deeper and quite frankly, better team. The Hawks are very clearly on the rise with a collection of young and exciting players, but the Sixers are built for a Finals run and will prove it in this matchup.

Prediction: Sixers in 6

(2) Brooklyn Nets vs. (3) Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks may be the best they have ever looked and yet they will be going up against quite possibly their toughest opponent of the Giannis era.

Similar to the Bucks, their second round opponent the Brooklyn Nets made quick work of their first round foes and are looking to continue to make noise in this year’s playoffs. The three-headed monster that is Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving may very well be an unbeatable trio, but it will be interesting to see if the Bucks top-10 ranked defense can counter the Nets’ explosive offence, especially if Harden’s hamstring injury turns into a greater concern.

Not only will Coach Mike Budenholzer be required to make adjustments on the fly throughout the series, the Bucks will need to score in bunches if they hope to keep up with the Nets Big-3. Despite their offensive potency, the Nets struggle mightily on the defensive end, ranking 22nd in the league in defensive rating. Their lack of size also forces the Nets to give up quite a bit on the glass and that is where the Bucks will need to win the battle every single night if they hope to stand a chance in this series.

Attack the Nets penetrable defense and control the glass while hoping the Big-3 won’t explode in four of the seven games.

Unfortunately, the Nets offense is far too powerful and despite the intriguing pieces that the Bucks possess, the Nets may very well be too good to outscore.

Prediction: Nets in 6

***

Western Conference

(1) Utah Jazz vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers

After an absolute battle and a herculean series from Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers will head to Utah to take on a Jazz team far different from years past.

It’s hard to remember the last time a one-seed had so little buzz around their contending status, but this year’s Jazz have quietly put together an incredible campaign in which they rank top-5 in both offense and defense. They also ranked first in the league in rebounds and three-point field goes attempted, boasting the fourth best three-point shooting percentage, a lethal combination for any team with championship aspirations.

This Jazz team is legit, they are deep and have the perfect mix of both shooting and playmaking to knock off just about any team in the league. Their number one need in this upcoming series will be to slow down Leonard who has proven time and time again to have the ability to elevate his team over any opponent.

I’m not saying that I’m down Kawhi who will be entering the series coming off a full out war with the Mavs, but I think the Jazz are just that good.

Prediction: Jazz in 7

(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (3) Denver Nuggets

Will key injuries finally catch up to the Denver Nuggets?

Behind the otherworldly play of Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets were able to get past the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Phoenix Suns are a completely different animal.

It’s not easy to topple LeBron James in the playoffs, no matter the situation, but the Suns have shown that they have all the pieces to make a deep playoff run. Top-10 in both offence and defense, the Suns are led by perennial MVP candidate in Chris Paul and a budding superstar in Devin Booker who outside of Kawhi Leonard, may be the best performer of this postseason to date.

Now, the Nuggets are no slouches themselves.

With Jokic in the middle of it all acting as the point-centre, the Nuggets run a top-10 offense under Mike Malone. They can shoot and when necessary can get after it on the defensive end. That being said, if the Nuggets want to stand a chance against the mighty Suns, they will need yet another glorious series out of Jokic and at some point – as the competition ramps up no less –  it may not be enough.

Prediction: Suns in 6

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